Gun Sales 2013: Why Are Firearms Sales Skyrocketing?

Guns sales have indisputably been up for many arms manufacturers, like Smith and Wesson, in the last year. But why is this?

FBI statistics show that in the three months after Newtown, background checks for the purchase of firearms far surpassed the number of checks from the earlier part of that year. CBS reported that even closer examination of sales indicates that the week following Newtown provided the highest number of background checks for the purchase of firearms in one week since 1998. It follows, then that these gun sales must somehow must accord with the Newtown shooting. Are these mass shooting tragedies good for business? Yes, in fact, they are.

After mass shootings, there is almost always a surge in gun sales. Gun dealers and store owners around the nation report the same phenomenon every time. What happens after every event like Newtown is a debate on gun control measures: what should be or can be done, and how. This in turn starts a "banic" — or ban panic — that ensues after all of these events. That is what incites these spikes in sales for gun manufacturers and dealers. Citizens maintain a fear that there will be a ban or other gun-control measure limiting the ability of people to acquire firearms. This is exactly how it plays out each time one of these tragedies strikes. It is probably one of the cruelest silver-linings that society endures.

It is not all gun sales that rise so quickly, however. It is usually the military-style weapons that get the biggest boosts. NPR recently reported that AR-15s, a weapon based on the rifle used by the U.S. armed forces, is probably the best-seller in these post tragedy peaks. Long guns like hunting rifles and shotguns do not receive quite the same boost.

Gun sales peak when fear peaks. It seems paranoid and a little crazy, but that is always what happens. If people are not going to be able to buy something in the future, they go crazy for it now. For example, when Hostess went bankrupt last year, there was a Twinkie frenzy. The fear stems from the gun control debate which comes from these mass shootings. The fear can come from other events as well. After Obama’s re-election in 2012, gun sales skyrocketed. Americans even coined the phrase: "Obama, America's best gun salesman." But, indirectly, yes, mass shootings are good for gun sales.

To some this would seem a cruel twist of fate, others the logical sequence of events, and others yet maintain another conclusion entirely. What are the implications of this phenomenon for America, for gun-control advocates, for gun enthusiasts? There aren't any, really. It is just an illustration of how things work and a further elucidation on the cultural divides in the country. It is not really these tragedies that cause gun sales directly; it is the debate on what to do about guns.

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George Hartmann

Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service Class of 2014

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