Back in February 2017, the first full month after Trump took the oath, the gun industry looked at sales numbers and began to complain. On the one, Trump’s electoral surprise meant that gun makers didn’t have to worry about Hillary’s nefarious gun-control plans; on the other hand, with a pro-gun guy now running the show, fears about not being able to buy guys would subside and gun sales would also go down.
And make no mistake about it, the heady days of the all-time gun-grabber Obama were now in the past. FBI-NICS background checks for February 2016 were 1,380,520 for all guns; background check numbers for February 2017 registered 1,199,692, a drop of 13%. And between tax refunds, some cash for ploughing and a left-over bundle from X-mas gifts, February has always been a good month for buying guns.
But what about the rest of the year and the years to come? There’s a reason why Smith & Wesson’s stock price was over $20 a share when Trump was inaugurated and is selling for around half that price right now. The reason is the same reason that has always dominated the ups and downs of the gun market, namely, that most people who buy guns already own guns, and without new customers the sale of any consumer product will be largely influenced by whether current owners of that product believe they can continue to buy and own more of what they already have.
I have been in the gun business, one way or another, for more than 50 years. And I have never met a single gun owner who only owned one gun. Maybe ‘never’ is too strong a word because there are certainly lots of households which contain a gun only because it belonged to grandpa and when he passed on, the gun represented some kind of family icon so nobody wanted to throw it out. But according to recent surveys, the average gun owner has 3 or 4 bangers lying round the house, and somewhere around 7 million gun nuts own, on average, 17 guns each. Right now I personally have somewhere around 60 guns within easy reach, which I don’t think is ant big deal. I knew a guy whose house contained at least 300 guns and I suspect that by now he’s added maybe 50 more.
Why in God’s name would I need to own 60 guns? You think my wife doesn’t own at least 50 pairs of shoes? But a gun isn’t like a pair of shoes, right? You can’t kill someone with a shoe. So what. What’s one thing got to do with the other? Nothing, that’s what. Anyway, to get back to the gun business.
Using FBI-NICS checks as a proxy, gun sales in 2018 are running about 13% below 2017. There was a spike shortly after Las Vegas, which pushed up 2017 numbers, and another spike after Parkland, which did the same thing for 2018. But this graph showing monthly background checks for handguns clearly indicates that the Trump bloom is off the Obama rose.
On the other hand, more than 3,750,000 handguns have moved between dealers and customers from January 1, 2017 through June 30 of this year, and if the estimates on the number of Americans who own guns is correct, then it may be the case that one out of every ten gun owners added an additional handgun to their collections over the past 18 months.
The point is that even though the gun industry depends for its existence on the same group of buyers buying more guns, the good news is that, by and large, gun owners still want to keep, own and buy guns. Which is why Gun-control Nation still has to figure out how to convince gun owners that they would be better off without their guns. Because as long as gun owners want their personal gun collections to get bigger, the gun industry will continue to sell guns.