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It’s been sadly proven time and time again: Mass shootings are good for gun sales.
After the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, and again after the San Bernardino workplace shooting last December, firearm purchases shot up. In the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting this weekend, analysts say it’s logical to expect that the same pattern will hold, and central Florida gun store owners already are reporting an influx of customers days after the attack.
“We typically open at 10 a.m. We were all here at 8 and people started pulling in at around 9,” Robbie Motes, owner of The Armories, a retailer with a trio of locations in the Orlando area, said on Monday.
“Today is probably triple a normal day,” Motes said. Typically, he said his store sells 10 to 15 guns in a day. On the first weekday after the attack, he hit that number before lunchtime, and he expected the post-tragedy surge to continue.
“It always does,” he said. “After the tragedy in Sandy Hook, it was astronomical.”
After a mass shooting, people buy guns for two reasons: They’re afraid and want a firearm they think will protect them, or they’re worried that the violence will prompt new legislation restricting gun sales.
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These two motivations dictate what types of guns people buy in the aftermath of a mass shooting, said Wunderlich analyst Rommel Dionisio. If they’re afraid for their safety, they buy handguns. If they suspect additional government regulation, they buy “modern sporting rifles,” or the types of weapons gun-control advocates call assault weapons.
Motes echoed this observation, referencing what kinds of guns are in demand this week.
“AR-15s of course, because that’s why people talk about banning ... and handguns,” he said.
“Those are the two classes people rush to stores to buy,” Dionisio said. “When people are concerned about their own safety, they go buy handguns.” For instance, after the San Bernardino shooting, handgun sales rose, he said, but the Sandy Hook attack triggered different concerns.
“Right after Newtown, Obama and Biden got out there and tried to ban assault rifles. It wasn’t so much then a fear for safety,” Dionisio said. “It was more the fear that the administration would ban a certain kind of gun.”
The Orlando nightclub shooting, coming in an already volatile election year, will likely prompt a mix of both responses. “Firearm sales do tend to pick up in election years,” Dionisio said. “The expectation was that there might have been a pickup anyway.”
FBI data tells a similar story. Although not a one-for-one match, requests for background checks are considered a reliable proxy for measuring firearm sales. In 2012, Connecticut’s monthly average of 18,932 shot up to 29,246 in December of that year, the month the Sandy Hook school shooting took place. In California, last year’s monthly average of 137,103 background checks nearly doubled in December to 252,946, following the San Bernardino shooting.
The numbers indicate that this year was already on pace to break the record for the most gun background checks. Last year, the FBI conducted a record 23 million background checks, the most since 1998, when the agency began conducting them under the current system.
This is benefiting manufacturers like Smith & Wesson, whose sales were up more than 60 percent year-over-year for its most recent quarter.
“We have seen several surges in demand for firearms in recent history (primarily driven by fear of banning or restricting firearms ownership),” BB&T Capital Markets analyst Brian Ruttenbur wrote in a research note published Monday. “Media coverage and recent statements by politicians are spurring buying activity of military-style rifles.”
“It’s been pretty crowded,” Neal Crasnow, owner of Al’s Army Navy, another firearms retailer with three locations in the greater Orlando area, said of customer traffic on Monday morning.
Crasnow also said a combination of safety and legislative fears seemed to drive gun sales in the wake of mass shootings.
“After Sandy Hook, I do think ARs have picked up in sales. They’ve been a big seller for the last three or four years,” he said. “Those sales aren’t just prompted by the incident but… I think it’s a question of, if they think guns are being taken away, then they tend to run out and buy.”