So far in 2020, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has initiated background checks on Americans wanting to purchase some 28.8 million guns. That’s a nine-month total and exceeds the full-year total of nearly 28.4 million checks in 2019.
Since the beginning of the year, shares of Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. (NASDAQ: SWBI) have more than doubled while shares of Sturm Ruger & Co. (NYSE: RGR) have added more than 40%. Smith & Wesson completed a spinoff of its outdoor gear business into American Outdoor Brands Corp. (NASDAQ: AOUT) in August.
Gun sales jumped by more than 2 million between 2018 and 2019, and the increase has continued into this year. Booming gun sales are due in part to concern among consumers that next month’s elections will result in increased regulation of firearms if Biden wins the presidency.
Unlike past surges in gun sales based on fears of more regulation among primarily white and male and predominantly conservative owners, 2020 has seen a jump in first-time buyers, including women, minorities and politically liberal buyers. A 2017 report from Pew Research, noted that nearly two-thirds (66%) of Americans who owned a gun reported that they owned more than one, and nearly 30% say they owned five or more.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) reported that gun sales among Black Americans are up 58% through September. Calling the rise unprecedented, Mark Oliva, the foundation’s director of public affairs, commented: “We’ve never seen a year-over-year increase that large in African-American gun buyers. It is the largest demographic increase we’ve seen.”
According to a report from Reuters, Smith & Wesson CEO Mark Peter Smith said at an industry conference in September that first-time buyers have accounted for around 40% of sales this year, about double the national average for past years. Sportsman’s Warehouse CEO Jon Baker estimates that 5 million Americans were first-time buyers in the first seven months of this year. The NSSF reported a similar estimate for the year through July.
People are scared and are buying guns in response to the highly politicized response to the COVID-19 pandemic (for example, masks versus no masks) and the clashes between police and demonstrators over the police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
One 61-year-old white, “politically liberal, middle-class woman” told Reuters that she sees the situation in the United States as a “powder keg.” She also commented, “I want to be armed and dangerous.”
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