The Gun Business, Part II

In my last commentary I wrote about the “gun culture” and the “business of guns.”  I noted that the sales of guns have been on the rise in recent years, as has the proportion of those who have guns. Someone who read this asked why there has been such a large increase in gun sales and the degree to which there was a connection with when Obama was elected.  I decided to look into this more fully.

Close inspection of the data on gun sales in recent years reveals that there is indeed a connection with when Obama was elected but there is also a correlation with fears among gun owners  that there might be restrictions on gun ownership, especially after there has been a mass shooting. Writing in the Washington Post this past March, Philip Bump noted that after the Obama administration “has either threatened new gun control measures or when the public has been worried that it might” gun sales “skyrocket” in his words. He provided several charts in this article that show this clearly.

However, there are other variables that may explain the rise in gun sales. A CNN Money report this past July noted that “Background checks for gun sales jumped 40% in December 2012, the month of the Sandy Hook massacre.” The report also noted that these checks have increased annually since 2003 “with the exception of just three years, one of which was 2014, indicating a clear jump in gun sales.” A spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation suggested that such increases have been “driven in part by the influx of more women and first-time gun owners into the market.” There is a lot of merit to this argument, as noted in another CNN Money report, which noted that “Guns with slim profiles, pink stocks and glittery grips are aimed at one of the industry's fastest-growing clientele: women.” This  report refers to a woman named Tori Nonaka, who is described as a “purple-haired competitive shooter and ‘Glock Girl’ at the ‘SHOT Show’.” Glock has recently manufactured several guns especially for women, including a purple one that Ms. Nonaka has and also a Smith & Wesson model called the “Lady Smith.”

Another perspective comes from Frank Minter, writing in Forbes in 2012. His argument, suggested in the title of his article (“What the Left Won't Tell You About The Boom In U.S. Gun Sales”) is that the rise in gun sales started before Obama was elected. He makes an argument that the “left-leaning news outlets” like to avoid an unpleasant reality about guns, namely that Americans want them and don’t want gun control. It’s interesting to note that he does not define nor give a single example of what “left-leaning news outlets” he is referring to. Regardless he does raise some important points about gun sales.

He bases this view in part from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  He notes that between 2002 and 2011) there was a 54% increase in the number of NICS checks. This increase didn’t all come after Obama was elected, since in 2005 there were 8,952,945 NICS checks, which increased to more than 10 million in 2006. Then it they passed 11 million in 2007 and rising to a high of 14 million in 2009.

As to why this increase has occurred over the past decade or so, he suggests that it has to do with how the country views guns. While in 1959, 60% of Americans supported handgun bans, today, according to a Gallup poll, only 26% favor bans on handguns.  Also, during the time from 2005 to 2012  the number of women owning guns went from 13% to 23%.

Minter also cites the tremendous growth in efforts by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other pro-gun groups to fight for Second Amendment rights, while “advocating for participation in the shooting sports, instructing people how to shoot and store firearms safely, working with police officers and the military and doing a myriad of other things.” The NRA in particular “has also been lobbying, defending the Second Amendment (the original intention of which has been altered, as documented here) in courtrooms all over the country and growing its membership. As a result, they’ve attracted more Americans to the shooting sports, made the shooting sports safer and helped more people learn to shoot and to defend themselves.”

Minter also notes that there has also been a surge in “right to carry” laws around the country and even an increase in “shotgun shooting” merit badges within the Boy Scouts of America (going up about 28% from 1999 to 2010). (Incidentally, a recent report by the Committee to Improve Research Information and Data on Firearms concluded that: “despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime, and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s behavior, knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs about firearms.”)

In January, 2014 the Washington Times reported in that the previous year there was a new high in gun record checks, noting that these checks “soared in the months immediately after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.”  This paper, an ultra-conservative paper, echoing some of the “left-leaning” news outlets that Minter so cavalierly dismissed, noted that “Gun sales spiked as Congress and a number of states debated whether to impose more restrictions on firearms purchases after Sandy Hook.” The paper quoted John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who said that the decline in sales following the Newtown boom was due in part to a decrease in fear that the federal government would enact stricter laws to cut down on gun ownership.

In conclusion, gun sales have risen continuously for the past 15 years or so and much of this rise stems from fears that tighter gun control legislation was coming and the strong activities of the NRA and other pro-gun groups, plus the rise in the number of women owning guns.

However, we can’t dismiss the important role the election of Obama, especially in the South. In my view the deep-seated racism in this country has repeatedly reared its ugly head since Obama was elected. Indeed, white fears of blacks have been a consistent part of this country and it is still talked about (for example, see this and this). The need for whites to have guns to protect themselves from blacks is a prevailing view that needs to be considered.