U.S. gun makers led by Sturm Ruger & Co. and Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. (SWHC) churned out a record number of firearms in 2012, government data show, continuing a trend of robust production during Democratic presidencies.
More than 8.57 million guns were produced in 2012, up 31 percent from 6.54 million in 2011, according to data released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has been tracking the statistics since 1986.
Almost as many guns — 26.1 million — were produced during Democrat Barack Obama’s first term as president as during the entire eight-year presidency of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, the ATF data show.
Advocates on both sides of the gun-control debate said manufacturers were meeting demand fueled by concerns among gun owners that Democratic presidents are more willing to limit firearms sales than Republicans. After years of steering clear of the issue, Obama pressed unsuccessfully last year for stricter gun measures in the wake of the 2012 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The production boom has resulted in strong sales and profits for gun companies, including Sturm & Ruger and Smith & Wesson.
“Barack Obama is the stimulus package for the firearms industry,” said Dave Workman, senior editor of Gun Mag, a print and online publication of the 2nd Amendment Foundation, a gun-ownership rights group. “The greatest irony of the Obama administration is that the one industry that he may not have really liked to see healthy has become the healthiest industry in the United States.”
Brian Malte, senior policy director of the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said gun-rights groups “demonized” Obama during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, leading many gun owners to buy more firearms.
“We see the percentage of households owning guns declining,” he said, “and that indicates that those who already own guns are buying more of them.”
Other factors may also be driving gun demand, including Supreme Court decisions striking down gun restrictions, a spread of laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons and the increasingly popularity of sport shooting, said Mike Bazinet, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade organization that represents gun and ammunition manufacturers.
“It defies any simple characterization,” he said.
A White House spokesman, Matt Lehrich, declined to comment.
The 2012 manufacturing figures were the most recent ones released by ATF as part of its annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report. Just 3.4 percent of the firearms covered in the 2012 data were exported.