What happens in the wake of the worst mass shooting in modern US history — one that killed 49 people and left 53 gravely injured?
Americans buy more guns.
Here’s a look at the New York Stock Exchange stock prices for two major gun manufacturers — Sturm, Ruger & Co. and Smith & Wesson. The attack happened on Sunday, and stocks don’t trade over the weekend. But as soon as the market opened Monday morning, gun stocks surged by more than 8 percent.
This is not atypical: Mass shootings, however heinous, have long been a boon to gun industry executives.
Gun sales almost always surge after mass shootings
James Hardiman, an analyst who closely covers the firearm industry, tells us, "[Mass shootings] are an opportunity for gun manufacturers to sell more guns."
Gun executives are well aware of this — and behind closed doors, at investor summits, they've used it as a talking point.
Last year, the Intercept went through investor transcripts from gun companies and related industries and found dozens of instances of "executives discussing mass shooting incidents … as lucrative."
At one conference, Tommy Millner, CEO of Cabela’s (a sporting goods chain), gloated about his company’s increased gun sales after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. "[T]he business went vertical … I meant it just went crazy … [we had] tailwinds of profitability," he said, before a room of investors. "[Cabela’s] didn’t blink as others did to stop selling AR-15 platform guns [and we] got a lot of new customers."
In another instance, Mark DeYoung, CEO of the ammunition manufacturer ATK, spoke of "market pressures" and "spikes" in sales resulting from the July 2012 Aurora, Colorado, shooting that left 12 dead and 70 wounded.
Research done by my colleague Alvin Chang reinforces that this isn’t just big talk. Back in December, he collected background check figures — which are a good proxy for gun sales — from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System and found that a considerable spike (more than typical, even for the holidays) occurred the month of Sandy Hook.
Interestingly, sales of long guns — or assault weapons like the AR-15 — were the primary driver of this boost in sales.
Hardiman has a theory for this: "Handgun sales are a good indication of how people feel about their personal safety, whereas long gun sales are more of an indication of fear of regulation."
The undertone of this is that gun sales are driven by not just mass shootings but the policy discussions that follow them.
Gun sales are boosted by rhetoric from both the left and the right
According to Hardiman, there are two fears that drive Americans to purchase guns: a fear for personal safety (e.g., Sandy Hook), and a fear that tighter regulations will crimp their freedom to buy a gun in the future (e.g., Obama’s election).
These fears are stoked by politicians from both the left and the right.
"On the left, you have Hillary Clinton talking about tighter gun restriction, which scares the gun people," says Hardiman. "And on the right, you’ve got Donald Trump, who is contributing to the fear of Muslims and ISIS. Gun sales are being bolstered by rhetoric on both sides."
The Orlando shooting, like many other mass shootings before it, brings these fears head to head. And the gun industry will benefit from it.