Gun sales don’t al­ways spike af­ter in­ci­dents


The com­mon be­lief that gun sales spike af­ter a mass shoot­ing is not al­ways the case, a Tri­bune-Re­view anal­y­sis of fed­eral data shows.

The FBI han­dled about 34 per­cent more firearm back­ground checks than usual in the three months af­ter the Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary shoot­ing in De­cem­ber 2012, the anal­y­sis found. But it han­dled about 16 per­cent fewer checks than usual dur­ing the three months af­ter the Wash­ing­ton Navy Yard shoot­ing in Septem­ber 2013.

Over­all, an anal­y­sis of 10 of the more well-known shoot­ings since the Columbine High School killings in April 1999 shows the re­sponse in gun sales var­ied con­sid­er­ably.

“It’s a lot more com­plex than a yes-no,” said Lacey N. Wal­lace, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of crim­i­nal jus­tice at Penn State Univer­sity Al­toona who stud­ies gun own­er­ship and gun ac­qui­si­tion be­hav­ior.

Her 2015 pa­per on how mass shoot­ings af­fect firearm sales is one of the few stud­ies that comes up in a search on the sub­ject. The lack of re­search in that area was one of the rea­sons she did the pa­per.

Her find­ing was that firearm sales, on av­er­age, tend to in­crease af­ter a mass shoot­ing, “but that doesn’t mean it hap­pens for ev­ery shoot­ing.”

One rea­son for the dif­fer­ence is how the pub­lic re­sponds to a shoot­ing, she said. If the dom­i­nant re­sponse is a call for stricter gun laws, that leads to more sales. If the dom­i­nant re­sponse is that some­one else with a gun did or could have ended the shoot­ing, there’s less of an ef­fect.

“T hat re­sponse varies quite a bit from shoot­ing to shoot­ing,” Wal­lace said.

An­other fac­tor is how much me­dia cov­er­age a shoot­ing gets, she says. Sandy Hook dom­i­nated the head­lines for weeks partly be­cause of the scale of the tragedy but also be­cause there was no other ma­jor news, she said.

Other shoot­ings quickly fall out of the pub­lic’s con­scious­ness be­cause other sto­ries take over, she said.

A third fac­tor is who is sit­ting in the White House and which party is con­trol­ling the House and Se­nate.

“It re­ally de­pends on what else is go­ing on in the sit­u­a­tion,” she said.

Two Penn­syl­va­nia firearm deal­ers said their own ex­pe­ri­ence is that there ac­tion de­pends mainly on who con­trols Wash­ing­ton.

At the time of Sandy Hook, Obama and a Demo­crat- con­trolled Congress had gun buy­ers ner­vous, said Mark Bo­e­rio, owner of the ArmyNavy In­door Pis­tol Range in La­trobe. With Trump and a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress, the re­sponses to the shoot­ings in Las Ve­gas and Suther­land Springs, Texas, have been more muted.

“No one is in a panic,” he said.

Sales are up, but that’s as much be­cause of hunt­ing sea­son and peo­ple shop­ping for Christ­mas, he said. One shoot­ing-re­lated fac­tor is that peo­ple see a need for pro­tec­tion, which is re­flected as much in the in­crease in reg­is­tra­tion for gun classes as in firearm sales, he said.

“Peo­ple don’t want to buy one and be ir re­spon­si­ble with it,” he said. “Peo­ple want to be safe and pro­tect their fam­ily.”

Bulls­eye Firearms Gun Vault in New Alexan­dria has seen the same trend in in­creased reg­is­tra­tion for classes, said co-owner Nathan Carey.

“Peo­ple are want­ing to pro­tect them­selves,” he said.

Gun and am­mu­ni­tion sales spiked af­ter Sandy Hook, but “what it had to do with was who was in of­fice,” he said.

A three-month anal­y­sis of sales fol­low­ing the Las Ve­gas and Texas shoot­ings has to wait on the pas­sage of time and the re­lease of data by the FBI. Wal­lace said she wouldn’t be sur­prised if its shows a mild in­crease at most.

“T hat would be what I would ex­pect,” she said.

Over­all, you have to look at each event from the per­spec­tive of some­one who owns guns or is think­ing about buy­ing one, Wal­lace said.

“With a Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity, it’s un­likely that even if gun con­trol mea­sures pass that they’re go­ing to be dra­matic,” she said.


A me­mo­rial for the vic­tims of the shoot­ing at Suther­land Springs First Bap­tist Church in­cludes 26 white chairs, each painted with a cross and and rose, is dis­played in the church Sun­day in Suther­land Springs, Texas. A man opened fire inside the church...


Wil­son County Sher­iff Joe Tackitt Jr. walks past the front doors where bul­let holes were marked by po­lice at the First Bap­tist Church on Nov. 7 in Suther­land Springs, Texas.

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