Mass killings in US trigger even higher gun sales



    Jun 16, 2016

    Mass killings in US trigger even higher gun sales

    DRIVEN by fears of tighter regulation, gun sales in the United States have prospered during the Obama presidency and after mass killings - even as few new customers enter the market.

    The day after the massacre at an Orlando nightclub, investors were back betting on a pick-up in gun sales on Monday.

    Shares in two of the largest US firearms makers, Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger, soared 6.9 per cent and 8.5 per cent respectively.

    The same scenario has played out over and over in recent years.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) list of top 10 highest weeks for firearm background checks, required to purchase guns through a federally licensed dealer, clearly reveals the trigger effect of mass shootings.

    The FBI's two highest records came after the primary-school shooting in 2012 in Newtown in Connecticut, which left 26 dead, and last December's shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino in California, where 14 people were killed.

    "The gun industry and the firearms lobby have become experts at exploiting the fears of a certain population who got scared that their guns would be taken away from them," Josh Sugarmann of Violence Policy Center, a pro-gun control group, said.

    These fears have run high during the eight years of President Barack Obama's two-term mandate.

    His support for further regulation has spurred a flood of gun sales and higher production.

    According to official figures, more than nine million guns and other firearms were manufactured in the United States in 2014, compared with only 5.5 million in 2009, the year he first took office.

    The year of his re-election, in 2012, marked a banner year for the sector, with sales jumping nearly 19 per cent, according to a study by research firm IBISWorld.

    "Many consumers looking to buy industry products wondered... whether purchasing a firearm in the future would prove to be more difficult," the authors of the study said.

    This dynamic is still pumping.

    Including munitions and military sales, revenues for the sector have jumped on average 6.5 per cent each year since 2011.

    They are expected to total US$15.8 billion (S$21.4 billion) this year, according to IBISWorld.

    That translates into US$1.2 billion in profit this year, the research firm said.

    One of the main pro-gun lobbies, the National Shooting Sports Federation, calculates that the industry's direct and indirect economic impact is US$49.3 billion annually.

    Despite strong growth and high media profile, the gun industry represents a fraction of the roughly US$5.2 trillion in retail sales annually in the US.

    But it faces a more lethal threat than any potential further regulation: demographics.

    "There's an existential fear both of gun manufacturers and of the gun rights community coming from the fact that their base of support - the middle-aged, white male population - is fading," said Robert Spitzer, author of Guns Across America and four other books on gun control.

    In 2010, white Americans represented only 72.4 per cent of the US population, versus 89.5 per cent in 1950.

    "Gun owning is simply of less interest to people than it was a few decades ago," Mr Spitzer said.

    The result: Less than a third of US households reported owning at least one gun in 2014 compared with nearly 50 per cent in 1980, according to a University of Chicago report.

    The number of firearms in circulation in the US remains decidedly large.

    At between 270 million and 310 million, it is almost enough to arm each person in the country.

    But, the number is mainly due to the same people buying more weapons rather than first-time gun purchases.

    That has not escaped the sights of gun manufacturers.

    "In self-recognition that the traditional market of well-off white men going hunting is limited, the industry is very actively studying and marketing to Hispanics, women and the youth market," Jurgen Brauer, an economics professor at Augusta University with expertise in firearms violence, said.

    It is difficult to know whether these efforts have proved successful.

    Only a handful of gun makers are publicly traded, and thus required to have a certain transparency.

    Sales data make only broad distinctions between arms categories.

    "Compared with the gun industry, the politburo is a model of transparency," said Mr Sugarmann, referring to the principal policy-making committee of a communist government.