Many in the firearms business say President Obama has been the best thing to happen to their industry in years, and it’s not because he supports gun ownership.
Obama, a Democrat who won election to a second term in November, is perceived by many pro-Second Amendment activists and gun owners as a threat to private firearms ownership. In reality, the president has taken a nearly hands-off approach to domestic firearms laws.
The biggest fear seems to be that, through executive orders that would bypass Congress, Obama will enact ammunition taxes and other hurdles that make some types of firearms and ammunition too cost prohibitive to own.
“The reality is, I think President Obama has bigger fish to fry,” said Mark Lanier, chairman of the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Alabama. “I don’t think he will burn political capital” on stricter gun control laws.
The firearms industry is one of the bright spots in the manufacturing sector. Sales are booming, and retailers say demand is outstripping supply for some weapons, such as Colt 1911-style pistols and AR 15-style rifles.
“It is one of the few vibrant industries in our country,” Lanier said. “I know some people in Florida, my home state, who have made a lot of money manufacturing firearms. President Obama would be a fool to shut it down.”
What prompted some of the fear of restrictions was Obama’s mention in one of his debates with Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney that he might consider legislation for an “assault rifle” ban, but quickly added that the biggest crime problem in his hometown of Chicago is cheap handguns, not AK 47s.
Gun enthusiasts don’t like the term assault rifle when it’s applied to semi-automatic civilian versions of military weapons. They point out that true assault rifles are fully automatic or selective fire weapons made for the military that are difficult for civilians to obtain without a special license.
Many in the business say uncertainty is one of the driving forces behind the surge in firearms sales.
“People don’t trust the markets, the economy or the government,” said Chip Davis, who owns Guns ‘N Such in Florence. “People like the feel they have some level of control.
“For the past few years, I have catered more to collectors and professionals. A lot of my customers are looking for investments that are better than the stock market,” Davis said. “The stock market is unpredictable, and putting money in the bank is flat. Collectable firearms, on the other hand, is a good, stable market. People are buying the old classics — Smith & Wessons and old Colts.”
There is one set of statistics that bears out the upsurge in gun sales: The National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The number of requests from retailers for background checks, which is required by federal law in firearms transactions, is on the increase. Information compiled by the federal government shows the checks have increased as much as 17 percent in the past year, approaching a total of 1.5 million.
Publicly traded firearms makers have seen the value of their shares increase, as well, with a spike noted in the days after the president’s re-election. By some estimates, the firearms industry does more than $4 billion a year in sales.
Lanier said a combination of public fear and uncertainty and manipulation by firearms makers accounts for the rise in gun sales.
Davis said the fear and uncertainty have prompted some to take proactive steps.
“People are taking more responsibility for their own security,” he said. “They feel the need to protect themselves from home invasions and robberies.”
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.