President Barack Obama wipes away tears during a Jan. 5 speech about his administration’s actions to curb gun violence. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
An analysis published Sunday ties this year’s gun sales boon to President Barack Obama’s tough talk on gun control, though one industry insider says there’s more to the story.
The Washington Post crunched data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System collected over the last 18 years, connecting spikes, particularly in the election years of 2008 and 2012, to Obama’s views on gun control and his comments on strengthening those measures in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting.
While politics play a role in influencing gun sales, Mike Bazinet, spokesperson with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, says politics alone can’t explain the decade-plus upward trend.
“The media like to focus on politics, and that does appear indeed to be a factor in firearms sales,” he said. “When people feel that their access to legal products may be prevented or curtailed, they often act. We have seen that with firearms and ammunition sales. However, we have been witnessing growth in the shooting sports for well over a decade and it precedes the current administration.”
Federal data shows the country’s total number of firearms manufactured has more than tripled since 1986, hitting an all-time high of 10.8 million in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.
Meanwhile, major gun retailers, including Smith & Wesson, Ruger and Vista Outdoors, reported second quarter profit increases of 20 to 40 percent.
Bazinet says the demographics of gun owners trend younger and more diverse since the 2008 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which reaffirmed the right to gun ownership for all citizens for self-defense purposes.
Likewise, 2016 remains a record-breaking year for background checks — a barometer industry analysts use to measure gun sales across the country — with July hitting an all-time high of 2.2 million checks.
The most recent data for August indicates checks increased another 4.6 percent, however, the numbers for some states remain unreliable due to errors in the FBI’s new computer system implemented last month. An FBI spokesperson said “unusual hikes or drops” in state reporting will continue until the department resolves all issues.
Still, Bazinet says firearms dealers blame upticks in local crime for sales spikes — “not necessarily what’s making national news.”
A Rasmussen poll released in April finds two-thirds of those surveyed think people buy guns for protection and another 63 percent indicated “they feel safer” with a firearm in the house.
“So there appear to be many factors,” Bazinet said. “One-dimensional analysis does not provide the complete picture.”
Last month, background checks for handguns tripled in Illinois as Chicago recorded its deadliest August since 1997. As Bazinet indicated, state gun rights groups said the trends weren’t coincidences.
Valinda Rowe, spokeswoman for IllinoisCarry, a nonprofit legislative action group with ties to the National Rifle Association, told Guns.com earlier this month the city’s crime wave “has people nervous.”
Rowe said the state’s concealed carry applications also jumped from 190,581 in July to 198,287 August — an unprecedented 4 percent spike.
“That’s significantly higher than the pattern that we’ve been seeing,” she said. “We usually see a 2,000 to 4,000 average increase.”
Rowe, too, admitted politics deserved some of the credit for spurring gun sales — though she points to Hillary Clinton’s anti-second amendment rhetoric instead of the current president’s comments.
“We always see an increase in firearms purchases the closer we get to an election when we have a candidate that is what we consider anti self-defense,” she said. “Hillary Clinton has made off comments about repealing the Second Amendment if she could. The election being as close as it is, people are nervous and thinking if she gets elected, their rights could be severely curbed.”
Background checks for handgun purchases in Illinois in August 2012 totaled 12,980. Checks conducted in August 2008 amounted to less than half of the 2012 rate.
Bazinet said earlier this month Illinois’ background check data for August 2016 may be compromised due to the FBI’s computer system glitches.