I have been connected to the gun business one way or another for more than sixty years, and for the very first time I am seeing something about the business that I have never seen before. What I am talking about is the fact that the latest release of background-check data from the FBI, the numbers for February, confirm that so far the sales slump which followed the inauguration of Sleazebag Trump has continued well past the 2018 election which brought about an abrupt change in gun politics on Capitol Hill.
The very first thing that the new Democratic majority did (or maybe it was the second thing) after the 116th Congress convened on January 3rd was to pass H.R. 8, calling for universal background checks on the transfer of all guns. This was followed at the end of February with another bill extending the time for the FBI to complete a background check from 3 up to 20 days, Now the fact that neither of those bills will probably get through the Senate, and even if they do, will probably languish unsigned on Sleazy Don’s desk doesn’t alter a new political dynamic that has clearly emerged, namely, that gun control as a viable point of political discussion has once again reared its ugly head.
Now you would think that these developments would do for the gun industry what such developments have always done in the past, which is to say, provoke a mad rush into gun stores to clean off the shelves before the dreaded government comes along and gets rid of all the guns. And despite what the ‘experts’ told a Congressional hearing last week (they weren’t under oath so they couldn’t be accused of lying to Congress), if you implement universal background checks for all gun transfers, sooner or later you wind up with total gun registration. And we all know what happens when the government can identify everyone who owns a gun, right?
So how come gun sales continue to slide into the toilet, no matter how busy the gun-grabbers seem to be? At the end of August last year, Smith & Wesson stock was selling for less than $10 a share. It closed at $13.60 the day of the election, it’s now drifting back down to under ten bucks. Before all the votes came in, the market was anticipating the possibility that the political return of the tree-huggers would produce a new surge in buying guns. The market has turned out to be wrong.
We need to wait another couple of months before proclaiming the great de-coupling of fear and demand as the driver for the purchase and ownership of guns. But if things keep going the way they are currently going, from the perspective of America’s love affair with firearms, a new age may have definitely dawned. There’s a website out there which sells ammunition delivered direct to your door. Right now they are advertising 500 rounds of the best, 22LR ammo on the market for $16.99. I remember when you couldn’t find any 22LR ammunition because of the hoarding and over-consumption which occurred during the heady Obama days. The ammo is now so cheap that they can’t even give it away. And nothing is a more accurate barometer of the state of the gun market than the cost of 22LR.
The one thing we continue to get from various public-opinion surveys is that the percentage of Americans who own guns hasn’t really increased; it’s more likely that the average gun owner now owns more guns. But at some point, even most of the die-hard gun nuts just can’t find the space, or the money, or simply the interest to go out and buy another gun. Remember when every kitchen had something called a Mixmaster? Maybe some day my grandchildren will visit the Smithsonian and walk past an exhibition of ‘vintage’ guns. I can just hear one of them saying, “Didn’t Grandpa used to own those things?”