Firearms companies fret as background checks level off, anti-gun activists push
Federal gun-purchase background checks leveled off a bit in June after three consecutive record-setting months, and firearms companies are starting to fret about what the newfound Parkland-driven activism is doing to their bottom lines.
While not a perfect correlation, background checks are considered a yardstick of overall sales, and June’s 1.9 million hits on the FBI’s national instant check system, while up slightly compared to 2017, were far from the monthly records set in March, April and May, after the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Adjusted numbers from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a leading trade group, show a 12 percent decline last month compared to June 2017.
Historically, gun sales increase after high-profile mass shootings as the public moves to act before an expected push for new gun controls. Interest eventually subsides.
But major companies are now warning shareholders that the post-Florida push for gun controls, led in part by the student survivors of massacre, is more sustained than usual and could end up hurting sales going forward.
American Outdoor Brands — the parent company of Smith & Wesson — said in its latest recent annual financial report that total net sales dropped 33 percent and sales from its firearms products dropped 42 percent in their budget year that ran from May 2017 through April, and warned that the lean times could continue.
“Certain activists could pressure our financial institutions, our customers, our vendors, or other businesses and institutions with whom we maintain relationships to adopt actions that are not in the best interests of our company,” the report said. “Such activities could have a negative impact on our business, operating results, and financial condition.”
Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says it’s proof that her side can notch wins on the issue outside of the legislative process, as it’s rare to see the gun industry or gun-rights activists acknowledge that they’re feeling the heat.
“If Americans are deciding that they don’t want to do business with companies that create weapons of war, then that will help put economic pressure on gun companies to act more responsibly,” Ms. Gardiner said.
In addition to targeting both gun companies and gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association, the post-Parkland activists have tried to pressure financial institutions and even credit card companies by calling for them to sever ties with clients they deem too pro-gun.
They’ve gotten some results.
In March, Citibank announced it would only work with retail clients if they required background checks for gun purchases and didn’t sell to people under 21. Bank of America also has announced it’s backing away from clients that sell semiautomatic firearms.
Still, the June figures could also simply be the leading edge of what has been a recent pattern of a gun sale boom after mass shootings, like the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, followed by a longer-term decline, said Robert Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York-Cortland.
“It’s getting a little more attention now because of these current reports that sales are down and profitability is down,” said Mr. Spitzer, who has written extensively on the politics of gun control.
Gun-rights activists, meanwhile, say the public calls for boycotts and the new social activism only serve to fire up their side.
Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, chalked up the flat-to-declining June numbers to a subsiding “anti-gun media frenzy.”
“There is no doubt that gun sales, in part, will rise and fall depending upon the public outcry against firearms at the moment,” Mr. Pratt said. “This is why President Obama is universally heralded as the gun salesman of the decade.”
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