October 19, 2012

US gun industry is thriving during Obama's term

Sales are on the rise, so much that some manufacturers cannot make guns fast enough. And the number of licensed gun dealers is rising for the first time in 20 years.

WASHINGTON — Tennessee lawyer Brian Manookian says he never considered himself a gun enthusiast. He owns just one handgun and was raised in a gun-free home. But the firearms industry has proven so successful in recent years that he decided to give up practicing law and make guns his livelihood.

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This photo taken Aug. 22, 2012, shows Central Wisconsin Firearms owner Frederick Prehn in his store in Wausau, Wis. He says he's had to expand his business to the new location last summer because of increased gun sales. He attributes the spike to Wisconsin's new concealed carry law as well as the uncertainty about the upcoming election. President Barack Obama is presiding over a heyday for the gun industry despite predictions he would be the most anti-gun president in history. An Associated Press analysis finds gun sales are on the rise and stocks of major gun companies are up. The number of federally licensed gun dealers is increasing for the first time in nearly 20 years. And the National Rifle Association is bursting with cash and political clout. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

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This photo taken Sept. 26, 2012 shows a picture of President Barack Obama labeled "Firearms Salesman of the Year" at the East Side Gun Shop in Nashville, Tenn. President Obama has presided over a heyday for the gun industry despite predictions by the National Rifle Association four years ago that he would be the "most anti-gun president in American history." Gun buyers fear that Obama wants to restrict their purchases, although his administration has never made any attempt do so. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

It's a decision that's put Manookian on track to earn four times what he made as a corporate health care attorney, a job that earned him six figures right out of law school, he said.

And he's far from alone. An analysis by The Associated Press of data tracking the health of the gun industry shows that President Barack Obama has presided over a heyday for guns.

Sales are on the rise, so much that some manufacturers cannot make enough fast enough. Major gun company stock prices are up. The number of federally licensed, retail gun dealers is increasing for the first time in nearly 20 years. The U.S. gun lobby is bursting with cash and political clout. Washington has expressed little interest in passing new gun laws, despite renewed calls to do so after recent deadly shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin.

Four years ago the gun lobby predicted Obama would be the "most anti-gun president in American history." Yet it is hard to find a single aspect of the gun world that isn't thriving.

"The driver is President Obama. He is the best thing that ever happened to the firearm industry," said Jim Barrett, an industry analyst at C.L. King & Associates Inc. in New York.

Obama has made no pledges to push for new gun control legislation and does not have the support in Congress or among voters even if he did. During this week's presidential debate, he did suggest renewing a U.S. ban on assault weapons and coming up with an overall strategy to reduce violence. But both Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said the real need is for the government to enforce gun laws already on the books.

Meanwhile, sales are brisk.

Since opening a $5 million armory in Nashville last month, Manookian and his business partner have outdone their own expectations, selling inventory three to four times faster than they expected. The facility has high ceilings and granite fixtures in the bathroom and provides instructional courses and a shooting range in addition to firearms for sale.

"It is a very strong investment," Manookian said.

Others agree.

For the first time since 1993, the number of federally licensed retail gun dealers in the U.S. increased slightly in 2010 and 2011. The country added 1,167 licensed retail gun dealers, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives records. After the assault weapons ban of 1994 — now expired — the number of gun dealerships dropped annually until 2010. As of October 2012, there were 50,812 retail gun dealers — 3,303 more than in 2009.

"Business has been very good," said Frederick Prehn, who a year ago opened a small gun store above his dentistry practice in Wausau, Wis. In the past year, Prehn has relocated twice to larger spaces and gone from one employee to eight.

Some gun store owners can't keep shelves stocked, said Brian Jones, owner of Bullseye Shooter's supply in Painted Post, N.Y. Jones said he opened his gun store in November 2010. In his first year, he said he sold between 600 and 700 guns. A little more than halfway through his second year, he's already sold 700.

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