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Americans' Security Fears Stoke Gun Sales

Worries about personal safety and possible regulatory restrictions are sending gun sales up.
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Worries about personal safety and possible regulatory restrictions are sending gun sales and firearm manufacturers' stock prices up. Analysts say events like the terrorist attacks in Paris and last week’s shootings in San Bernardino are prompting Americans — including a growing number of women — to buy more guns.

Shares of Smith & Wesson, who manufactured one of the guns used in Wednesday's attack, are up nearly 6.5 percent today and over $2 in the past week. Shares of firearms manufacturer Sturm, Ruger Company are up 6.7 percent and up nearly $8 since the Paris terror attacks. This is even as Wall Street suffers a poor day overall, down nearly 1 percent.

“Fear and uncertainty drive spikes in gun sales,” Andrea James, vice president and senior research analyst at Dougherty & Company, said via email. “Normal trends combined with the current climate of fear and uncertainty mean that we expect gun sales to be strong through this holiday period and into next year.”

One of those normal trends is the annual start to hunting season, which typically spurs gun sales, said James. But it's also the beginning of purchases for holiday gift-giving, sales of which promise to be strong this year. Black Friday was a record-setting day for gun sales, with 185,345 background checks processed by the FBI.

This wasn’t a one-day aberration: Using adjusted data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the National Shooting Sports Foundation said background checks this November rose 8 percent compared to last November.

Background checks aren’t an exact proxy for gun sales, but they’re a useful metric to help gauge demand, said Brian Ruttenbur, equity analyst at BB&T Capital Markets.

“Handgun sales are just going through the roof. It’s about personal protection,” he said.

Although much of the legal and regulatory activity around gun control centers around high-powered rifles and long guns, such as the Supreme Court’s decision today upholding the ban on so-called assault weapons, people aren’t rushing out to buy these bigger, more expensive weapons. In fact, rifle sales actually fell 3.5 percent in November from the previous year, Ruttenbur said.

“It’s primarily small, inexpensive handguns that are flying off the shelves,” he said. “Handguns were up 22.5 percent for month of November, and that’s the second biggest November ever,” he said.

In a recent report, market research company IBISWorld said gun stores are a $3.1 billion industry on pace for a revenue increase of roughly 5 percent this year.

Aside from the political climate, IBISWorld said an improving economy and a shift in the demographics of gun owners have benefited the industry. “Women are expected to continue purchasing firearms at higher rates for safety and recreational activities,” the company said in a recent report.

The gun industry has tailored its products toward women as the male market has become saturated. Glock markets a line of smaller and slimmer guns toward women. Other makers sells guns splashed in feminine designs. A Las Vegas shooting range called "The Gun Store" hosts bachelorette parties where the guests shoot pink AK-47's.

“The recent spate of shootings has increased consumer fears of gun regulations, which typically results in people buying more firearms before such regulations come into force,” IBISWorld defense sector senior analyst Maksim Soshkin said via email.

Soshkin suggested that our gun binge could eventually satiate our appetite for firearms — at least for a while. After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, fears of gun regulations sparked a jump in sales that carried through 21013, but industry revenue fell more than 6 percent in 2014 following the runup, he said.

“It has become more obvious that the implementation of more stringent gun control laws is not likely, so related fears will probably subside,” he said. “Once that happens, demand should begin to normalize.”

If a Republican president is voted into the White House next year, the perception of a firearm-friendly commander-in-chief could also decrease the sense of urgency. This isn’t going to happen right away, though: Analysts predict another nine months to a year of robust gun sales.

It’s also likely that today’s first-time gun buyers will eventually upgrade, Ruttenbur said.

“On average, if you own one firearm, you own seven,” he said. “If you end up being part of this surge... and get a concealed-carry permit then there’s a likelihood that down the road you’ll buy other types of firearms.”