By John Butler
Everyone knew it had to happen eventually. The big post Newtown boom in firearms sales had to come back to Earth. Credit cards would be maxed out. Savings accounts would be drained. People who had rushed out and payed double the MSRP (or more) for AR-15 rifles — any AR-15 rifles — would realize the ban they feared wasn’t going to happen and things would get back to normal. Except they didn’t. Gun and ammo sales stayed strong through 2013. Probably in part because the proponents of gun control, so baffled and bewildered by a total lack of national public support for federal level gun control, couldn’t shut the hell up about it . . .
They kept reminding the public that they really, really, didn’t want you, John Q. Public, to own a firearm. I guess they just couldn’t help themselves. It had to be devastating on some level to realize that your cherished world view didn’t match up to reality. Sales slowed down at the first part of 2014, only to surge back to record levels in July of last year.
Then sales finally seemed to ease toward the end of 2014. Smith & Wesson reported sales of their M&P15 AR pattern rifles had gone south, seeming to indicate that the demand for the AR-15 in particular and modern sporting rifles had slacked off.
And then this happened.
Over the MLK holiday, S&W’s stock price surged. There are several reasons. Perhaps the biggest: Smith’s M&P pistol is thought to be a front runner to replace the Beretta M9 as the Army’s standard service pistol. Apparently the Army is willing to entertain the idea of fielding a poly framed side arm, and the M&P would give them a multi caliber, US made, US owned, sidearm.
I think there’s something else going on here, though. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary sparked a resurgence on both sides of the gun debate. It started with everyone running out and buying up AR-15s, AK47s and anything else they could get their hands on while the antis tried to gin up support for a new “assault weapons” ban and “universal” background checks that would have criminalized just about any exchange of a firearm.
But while gun control advocates were pushing for background checks assault weapons bans in states that were already gun control bastions, the pro gun forces pulled a Stormin’ Norman Hail Mary and started attacking handgun bans around the country. The Ninth Circuit — yes, the Ninth Circuit — ruled California’s may-issue licensing practice was unconstitutional. Illinois and Chicago were forced, kicking and screaming, to go shall-issue, too, at least in theory. And even Washington, DC’s draconian ban on carrying firearms outside the home was struck down. For a weekend, before the district court stayed its decision, it was legal to walk around the nation’s capitol strapped. No permit required.
I think the gun buying public have moved on. Oh, they’re still going to buy Modern Sporting Rifles, but they’ve realized that for the average citizen the handgun is a far more practical everyday tool for self-defense. So firearms sales have shifted to handguns, and handguns are Smith & Wesson’s bread and butter.
I don’t think this is an upturn or downturn. I think there has been a Great Awakening of the American public regarding their constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms . While there will be seasonal ups and downs — otherwise known as business cycles — I think the Smith stock surge is a reflection that America loves handguns and are making them part of their daily lives.
Welcome to the new normal.