There is no divorcing the politics of guns from their profits. America’s gun lobby and gun industry both benefit from creating a fearful vision of life in the United States—a picture of criminals constantly menacing our families and a government hellbent on taking our guns—that is very effective at selling weapons. In fact, in large part because of the way anxieties about his gun policies have been manipulated, the Obama era has been a golden age for firearms manufacturers, and the run-up to Election 2012 could be for Glock and Remington what the Christmas shopping season is for Macy’s and Sears: a time to cash in before the narrative changes.
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According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation—a trade association for the country’s gun and ammunition manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers as well as its shooting ranges—the American firearms industry employed more than 98,000 people last year and generated an overall economic impact of $31.8 billion. The industry’s employment rate is up 31 percent since 2008. Firearms, says NSSF senior vice president Larry Keane, have been “a shining light in an otherwise dark and bleak economic picture.”
The boom in the firearms industry also shows up in manufacturing statistics maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. From 2007 to 2011, the number of firearms manufactured in the United States grew by 63 percent, led by pistols, which posted a 104 percent jump.
That freshly minted arsenal translates into profits for gunmakers. Only a handful of firearms companies are publicly owned, but those that are have had good news for investors. Winchester, which makes ammunition, reported a backlog in January worth $137 million—and while 2011 wasn’t as lucrative as 2009 or ‘10, the company said it was still “the third most profitable year in at least the last two decades.” Remington sold more than 1 million guns and 2 billion rounds of ammunition in 2011. Sturm, Ruger was so overwhelmed by new business earlier this year—its gross profit jumped by 66 percent between January and June—that it imposed a brief hiatus on new orders.
Many factors—fear of crime during the economic downturn, better promotion of hunting by state wildlife agencies, more women taking up shooting, veterans returning home with a deeper attachment to guns—have likely fueled the boom in gun sales. But Obama’s influence is given singular credit. As Remington’s then-CEO, Ted Torbeck, put it in a May 2009 conference call with investors, “demand…has risen amidst concerns that the new administration will further restrict the use or purchase of firearms and ammunition and levy additional taxes on these products.”...
...The NRA has been sounding the alarm over Barack Obama since at least 2008, when it called the then–presidential candidate a “serious threat to Second Amendment liberties” and later launched a website called GunBanObama.com. After the president was elected, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action warned, “American gun owners will soon be the targets of an attack dog named Rahm Emanuel.” Barely two months into the Obama administration, the NRA put out an alert called “The Coming Storm,” which described a “wish list of gun-prohibition measures” that the gun control lobby had presented to the White House. Gun sales—which fell 23 percent the first year that George W. Bush was president—soared 23 percent in 2009.
Yet the “coming storm” blew past without incident, as Obama took up none of the wish list measures.
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