What’s Behind Record Gun Sales? Low Prices and Fear

   11.05.15

What’s Behind Record Gun Sales? Low Prices and Fear

According to the FBI’s background check stats, October marked the sixth straight month of record gun sales. The thing is, there’s no panic going on out there, like there was post-Obama or post-Sandy Hook, or like there will be if Hillary takes the White House next year. No, AR-15 prices are still quite soft, and most types of guns and ammo are widely available.

I think there are two factors at work here, the first of which is about dynamics of supply, demand, and pricing.

After the twin panics of 2008 and 2012, gun and ammo manufacturers went into overdrive and ramped up their production capacity. That increased capacity then, combined with the collapse in demand that inevitably follows a one-off buying surge (i.e., many people made their next few years worth of gun purchases all at once, and then they just stopped buying because they were all tooled up and out of cash), demand evaporated at precisely the time that gun makers were prepared to dump tons of new product into the market.

The combination of an oversupply of guns and weak consumer demand led gun makers to lower their prices, as anyone who has been paying attention to the AR market has noticed. Right now is a pretty amazingly good time to get into the AR. Fantastic guns can be had at very reasonable prices, and there are aggressive promotions from even high-end makers that would have been unthinkable in 2013.

So my hypothesis is that part of the 2015 surge in gun sales is just people doing what people do: buying great products while they’re cheap.

The second thing I’d point to as a factor is fear. Sure, hunting seems to be on the upswing, especially among women. But my strong suspicion is that the people buying October’s record number of guns aren’t planning to take game with them, and they’re also not in the grip of a prairie dog or coyote infestation. No, those firearms are for what’s euphemistically called “social work” in gun circles. In other words, gun sales are at least partially an indicator of fear, and in 2015 fear is enjoying a media heyday like we haven’t seen since the height of the cold war.

Just a year or so ago, if you wanted to read articles that seriously predict civil war and widespread societal upheaval in first-world countries like America, the UK, Singapore, etc., then you’d have to suffer through conspiracy theories about Agenda 21, intrusive ads for gold coins, rants about the Federal Reserve, and other hallmarks of the survivalist corners of the internet. But today you can find this kind of doomsday literature published regularly at places like The Nation, or Business Insider, or Vice. And the people quoted in these articles aren’t gold coin hustlers or fringe newsletter publishers–they’re academics at some of the top universities and think-tanks in the world. So collapse is officially mainstream, not just on TV and in theaters, but everywhere you turn.

I couldn’t say this a year ago, but I think it’s true today: there are basically two kinds of people: those who are prepping in one form or fashion, and those who are secretly thinking about it. It’s almost enough to make the contrarian in me want to go out and borrow tons of money to buy the Dow. Almost.

Anyway, here’s my theory in a nutshell: a glut of high-quality, cheap firearms and the mainstreaming of collapse porn are the twin forces driving 2015’s record-breaking surge in gun sales. Feel free to shoot it down in the comments.

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