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Bill Schmick: The gun industry is doing just fine

Guns for sale at shop

In the aftermath of mass shootings like those we have seen in recent days, gun sales typically spike in America as residents feel their Second Amendment rights are jeopardized amid calls for stronger regulations.

Despite the carnage caused by firearms, the business of manufacturing, marketing, and selling guns to Americans is thriving. What is worse, it appears that efforts to control and regulate the industry may only increase sales.

During the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, gun purchases accelerated. More than 5 million adults becoming first-time gun owners compared to 2.4 million in 2019, according to a survey published by the Annals of Internal Medicine. Approximately half of all new gun owners were female, and nearly half were people of color. Month after month, sales of guns have surpassed 1 million units for 33 months in a row.

This year (so far), monthly sales of guns have been off slightly. In April 2022, 1.5 million firearms were sold, which was a year-over-year decrease of 20.7 percent, while long guns or rifles fell by 18.8 percent. However, if past behavior is any indication gun sales will likely surge in the months ahead. It is one reason why publicly traded gun stock prices are flat-to-up despite the horrible news of the last two weeks.

The facts are that mass shootings like the ones in Uvalde, Texas or Buffalo, N.Y. motivate more Americans to buy guns rather than to give them up. Throughout the last several years, the three highest months for gun sales occurred in December 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; in December 2015, after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.; and in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic. There were also gun sale spikes in June 2020 as Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

The most-cited reason for owning a firearm in the wake of high-profile shootings and massacres is personal security. “Self-Defense” seems to be an overriding motivator for most Americans. Opponents of this behavior argue that more guns at home only increase the potential risk to the 11 million household members that are newly exposed to lethal firearms, including an estimated 5 million children.

As a Vietnam veteran, I am convinced that guns as a form of self-defense is a fallacy. Unlike hunter safety courses, which teach new gun owners how to safely use rifles or bows in hunting wildlife, Americans (except veterans and law enforcement) have little to no training in the far more deadly skill of killing or wounding another human being.

Learning that skill required, in my case, more than 18 months of sophisticated training using live fire. Even then, repeated firefights were vital in learning how to survive, reduce instances of friendly fire, and accomplish the objective of self-defense or offense.

In my life, I have only met a handful of men and women, who have received and have maintained those skills. My brother, for example, who lives in Delaware, has an arsenal of guns, and has never hunted, and yet enjoys shooting up old cars with his state trooper buddies. I remind him abandoned autos don’t shoot back, but he ignores my arguments.

However, there is also another important factor in generating increased gun sales — regulation. As I write this, Congress is once again demanding something be done to reduce gun violence. And as usual, most Republican representatives and senators display few signs that they will vote for any new gun regulation. Gun control has become a partisan issue, just as important as abortion in many circles.

The more vocal politicians become over limiting or hindering the purchase of firearms, the more gun advocates feel threatened that their Second Amendment rights might be reduced or taken away entirely. The result is usually a rush to buy and stockpile even more guns “just in case.”

Frustrated with the stalemate in Washington, many individual states are attempting to take action where they can to reduce gun violence. Other states are pushing to reverse or strengthen voters’ gun rights in response. Roughly three in five state legislatures are Republican-controlled and are determined to make guns even more accessible to their citizens.

For example, one of the country’s largest banks. attempted to distance itself from the firearm industry after a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead. Texas, in response, passed a new law that requires banks and other professional service firms to provide the state written affirmations that they are complying with the law.

Banks could be subject to criminal prosecution if they don’t comply. In addition, banks worry about their bottom line, since Texas is one of the nation’s largest bond issuers, with $50 million in annual borrowing that generated $315 million in fees last year for financial firms.

The facts are that in a country where one third of Americans own guns, don’t blame the politicians for their lack of new regulations on guns and gun violence. They are simply following the wishes of their voters. Just recognize that three out of 10 of your neighbors, regardless of whether you live in a blue state or red state, may disagree with additional gun controls.

And don’t dismiss gun owners as a bunch of redneck, no nothings. There are countless, male and female professionals — doctors, lawyers, financial planners etc. —that own and collect guns. As such, while my heart breaks for the slaughter that we see perpetrated by Americans with guns on an almost on a daily basis the solution eludes us.

One suggestion might be to require insurance when purchasing a gun, like the existing practice of requiring insurance along with the purchase of an automobile. It would avoid the Second Amendment controversary and probably reduce those willing to pay yearly insurance for each firearm they own.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative of Onota Partners Inc. in the Berkshires. He can be reached at 413-347-2401, or e-mail him at billiams1948@gmail.com.

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