National instant criminal background checks, a procedure done anytime a gun is sold at retail and a reliable indicator of overall sales, have increased steadily every year since 2002, rising from 8.4 million then to 16.4 million last year. Check totals are on pace to eclipse 17 million this year.
Some of these sales are inarguably tied to the last two presidential elections, to a pair of recent Supreme Court decisions that have come within a single vote of holding the Second Amendment does not protect an individual right, and to a general unease about what the future in these realms might hold. Still, the increasing sales trend far predates the current presidential administration. Local merchants say a variety of factors can be seen to contribute.
all selling well
Coby McNeel, an 18-year employee of Gary’s Pawn & Gun in West Point, says while sales have been strong overall, what’s actually being sold has varied widely.
“Four years ago, black gun sales hit an all-time high,” McNeel said, using the industry’s term for semi-automatic rifles built on the same general patents as military firearms. “Those sales have leveled off since and, across the board, we’re seeing everything sell very well, including hunting guns, handguns and ammunition.”
rush to buy
Short-term shortages in ammunition stocks seen periodically over the past several years were created by self-fulfilling prophecies, retailers say, in much the same way gasoline shortages were created after Hurricane Katrina.
“Everyone said we were going to run out of gas, so people ran out and filled up every container they had until we ran out of gas,” David Carr, of Carr’s Guns and Ammo in Saltillo, said. “Ammunition shortages happened the same way.”
Ideas proposed or attributed to elected officials so inclined to track, restrict or modify ammunition sparked rushes that left shelf space bare. None of the feared legislation got very far and today, retailers say, consumers may still be stockpiling, but they’re doing so at a more conservative rate of a box or two at a time.
Shooting sports in general have been steadily growing in interest and participation nationwide at the same time.
Figures compiled by the National Rifle Association include the following: The Boy Scouts of America reported the number of shotgun shooting merit badges awarded increased 27.8 percent from 1999 to 2010, female participation statistics tracked by the National Shooting Sports Foundation indicate 30.2 percent more women were shooting shotguns in 2010 than in 2002, and female gun ownership has risen from 13 percent in 2005 to 23 percent today.
Another component in the strong sales trend is a national resurgence in hunting. Hunting license sales numbers that were in a slow decline for more than a decade have now been on an increase since 2006, rising 9 percent over the past six years.
“Right now we’re selling a lot of black powder and bullets (for primitive weapon deer hunting),” Carr said. “We carry a good selection of those components and we’ve sold a lot of them lately. Our ammunition is selling well, also.”
Carr opened his business in 2006 and says his last two years have been his strongest yet.
“Preparedness has a lot to do with why people are buying,” he said. “It all goes hand in hand.”