Salad Days for the Gun Industry

This week's town hall debate featured only one really surprising question, on gun violence. In any other election one might have expected a question about this topic, but both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been completely silent on the issue, so in all likelihood neither one of them expected it. And they gave answers that should have warmed the heart of any gun advocate. Obama, whose action on guns has consisted of signing two laws expanding gun rights (you can now take your guns into national parks and on Amtrak), said that "what I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally." When his turn came, Romney gave his nod to the standard pro-gun line, "I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on guns," and went on to say that the real problem is single-parent homes.

So if you're a gun advocate, these are really the best of times. On one hand, you have a president who has not and will not do anything to restrict gun rights. Yet on the other hand, that president is seen by your constituency as an alien, threatening figure, enabling you to whip up fear of him, which fills your own coffers with contributions and showers skyrocketing sales on your patrons in the gun manufacturing industry. As I've discussed before, the number of Americans who own guns has been steadily declining for years, while the numbers of guns being sold is going up, meaning that existing gun owners must be expanding the size of their arsenals. This is something both the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers explicitly encourage them to do; while they're more than happy to encourage people to buy their first gun, they know the real money is in convincing the guy who already has five guns to buy ten more. The Associated Press reports some new information they've gathered on just how great it is to be in the firearms industrial complex these days; here are some excerpts:

An analysis by The Associated Press of data tracking the health of the gun industry shows that sales are on the rise, so much so that some gun manufacturers can't make enough weapons fast enough. Major gun company stock prices are up. The number of federally licensed, retail gun dealers is increasing for the first time in nearly 20 years. The NRA is bursting with cash and political clout. And Congress and the administration have expressed little interest in passing new gun laws, despite renewed calls to do so after deadly shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin...

For the first time since 1993, the number of federally licensed retail gun dealers in the U.S. increased slightly in 2010 and 2011, as the country added 1,167 more licensed retail gun dealers, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives records. After the assault weapons ban in 1994, the number of gun dealerships dropped annually until 2010. As of October 2012, there were 50,812 retail gun dealers - that's 3,303 more than in 2009...

Obama is not yet through his first term, but the federal government already has conducted about as many background checks for gun owners and prospective buyers on his watch as it did during the first six years of George W. Bush's presidency. In the first 3 1/2 years of the Bush administration, the FBI conducted about 28 million background checks. During the same period of the Obama administration, the FBI conducted more than 50 million. The gun industry uses the number of background checks on gun owners as a reliable indicator of demand.

Ruger and Smith & Wesson represent nearly 30 percent of the U.S. gun manufacturing industry and lead the market in production of pistols and revolvers, according to government statistics. The two companies have been running production lines around the clock, hiring workers and operating at maximum capacity, said Barrett, an industry analyst who also owns Ruger stock.

They literally can't produce them fast enough. Just try to imagine something similar happening on another issue, let's say a Republican president who actually enhanced environmental regulations, while environmental groups successfully presented him as the most pro-pollution president in history and saw their contributions balloon. There really is no other issue on which one could imagine this happening. Is it because gun owners are, as a group, uniquely paranoid and gullible? Or is it because of the unique nexus of a powerful interest group (the NRA) and a powerful industry working together for that industry's industry's financial interest? However you interpret it, they'll be celebrating if Obama wins, because they'll know their right to buy as many guns as they want will be safe, yet they'll still be able to tell gun owners that the Kenyan Communist in the White House is coming for their guns any day now. And those gun owners will believe it, and keep buying.

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