Has anyone noticed what’s been happening to the gun business lately? Smith & Wesson stock has collapsed, it’s trading for about half of the price of just five months’ ago; third-quarter net sales at Ruger dropped from $170 million to $98 million from the same quarter a year ago; and the industry’s most venerable gun maker – Colt – might have closed its doors altogether had it not been saved by a last-minute loan.
Gun sales started to slow down during the summer, which is normally when everyone in the gun industry takes a deep breath and begins planning for the fall and winter months when most of the industry’s sales take place. But not only didn’t the usual rebound occur after Labor Day, they stayed flat in September and then really began to go South. If you had purchased 10,000 shares of S&W on June 19, your investment today would be worth less than six thousand bucks. Meanwhile, the Dow during that same five-month period has surged upward by more than six percent.
The gun industry usually uses the monthly NICS background check number to chart sales trends, but lately those numbers simply don’t square with the market conditions that have affected the balance sheets ot companies like Ruger, Colt and Smith. While NICS checks have certainly dropped from the more than 2 million monthly numbers that were recorded at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, the numbers just published for October showed a slight increase over the previous month and the September number was the second-highest September ever recorded by NICS since the system became fully operational in 1999.
I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret about those NICS numbers. What they really show is that more gun owners are registering gun transactions with NICS whether they need to or not. In some states, like Connecticut, NICS calls are much higher because the new law requires that all gun transfers between individuals, not just between dealers and purchasers, go through NICS. New York State, where Andy pushed through a universal background check law right after Sandy Hook, is now running 30,000 checks a month when the state averaged less than 20,000 monthly before Sandy Hook. Right after Connecticut mandated universal background checks there was stupid talk by Glenn Beck and other NRA apologists about how Connecticut gun owners were going to stage massive disobedience against the registration requirements of the new law. These are the same [expletive-deleted] loudmouths who never miss the opportunity to remind the rest of us how ‘law abiding’ gun owners tend to be. Now these law-abiding patriots are going to start lining up to break the law? Give me a friggin’ break.
Gun sales have always been a function of one thing and one thing only, namely, a fear among gun owners that the guns are going to be taken away. Right after the World Trade Center attack there was a brief spike in sales, but by the time it was noticed, it had already disappeared. Even before Obama started talking about a gun bill after Newtown, Dianne Feinstein rolled out her assault rifle ban, and within two weeks you couldn’t find a black gun on any dealer’s shelves. I was selling the Stag AR-15 Model 3 in my shop when I could get them, for a thousand bucks a pop and other dealers were marking them up even more. Today I can go online and buy one for $736.89.
I don’t think the drop-off in gun sales will end anytime soon, particularly now that both legislative chambers in Washington are painted red. But I also don’t think that the vulnerability of the gun industry will make its leadership more amenable to discussing effective strategies to curb the misuse of guns. Because the one thing they know above all is that the anticipation of new gun controls will spur sales, but after the law is passed, gun ownership always declines. If it goes much lower, the gun business will be in for a very rough time.