Gun pro­duc­tion soars de­spite Sandy Hook, Obama push for lim­its

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Amer­i­can firearms in­dus­try is as healthy as ever, see­ing an un­prece­dented surge that has sent pro­duc­tion of guns soar­ing to more than 10.8 mil­lion man­u­fac­tured in 2013 alone — dou­ble the to­tal of just three years ear­lier.

The 2013 surge — the lat­est for which the gov­ern­ment has fig­ures — came in the first full year af­ter the De­cem­ber 2012 shoot­ing at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School, sig­nal­ing that the push for stricter gun con­trols, strongly backed by Pres­i­dent Obama, did lit­tle to chill the in­dus­try de­spite the pas­sage of stricter laws in states such as New York, Mary­land, Con­necti­cut and Cal­i­for­nia.

In­deed, in­ter­est in guns ap­pears to be at an all-time high in Cal­i­for­nia, which shat­tered its record for gun-pur­chase back­ground checks last month, with nearly 200,000 pro­cessed, sug­gest­ing a vi­brant firearms mar­ket in the coun­try’s largest state.

In­dus­try back­ers say they aren’t sur­prised firearms buy­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers alike have re­sponded to the na­tional gun con­trol de­bate by mak­ing and pur­chas­ing more.

“The surge in firearms sales in 2013 re­flects both a long-term up­ward trend in shoot­ing sports par­tic­i­pa­tion and [a] par­tic­u­lar con­cern that year that lawabid­ing gun own­ers and those in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing a firearm for the first time could face tougher re­stric­tions af­fect­ing ac­cess to and se­lec­tion of firearms,” said Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the Na­tional Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion.

Lit­tle more than two years af­ter the Sandy Hook shoot­ing, which claimed the lives of 20 school­child­ren and six fac­ulty at the school, the stay­ing power of the in­dus­try is strik­ing.

De­spite Mr. Obama’s per­sonal ap­peal for stricter laws, ef­forts to im­pose more back­ground checks and to ban mil­i­tary-style ri­fles and high-ca­pac­ity ammunition mag­a­zines failed at the fed­eral level in 2013. The Democra­tled Se­nate blocked those changes in a fil­i­buster, and the Repub­li­can-con­trolled House never even took up any leg­is­la­tion.

Mr. Obama was left to move ahead on his own, sign­ing more than two dozen ex­ec­u­tive or­ders and memos tweak­ing fed­eral en­force­ment pri­or­i­ties, urg­ing safe gun own­er­ship and boost­ing the fo­cus on men­tal health. He also nom­i­nated B. Todd Jones to be direc­tor of the Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives — but two years later, Mr. Jones has quit the agency af­ter a bun­gled ef­fort to ban a popular type of ri­fle ammunition.

Some states did move for­ward in the wake of New­town, in­clud­ing Con­necti­cut, where Sandy Hook was lo­cated. Colorado, Mary­land, New York and Cal­i­for­nia also en­acted re­stric­tions.

Still to be seen is what ef­fect those tougher state laws will have on man­u­fac­tur­ers. Sev­eral com­pa­nies sig­naled they would flee states where they no longer felt wel­come and shift pro­duc­tion to states that are seen as more gun-friendly, but those moves came too late to be re­flected in the 2013 data, which is the most re­cent avail­able. ATF re­leases data af­ter a one-year gap.

Beretta, which pro­duced nearly 350,000 firearms at its Ac­co­keek, Mary­land, plant in 2013, said last year it is mov­ing to Ten­nessee.

A spokes­woman for the com­pany didn’t re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment.

Sev­eral gun con­trol groups also didn’t re­spond to mes­sages seek­ing com­ment on the man­u­fac­tur­ing statis­tics and what they mean for the state of the de­bate.

Surg­ing un­der Obama

The big­gest change in pro­duc­tion has come un­der Mr. Obama. From 2001 to 2007, gun pro­duc­tion held steady at

be­tween 3 mil­lion and 4 mil­lion units a year. It topped 4 mil­lion in 2008 but shot to 5.6 mil­lion in 2009, held steady in 2010 and then spiked to 8.6 mil­lion guns in 2012 and a record 10.8 mil­lion in 2013, ac­cord­ing to ATF data.

John R. Lott Jr., pres­i­dent of the Crime Pre­ven­tion Re­search Cen­ter, said Amer­i­cans in­ter­ested in own­ing firearms are re­act­ing to the gun con­trol de­bate by buy­ing more of them. But he also said polling shows a fun­da­men­tal shift in at­ti­tudes, with Amer­i­cans in­creas­ingly be­liev­ing that the right to bear arms must be pro­tected and in­creas­ingly see­ing guns as a way to make homes safer, rather than as a po­ten­tial dan­ger in and of them­selves.

In­deed, in 2000, 51 per­cent of Amer­i­cans said guns made homes more danger­ous, ac­cord­ing to Gallup, the polling firm. By last year, that had dropped to 30 per­cent, and a full 63 per­cent now said guns made a home “safer.”

“My own per­sonal be­lief is that change in the be­liefs about guns and safety has served as the ba­sis for why you see in­creas­ing op­po­si­tion to gun con­trol dur­ing that same pe­riod of time,” Mr. Lott said.

Mr. Lott said firearm sales, even more than man­u­fac­tur­ing statis­tics, are a mea­sure of the health of the move­ment, and those are also on the rise, with ad­justed back­ground checks — a good proxy for sales — grow­ing from 8.9 mil­lion a year in 2008 to nearly 15 mil­lion in 2013.

“That’s a pretty hefty change you saw over that pe­riod of time,” he said.

Cal­i­for­nia’s back­ground checks hit 199,833 in March — 20 per­cent more than the pre­vi­ous monthly high and about twice as much as the av­er­age for March over the last decade.

The spike stumped Cal­i­for­nia gun rights ad­vo­cates.

“There’s no big gun bills, there’s no big scare,” said Bran­don Combs, who heads a num­ber of Cal­i­for­nia ad­vo­cacy groups.

He said March and April are of­ten big months for gun checks in his state, and he spec­u­lated it could be be­cause res­i­dents are get­ting their tax re­turns, re­cov­er­ing from hol­i­day spend­ing and have cash to spend. But he said the spike could also be an­other re­flec­tion of Cal­i­for­nia’s grow­ing em­brace of guns.

One other mea­sure of that affin­ity comes in the num­ber of “con­cealed carry” per­mits, which Mr. Combs said have tripled over the last few years. At the end of 2014 there were about 70,000 peo­ple li­censed in Cal­i­for­nia, and of­fi­cials said an­other 15,000 to 20,000 ap­pli­ca­tions were pending at that time.

“Cal­i­for­nia is work­ing its way to­ward its first 100,000-li­cense year ever,” Mr. Combs said.

Na­tion­ally, con­cealed carry per­mits have grown from 4.6 mil­lion in 2007 to more than 12 mil­lion now, Mr. Lott said.


A man fills out pa­per­work be­fore sell­ing a hand­gun to a first-time gun buyer at Metro Shoot­ing Sup­plies, in Bridgeton, Mis­souri. In 2000, 51 per­cent of Amer­i­cans said guns made homes more danger­ous, ac­cord­ing to a Gallup poll. By last year. that had dropped to 30 per­cent, with a full 63 per­cent now say­ing guns made a home safer.

El­iza Eg­gle­ston of New­town, Con­necti­cut, holds up a sign seek­ing ac­tion on firearm re­stric­tions. Gun pro­duc­tion topped 4 mil­lion in 2008 but shot to 5.6 mil­lion in 2009, held steady in 2010 and then spiked to 8.6 mil­lion guns in 2012 and a record 10.8 mil­lion in 2013, ac­cord­ing to data from the Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco and Firearms.


Naomi Ley­dig of Ster­ling, Vir­ginia, and her son Jaden par­tic­i­pate in a din­ner dur­ing Sec­ond Amend­ment Wed­nes­days where pa­trons are al­lowed to open carry their guns in Lees­burg, Vir­ginia. A Gallup poll con­ducted in 2014 showed that 63 per­cent now said guns made a home safer.


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