Demand for firearms has spiked over the last few months, correlating with if not caused by Barack Obama’s pledge to act on his gun-control agenda. Last year set a record for FBI background checks on firearms sales, although that may be in part due to a change in Kentucky that now requires monthly background checks for existing carry-permit holders. ABC News reports that December 2015 set a monthly record for background checks, indicating momentum rolling into 2016:
FBI background checks, which are often used as an indicator of sales trends, hit a record of 3,314,594 in December 2015 and 23.1 million for the year. It was the first month with more than 3 million since the FBI began tracking the data in 1998.
Background checks do not always correlate to sales, but it’s probably as good a measure one can find outside of retailer data. One background check could relate to one firearm sold, or to multiple firearms, depending on what the buyer chose after clearing the check. Or it might not relate to a sale at all, but rather a permit application or renewal. In Kentucky, permit holders will have to get multiple checks during the year, but most of those won’t have anything to do with sales.
Still, no one doubts that sales are increasing, and with them the value of shares in publicly held firearms manufacturers. ABC News reported a spike in share prices for Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger, two American manufacturers, just prior to Obama’s presser yesterday. Reuters noted that the entire sector has gained significant strength in the face of government hostility to their industry:
Shares of gun manufacturers soared again on Tuesday after President Barack Obama unveiled gun control measures and Smith & Wesson Holding Corp released a more bullish financial outlook.
Smith & Wesson shares were up 12.2 percent to $26.12 in morning trade after touching a record high of $26.54 earlier in the session. Shares of rival Sturm Ruger & Co jumped 7.4 percent to $65.95 after rising to a 1-1/2-year high of $66.93. …
“Based on the past multiple years, when gun control becomes a big political topic in the headlines, these stocks do well,” said Chris Krueger, an analyst at Lake Street Capital Markets, noting that it leads to speculation that those people inclined to buy firearms will do so ahead of new restrictions.
Late on Monday, Smith & Wesson boosted its third quarter and full fiscal year sales and earnings outlook. The company said that “the sell-through rate of its products at distribution has been stronger than originally anticipated.”
This reaction isn’t new, nor is the spike momentary. Earlier today, Reuters sent out a graph showing the performance of Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson against the S&P 500 over the last five years, and the trend shows not just spikes but consistent and gaining strength:
— Reuters Business (@ReutersBiz) January 6, 2016
What to make of this? First, the two spikes obviously correlate to the biggest White House pushes for gun control — after Newtown and over the last three months. But these two stocks began outperforming the S&P long before then. Even the “trough” period in 2014 still put growth better than the S&P trend, and even at its lowest point. Perhaps this pattern has to do with Obama’s re-election effort starting in early 2012, or with the realization that Democrats have put aside their rational calculations about the dangers of pursuing gun control in favor of sheer demagoguery.
Whatever causal/correlative forces are at work, there’s one very clear lesson from the data. Americans are investing in firearms despite the hysterical rhetoric coming from Washington and the media. They are investing in their own firearms, and putting their money into the manufacturers who supply them. Americans are figuratively putting their money where their mouths are. That’s a market signal that Democrats ignore at their own political peril.
Update: Removed a Bidenesque “literally.” sigh.