The Never-Ending Surge In Gun Sales

The American economy isn’t going gangbusters, but at least one area — gun sales — is an apparent exception to the overall economic malaise.

According to data released by the FBI, firearm background check requests, which are a kind of rough proxy for gun sales, keep setting records.  December, 2015 was the first month ever where more than 3 million background checks were performed, and for the year 2015 more than 23 million checks were performed.  Guns seem to be a popular holiday gift, because every year background checks spike during the holiday period — but this year the surge is continuing past the holidays.  The FBI reported doing more than 2.5 million background checks in January, 2016, which is the ninth month in a row that background checks have set a monthly record.

somervilleguns-thumb-520x292-81559It’s not clear why people are buying so many guns, but one theory is that gun owners fear that President Obama will take unilateral action to hurt their gun rights.  There’s statistical support for that notion, because President Obama’s years in office have been record-breaking for firearms entering the market according to statistics maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  Whereas 40 million new guns entered the markets during the 8-year presidencies of President Clinton and President George W. Bush, 68 million guns entered the market during the first five years of the Obama Administration.  The key test for whether the “Obama effect” is the real motivator of gun sales will come, of course, when the President leaves office in a few months and a new President moves into the Oval Office.

Who is buying the guns?  Surveys indicate that the number of households that own firearms is either flat or trending downward, and that the surge is coming from existing gun owners who are simply buying more guns.  According to those surveys, the average number of firearms in households owning guns increased from 4.1 guns in 1994 to 8.1 guns in 2013.  And, because that number is an average, that means there are a lot of American households that own more than eight guns.

In short, we live in a country where many of our neighbors have assembled large arsenals and seemingly are always ready to buy more guns.  I’d say our citizenry is ready for the Zombie Apocalypse or an attempted invasion by the Russkies, but it doesn’t exactly make me feel more safe walking around on an average day among a population where some people are armed to the teeth.

Why Are Gun Sales Surging?

By all accounts, Americans are buying guns in record numbers.  Why?

Bloomberg says that gun sales are increasing by significant amounts.  Gun purchases increased 54 percent from 2008 to 2012, and publicly traded gun manufacturers are reporting more than 40 percent increases in sales in 2013.  Demand is so great that manufacturers are competing for market share in the expanding gun market by introducing new products, which is driving a sharp increase in gun-related patents.  The Washington Post reports that Virginia set a record for Black Friday gun sales.  Isn’t it curious that people would think of buying weapons on the day after Thanksgiving?

Many of the new gun purchasers are women and the elderly; gun ownership in both demographics is rising.  Indeed, one report estimates that 25 percent of all women own a gun.

Why this sudden surge in gun sales?  In recent years, some people have speculated that the increases were due to concerns that governmental entities would restrict gun ownership and a desire to load up before any limitations take effect — but that rationale doesn’t make much sense now, with no meaningful effort underway to regulate gun ownership at the federal level and many states loosening their restrictions on carrying firearms.  The normal reason to buy a gun would be to feel more personally secure, but there hasn’t been any apparent, noticeable increase in criminal activity that would motivate people to buy a gun now, as opposed to last year or five years ago.  So why the sudden burst of gun-buying activity?

It’s a bit unsettling that so many people in this country feel the need to be amply armed, in their homes and in their daily lives.  It’s as if they are expecting a breakdown in law and order and envisioning a dog-eat-dog world.  It’s strange to live in a world where so many people apparently think we are on the brink of apocalypse.