Mass shootings are good for the gun business. So are dark warnings from the principal gun lobby in the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA), that President Barack Obama is leading a global conspiracy to seize an estimated 300 million guns now held by private citizens.
Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter. As they say on Wall Street, perception is reality and the fears the NRA has managed to inspire since Obama’s 2008 election have led to a boom for the American gun industry. At a time of misery for much of the rest of the American economy, growth rates for makers of firearms and ammunition have been impressive. Between 2008 and 2011, jobs in the industry jumped 30 percent.
Sales of guns and ammunition have spiked after each of the mass shootings, which have become a familiar part of American life. The latest massacre, the July 20 killing of 12 people in a crowded cinema in Colorado, prompted a 40 percent jump in sales on the day after the midnight shooting. There was an even sharper spike after last year’s shooting in Arizona that killed six and wounded a dozen others, including a member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords.
Why do people rush to buy guns after such bloody incidents? Two reasons, say experts. One is to defend themselves in case they are caught in a shooting and the second, more important, because the media coverage generated by unhinged killers invariably touches the topic of gun control. Fear of future restrictions, fanned without fail by the NRA, drives people to the gun shops.
No matter what one thinks of the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, its leader for more than two decades, his fearmongering has been effective and benefitted both his organization and the gun industry. When he took over the organization in 1991, it was close to bankruptcy. Now, in the words of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the NRA’s most prominent critics, the organization is “a $200 million-plus-a-year lobbying juggernaut with much of its funding coming from gun manufacturers and merchandising.”