Something has changed.
Last week my wife said to me, “I think I’d like to get a gun.” By which she meant a gun she can carry with her. If my wife were from Texas, this might not be surprising. But she is from Australia, a country which for two decades has had restrictive firearms laws and whose citizens largely do not understand Americans’ commitment to protecting gun rights.
She has long been politely but barely tolerant of my interest in guns, of the fact that I have more than a few of them, and of my treating target practice as something important, not simply a sport or hobby — though it is those things as well. She has gone from forbearing to interested, an evolution I never expected to witness.
I asked my wife — now an American citizen — what spurred her interest in something which had previously frightened her. The intensity of her answer, even more than the words themselves, surprised me: “San Bernardino has convinced me that as long as Barack Obama is president, terrorists will be emboldened. And I’m afraid that as long as Barack Obama is president they will have an easier time getting into the country than they should.”
President Obama has spent years trying and failing to jawbone the American people into yet another “fundamental transformation” of the nation, namely to forsake the Second Amendment and to abandon a real, if not equally geographically distributed, “gun culture” — a term which liberals and other foreigners use as a pejorative but which I mean as nothing more than a recognition of a tradition with deep historical, pragmatic and, yes, political roots.
Meanwhile, the most anti-gun president in our nation’s history has created a boom in gun and ammunition sales and a massive bull market in the stock prices of firearms manufacturers.
In the past year, the share price of gunmaker Smith & Wesson (SWHC) is up nearly 120 percent, with competitor Sturm, Ruger (RGR) up over 60 percent. The Russell 2000 “small-cap” index, which both companies’ stocks are included in, is down 2 percent over that same time. Since Barack Obama was first elected president in November 2008, SHWC and RGR have each gained roughly 800 percent, six times the gain in the Russell 2000 during the reign of our gun-hating president, adding nearly $2 billion in wealth to their shareholders. (Note to self: Short the gun stocks if a Republican wins in 2016.) Other major gun companies such as Browning, Winchester, and Remington are privately owned and there is no “pure play” ammunition company to track.
I interviewed the manager of a prominent Denver area gun store, training center, and shooting range to discuss the current state of his industry. We shall use the initials GM for him as he preferred to remain anonymous.
Ross Kaminsky: Thinking about “runs on guns” in recent years, such as after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, how does the current increase in sales compare?
Gun Store Manager: The aftermath of the Newtown shooting was an immediate and concentrated period of intense buying of both guns and ammo. I personally attribute a significant portion of that to the political climate as the political class started to immediately jockey for the moral high ground and we saw people buying guns “while they could” before more restrictive legislation was put in place.
We basically sold out of ARs and popular handguns in a couple weeks in December 2012. [The AR-15 is a military-style rifle, usually chambered in .223 caliber, tremendously fun to shoot and squarely in the category that the left calls “assault weapons.”] Our main focus for 2013 ended up being “how do we find enough merchandise (mainly guns and ammo) to have something (anything) to sell?” There was just no merchandise readily available for months.
After the most recent Paris terrorist attack we started to see some more interest in guns, ammo, and training. After the San Bernardino terror attack, it picked up exponentially. In terms of last year to this year, we are over double the gun sales for Dec 1-8 year to year.
RK: It seems to me that people buying guns now who didn’t buy after President Obama was elected or after Newtown are people who never took “gun-grab by government” seriously and probably still don’t. Therefore I would suspect they’re motivated simply by wanting to be able to protect themselves. Are you getting that sense from customers?
GM: Well, we are seeing people buying guns in bigger numbers, but it also seems that those people who bought in prior years may now be looking for training. My opinion is whereas they have previously bought their guns “while they could” they may now be thinking that with all the terrorist attacks on soft targets, and the “mass shootings” and the seemingly ever-increasing stories of violent attacks — such as home invasions, carjackings, and group attacks on individuals — they need more confidence in their ability to actually use their guns should the need arise. We have also seen a lot of interest in Concealed Carry training and CCW-oriented handguns.
[A call to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office (the county in which this gun store is located) confirmed that applications for new CCW (Concealed Carry Weapon) permits are up about 10 percent year-over-year, with a large spike in the last several days. Similarly, Boulder County, not home to many gun enthusiasts, has received more applications in the first nine days of December this year than in the entire month of December 2014. The Boulder County spokesperson noted insightfully that “While the prior freak-outs were about fear of government taking guns away, this freak-out is different; it’s really about self-protection.” In Boulder, of all places. Something has indeed changed.]
RK: What sort of guns are people particularly looking for?
GM: As I said, we are seeing a lot of “CCW guns” being sold. Small, easy to conceal guns that are specifically designed for CCW. Since 2013, we have seen AR sales pretty stagnant. There does seem to be a slight resurgence in AR sales as we are seeing sales across the board picking up with recent events. AR sales may be driven by the idea of needing defense against a superior force as opposed to just a one-on-one confrontation. Hard to know for sure.
RK: What’s going up more in percentage terms: gun sales or concealed carry class registrations?
GM: In rough numbers, our gun sales have doubled (over last year) for the first 8 days of December, while we have seen sales of training classes roughly quadruple. Pure speculation, but it really does seem that people, especially new(er) gun owners, are trying to prepare to actually use their guns to defend themselves. [“Training classes” includes beginning and advanced courses in firearm use and tactics as well as CCW training.]
RK: What are you seeing in terms of the behavior of women buyers and women taking classes?
GM: For some time, women have been more likely to take up shooting. It has been a growth segment in our industry for at least several years now. With the recent increase in sales, we are continuing to see women looking for handguns (much more so than ARs). And recently, even more emphasis on CCW than before. Again, my opinion would be that people in general, and women specifically, are coming to terms with the fact that it is becoming more likely they would actually have to use a firearm in their own defense.
RK: How do you think about these recent waves of buying interest? Does the current buying presage a stronger gun market in the future or is it a rush to satisfy demand that otherwise would have stretched out for longer, implying that when it slows down it may slow down even more than it otherwise might have and put a lot of pressure on some gun shops?
GM: Gun sales has really always been a “boom and bust” business to some degree. I think with all the changes in media, people are plugged in to news on a minute-to-minute basis. When a politician says something about increasing gun control it makes headlines now. That sort of pressure seems to be creating big spikes in the market place. December of 2012, after the Newtown shooting, it was chaos selling guns. It seemed that every conduit was overtaxed. The brick and mortar retailer, the online gun and ammo sellers, distributors, manufacturers, even the regulators (background checks were stretched into weeks here in Colorado!) were overmatched by the buying public. The power of the (gun) consumer crushed the system and it took up to 24 months to catch up in some ways.
This recent sales increase is more of a swell, still gaining momentum, but not the huge spike we saw at the end of 2012. Events that may happen in the next weeks or months will determine whether or not we see a larger and/or sustained increase in firearm and related merchandise (and training) sales. After 2012/2013, many of us in the firearms industry are just trying to make good business decisions in a very volatile marketplace.
RK: Finally, what other aspects of the business do you think are most interesting and might not be obvious to a civilian…?
GM: I do not think the average gun buyer understands how difficult it is to provide the goods and services they are looking for in our industry. Trying to forecast sales, and to commit, sometimes millions of dollars, to a business strategy in this environment is treacherous. For example, when Colorado imposed its magazine [capacity] restrictions in March of 2013, we ended up with tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise that was unsaleable.
There was no financial consideration given to those of us who brought in product in good faith and then had the rules changed within a matter of months. We still have thousands of dollars in merchandise that we cannot sell legally in Colorado to this day. We are expending energy (and financial resources) to try and sell this merchandise through other channels, but with the limited margins available, it is still ultimately a significant loss for us.
The heavy regulatory climate and the volatility of the marketplace — in no small part due to political forces — make this the most challenging business I have ever been associated with.
We can only wonder if President Obama broods over his inability to transform us into a nation of sheeple who revere the United Nations Charter over the United States Constitution, who put their faith in government rather than in self-reliance, and who couldn’t hunt down a meal for themselves if their lives literally depended on it.
Of the many things he has failed at, that is one worth celebrating.
But a symptom of his greatest failure, the failure to perform the most fundamental duty of his office, to wit: the failure to aggressively prosecute, or even recognize, the “war on terror” even as our enemies continue to attack us at every opportunity, is that my Australian-born wife now wants her own concealed-carry handgun.
It’s a small symptom representing a profound change.
At least in my family, the one fundamental transformation Barack Obama has accomplished is the last thing he would ever have wanted.
[First published at the American Spectator.]