Mass shootings don’t boost gun sales anymore. Here’s why

Posted at 11:26 AM, Feb 23, 2018

Mass shootings like the Florida tragedy that left 17 dead typically prompt a jump in gun sales, because buyers worry about tougher gun control.

But now those fears are mostly in check since Republicans control the White House and Congress.

“In the year since the Trump administration took office, there’s no serious discussion about gun control,” said David Studdert, the day after the Florida shooting. Suddert is a Stanford professor who has studied gun sales in the wake of mass shootings. “This shooting may prompt some people to buy guns, it’s unlikely to create the same kind of sales spike we saw following shootings during the Obama administration.”

In the week since the Florida shooting there has been quite a bit of talk about the need for gun control, much of it prompted by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where the shooting took place.

It’s too soon to say if those efforts will be successful, or if they have had any impact on gun sales this time around. But other mass shootings in the past year did not spur a spike in gun sales.

Related: Another ‘unspeakable tragedy’ at a U.S. school leaves 17 dead

In fact, last year was the worst year for gun sales, according to data going back to 1999. FBI background checks, which correspond roughly to purchases at licensed firearm dealers, fell 8% in 2017, the biggest full-year drop on record.

Just last week, iconic gunmaker Remington announced it will file for bankruptcy.

Revenues reported so far for 2017 by gun and ammunition manufacturers Sturm Ruger, American Outdoor Brands, Vista Outdoors and the Winchester unit of Olin Corp fell by a combined $610 million last year, down about 13%.

Related: How gun background checks work

When President Obama was in office, people rushed to buy guns after every mass shooting, worried that gun sales would soon be restricted. In December of 2012 when the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting took place, background checks soared by 49% compared to a year earlier. Monthly background checks jumped 44% when there was a shooting at a San Bernardino, California, Christmas party in December 2015. The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016 sparked a 39% jump in background checks.

Related: Remington to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

But gun buyers haven’t reacted to a shooting like that since Trump took office. After the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the number of background checks that month still fell 13% from a year earlier. Background checks also fell in November 2017 after the shooting at a Texas church.

Among the best thing for gun sales currently is the relatively strong state of the economy, which is driving all kinds of purchases. The single best day for background checks on record was Black Friday of 2017, at the start of a strong holiday shopping season.

Related: The AR-15 – How ‘ugly’ unwanted weapon became most popular rifle in America

Gun ownership is very widespread in the United States. In a Gallup survey last October, 42% of people said they had a gun in their home. And there are an estimated 265 million guns in private hands.

But a relatively small percentage of the population does most of the gun buying. A study by professors at Harvard and Northeastern University in 2016 found that half of the guns in the nation are owned by only 3% of the population.