Response to Forbes Article: “Why U.S. Gun Sales Are Shooting For The Moon”

Frank Miniter, best-selling author of Saving the Bill of Rights, wrote an article for Forbes magazine entitled, “Why U.S. Gun Sales Are Shooting For The Moon.” 

In the article he discusses his reason for attending the 2012 Shot Show in Las Vegas, NV.

“…the SHOT Show has no comparison on Earth and, in fact, is especially interesting this year because gun sales are breaking records…   I shoulder in with the 60,000 people the show has brought to Las Vegas to find out why guns are selling in a mostly down economy.” 

The explanations Mr. Miniter receives to satisfy his question, “why guns are selling in a mostly down economy,” are all ones I’m sure you’ve heard by now. 

For starters, there’s the Obama effect or, as it’s also known, the Obama gun boom.  The notion that people were so afraid that President Obama was going to ram through onerous gun-control legislation in his first term that they became spendthrifts for firearms and ammunition. 

As Miniter pointed out, there is some truth to this argument. 

Back in 2009 gun manufacturers labeled President Barack Obama as the “best gun salesman of all time.” They weren’t even jesting. The FBI recorded a 49 percent rise in gun background checks during the 2008 election week compared to the same week a year earlier. Fear of coming gun-control legislation certainly helped sell those guns, though how much is impossible to say.

But in talking with Steve Sanetti the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), Miniter discovers several other explanations as to why guns sales are surging. 

Sanetti explained that in 1959 some 70 percent of the American public favored handgun bans, whereas today that number has flipped. “We’ve been able to conclusively prove scientifically that, as John Lott wrote, more guns do equal less crime. Other factors include the fact that the number of hunters has actually risen in a number of states. Then you have returning servicemen and women who are staying with the shooting sports. Meanwhile, the advocacy of the NSSF, the NRA and other groups have shown that the Second Amendment is a fundamental part of our freedom.”

According to Gallup, Sanetti’s correct about the public’s shift in perspective (see graph below).

Moreover, Sanetti’s correct about the rise in the number of hunters in several states and the fact that returning servicemen and women have embraced shooting sports. 

Also, the advocacy power of the NSSF and the NRA can never be overstated.  As we’ve seen over the past few decades, there’s been an expansion of gun rights across the country.

However, the notion that “we’ve been able to conclusively prove scientifically that, as John Lott wrote, more guns do equal less crime,” is a problematic statement for two reasons.   

The first is that John Lott’s statistical analysis is not conclusive.  Not by a long shot.

The second is that correlation does not equal causation.  Crime is down, certainly.  And gun ownership is on the rise.  But the extent to which gun ownership impacts crime is not quite clear (these are very briefly developed criticisms of Mr. Lott’s findings, you can read more about them here and here).

At best we can conclude that rising gun ownership marginally reduces crime rates.  But it’s not clear and it’s certainly not conclusive. 

At worst we can conclude that it’s a net wash between gun ownership and crime.  In short, more guns do not equal more crime, which in and of itself is a pretty persuasive argument to oppose gun control and embrace the gun community.

Overall though, and back to the central point, there are multiple reasons why gun ownership is on the rise in this country despite a bad economy.  And Miniter does a good job of pointing them out to readers. 

But here’s one question to consider that popped in my head as I was composing this response, is the ‘why it’s happening’ as important as the mere fact that it is happening

Which raises a number of other questions, such as, say a Republican candidate beats Obama this year and gun sales decline a bit in 2013 and 2014, would this matter? 

Moreover, are we as an industry tying too much significance to the ebb and flow of gun sales?

If we have a down year or two, does that mean we love guns less than years prior?

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