Firearm lobbyists exploit fears — new and old — to develop a new customer base across the country. Even with gun-friendly Trump set to become president, their market looks more promising than ever.
In the weeks before Donald Trump became the president-elect of the United States, Katie Stulce’s gun shop was doing brisk business.
Stulce, 43, said her Houston, Texas store was so crowded with customers that she barely had time to eat.
“We couldn’t catch our breath.”
“Our priority list were keeping up with paperwork and getting the product out,” Stulce said of the pre-election sales boom.
At the time, the two presidential candidates were actively pitching their competing gun policies. With no certainty as to who the winner would be, both Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric stoked fear among firearm enthusiasts.
Clinton stood for banning high-calibre assault weapons and devoting more resources to mental health access to resolve gun violence, a fairly standard Democratic policy.
And Trump’s history with gun policy is complicated.
Three years before launching himself as a presidential candidate, he praised President Barack Obama for passionately speaking in support of gun control following the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 children.
But once he joined the race for the White House in July 2016, he became a sudden advocate for gun rights.
Surge in Gun Business
By August 2016, gun manufacturers carried out some two millions background checks of aspiring gun buyers. And the stock prices of leading players like Smith & Wesson surged by three percent.
The common perception among the people who favour private ownership of guns was that a Clinton presidency would lead to the ban of firearm sales across the country. Sales show tens of thousands of people stocked up as a result.
Soon after Trump’s victory, however, gun sales dropped to record lows.
A week after the elections, Smith & Wesson’s shares were down by 15 percent. Its rival, Sturm Ruger’s, took a 17 percent dive.
Traditionally, the firearms industry — an $11.7 billion market — has almost always taken a hit whenever a gun-friendly president entered the White House. But this time, analysts told gun sales will likely remain steady in the coming years, as the Obama years will be remembered as the era when the notion of only-old-white-men-love-guns was disrupted.
“Now you see high school level shooting clubs that didn’t exist before and that have become a big thing as well,” Christopher Krueger, a US based gun industry analyst at Lake Street Capital Markets LLC.
“These underlying trends are positive for the business.”
There are several other factors that will help the gun industry make profits. For instance, the appointment of the Supreme Court justice. Despite a year-long push, Obama has failed to place his nominee into the Supreme Court. This leaves the selection of Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement to Trump. The president-elect has pledged to nominate a pro-gun lawmaker.
Even though there have been 1,000 mass shootings in the US in the last ten years, and Obama made several attempts to restrict domestic arms sales, the gun lobby ramped up their efforts to popularise guns in society.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, 5.5 million guns were produced in America in 2010, and within two years the figure crossed the 11 million mark.
The stockpiling led to an ammo shortage: In 2013, Wal-Mart, known for selling cheap bullets, implemented a three box per day quota on its customers.
Getting Them While They’re Young
The National Rifle Association (NRA), the most powerful gun lobby in the United States, played a significant role in countering anti-gun activism and in reshaping public perceptions of firearms.
In 2014, they produced a reality TV series featuring young men and women of different races and ethnicities as “responsible gun owners.” It was sponsored by Smith & Wesson.
As the women finish their first shooting match, an instructor asks one what she would focus on in the coming days.
“I think the mental aspect of it. Especially after the first course it was easy to get frustrated, down on yourself, so pacing yourself and staying in it is really important,” the woman responded.
Manufacturers are redesigning weapons to suit women and teenagers. Companies like Chipmunk Rifles are producing guns for children.
Stulce, the gun shop owner from Texas, said companies have gotten “more broad” to include “pretty much everybody.”
“Instead of having these great big-gripped firearms they are trimming them down, making them slimmer, so they fit ladies’ hands better,” Stulce said.
Glock manufacturers, in the past two years, have introduced a line of what are called single stack firearms. “The magazine capacity is smaller and thinner,” Stulce said.
Shooting ranges are faced with an influx of young people. The number of women and children visiting shooting circuits is also on the rise.
Most shooting ranges across the country have nearly no age limit; children as young as nine years old shoot guns under their parents’ supervision.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a leading trade union of the firearm industry in the US, came out with a report in 2014 that showed a 60 percent increase in women buying firearms. In 2001, the study says, about 3.3 million women practised target shooting. By 2013, the number went up to 5.4 million.
More Guns, More Violence?
Critics often say easy access to guns has led to a disastrous increase in gun violence across the country.
In 2015, according to the Gun Violence Archive, some 13,286 people were killed in the US by firearms (excluding suicides), and 26,819 were injured. These incidents included 372 mass shootings, and 64 school shootings.
In the past four years, after the Sandy Hook mass shooting, Obama has made several attempts to steer a debate that could have led to the altering of the Second Amendment. The Republicans in the Congress, however, didn’t budge. And the drive entirely failed.
Playing on Fears
Apprehension from the Republican strongholds towards the Black Lives Matter movement and the notion that Hillary Clinton will “open the floodgates of ISIS to come in and kill all Americans” proved remarkably effective at persuading a lot of people who likely wouldn’t have thought of buying weapons before.
Trump played heavily on this fear throughout the election.
In September, he went further, attacking Clinton saying she intended to “destroy” the Second Amendment — which guarantees the right to bear arms.
He also insinuated that her life would be in danger, if she dropped her security cover, in what was widely interpreted as a veiled threat:
“I think that her [Clinton’s] bodyguards should drop all weapons, they should disarm, right? I think they should disarm. Immediately, what do you think? Yeah, take their guns away. She doesn’t want guns. Take their – let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, OK? It’ll be very dangerous,” Trump bellowed at a rally in Miami.
Duncan Osborne, a member of a New York-based rights group Gays Against Guns, told that pro-gun lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been instrumental in fueling panic among people.
“The NRA tells gun owners that they constitute a bulwark against some kind of tyranny,” Osborne said.
Osborne said NRA members invested $10 million towards Trump’s White House bid, a fact he said made the Republican nominee beholden to the gun lobby.
“Trump embraced the NRA as much as the NRA embraced him. I have no reason to believe that he is going to do anything that the NRA finds objectionable.”
The American public is sharply divided on the question of private gun ownership. A recent CNN/ORC poll suggests that 55 percent respondents preferred stricter regulations on weapon sales, while 45 percent opposed it.
A majority of the gun-owning population lives in Republican Party strongholds. The party legislators maintain a stance that’s in line with the policy of the NRA, the leading gun lobby.
For Republican politicians, it’s important to have a good rapport with the NRA. And sometimes, they try desperately to prove their loyalty to the NRA’s goals.
Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz, who lost the presidential nomination bid to Trump, cooked bacon with a machine gun in a campaign ad.
It’s quite clear that gun violence in the US will remain intractable under Trump presidency, especially in a political climate of fiery, polarising rhetoric.
Though Katie Stulce, the gunshop owner from Texas, says she always ensures that her customers aren’t buying weapons under pressure, she doesn’t shy away from deploying her ultimate sales pitch:
“When you go out on a boat, there is always a life vest there and you hope you never have to put it on — but you sure want it.”