US gun industry thrives but challenged by demographics

The day after the massacre at an Orlando nightclub, investors were back betting on a pickup in gun sales. 

District of Columbia: Driven by fears of tighter regulation, gun sales in the United States have prospered during the Obama presidency and after mass killings, even as few new customers enter the market.

The day after the massacre at an Orlando nightclub, investors were back betting on a pickup in gun sales Monday. Shares in two of the largest US firearms makers, Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger, soared 6.9 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively.

The same scenario has played out over and over in recent years.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation`s list of top 10 highest weeks for firearm background checks, required to purchase guns through a federally licensed dealer, clearly reveals the trigger effect of mass shootings.

The FBI`s two highest records came after the Newtown, Connecticut, primary school shooting in 2012, which left 26 dead, and last December`s shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, where 14 people were killed.

"The gun industry and the firearms lobby have become experts at exploiting the fears of a certain population who got scared that their guns would be taken away from them," said Josh Sugarmann of Violence Policy Center, a pro-gun control group, in an interview.

These fears have run high during the eight years of President Barack Obama`s two-term mandate. Obama`s support for further regulation has spurred a flood of gun sales and higher production.

According to official figures, more than nine million guns and other firearms were manufactured in the United States in 2014, compared with only 5.5 million in 2009, the year Obama first took office.

The year of his reelection, in 2012, marked a banner year for the sector, with sales jumping nearly 19 percent, according to a study by research firm IBISWorld.

"Many consumers looking to buy industry products wondered... whether purchasing a firearm in the future would prove to be more difficult," the authors of the study said.

This dynamic is still pumping. Including munitions and military sales, revenues for the sector have jumped on average 6.5 percent each year since 2011 and are expected to total $15.8 billion in 2016, according to IBISWorld.

That translates into $1.2 billion in profit this year, the research firm said.

One of the main pro-gun lobbies, the National Shooting Sports Federation, calculates that the industry`s direct and indirect economic impact is $49.3 billion annually.Despite strong growth and high media profile, the gun industry represents a fraction of the roughly $5.2 trillion in retail sales annually in the United States.

And it faces a more dangerous threat than potential further regulation: demographics.

"There`s an existential fear both of gun manufacturers and of the gun rights community coming from the fact that their base of support -- the middle-aged, white male population -- is fading," Robert Spitzer, author of "Guns Across America" and four other books on gun control, told AFP.

In 2010, white Americans represented only 72.4 percent of the US population, compared with 89.5 percent in 1950.

"Gun owning is simply of less interest to people than it was a few decades ago," Spitzer said.

The result: Less than a third of US households reported owning at least one gun in 2014 compared with nearly 50 percent in 1980, according to a University of Chicago report.

The number of firearms in circulation in the United States remains decidedly large. At between 270 million and 310 million, it is almost enough to arm each person in the country.
But the number is mainly due to the same people buying more weapons rather than first-time gun purchases.

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