Gun sales shoot up amid America’s fear of rising crime and terrorism
Alexandra Frean, US Business Correspondent
Americans fear recession leads inevitably to more crime, leaving them staring down the barrel of a criminal's gun
Smith & Wesson, the famed American gunmaker once owned by Tomkins, the British conglomerate, expects to nearly double its annual sales in the next three to five years as demand for its firearms soars in the recession. It is not alone.
All over America demand for firearms and ammunition is rising amid concerns that rising unemployment, which passed 10 per cent this month, will lead inexorably to higher rates of crime. Fears of terrorism have also helped to lift demand, as have concerns among gun owners that the Obama Administration may introduce restrictions on gun ownership and impose additional taxes.
Smith & Wesson is expecting sales to rise by 30 per cent to $102 million (£61 million) in the first quarter of the next financial year, after growing by more than 13 per cent this year to $335 million.
At Sturm and Ruger, sales for the third quarter hit $71.2 million, up 70 per cent from the same period last year. At Glock, the leader in law enforcement markets, pistol sales rose by 71 per cent in the first quarter of the financial year for 2010, in comparison with the same period last year.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the FBI carried out more than a million background checks on behalf of gun dealers in September (a check is required with every sale), an increase of 12.4 per cent on the same period in the previous year.
Mike Golden, chief executive at Smith and Wesson, is sceptical about the so-called Obama effect on gun sales, believing that his company’s booming revenues have “nothing to do with the administration” and everything to do with the economy.
“People are worried about personal protection with unemployment and crime on the rise,” he said in a presentation to investors, adding that 30 per cent of customers who had bought the company’s guns in the first half of this year were “first-time gun owners”, up from 9 per cent nine a year earlier.
Randy Williams, industry editor at Hoover, the research firm, agreed. “As an example of the personal safety and terrorism aspect, Smith & Wesson’s hunting rifle sales in 2009 dropped about 33 per cent at a time when the company’s other gun sales — revolvers, pistols, Walther imports, and tactical rifles — grew 33 per cent,” he said.
Even though some experts believe that the gun bubble may be about to burst, with a slowdown in the rate of sales growth, such a view is not shared across the industry.
At the Freedom Group, whose brands include Remington, Marlin, Bushmaster and Harrington & Richardson, managers are encouraged by the “meaningful percentage of current firearm sales . . . made to first-time gun purchasers, particularly women”.
The company, owned by Cerberus, the private equity group, is seeking to raise $200 million through an initial public offering.
Although there is no clear evidence of a surge in gun ownership among women (they make up about 13 per cent of gun owners), the company says in its prospectus that it believes that the introduction of first-time shooters, as well as a younger demographic of users and those who like to customise or upgrade their firearms, will sustain the increase in demand.
Freedom is also hoping for an increase in the market for hunting guns, the only segment of the industry to experience a fall during the recession as cost-conscious consumers cut back on their discretionary spending on leisure activities.
With ongoing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, all manufacturers also believe that American military contracts will continue to provide them with large opportunities.
At Smith & Wesson, Mr Golden is taking no chances and has already started to diversify away from retail gun sales. In June he bought Universal Safety Response, which makes and installs security barriers and which he expects to bring in sales of $90 million next year.