Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 | 2 a.m.
With more firearms being sold in the United States than any other time in the country’s history, major gun retailers at this week’s Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show credited a sales explosion to recent executive orders from President Barack Obama and a growing public desire for self-protection.
“The original fear was that the government is going to take your guns away,” said Mike Bazinet, public affairs director for the annual SHOT Show. “But now people have also come to the realization that they have to defend themselves.”
The annual trade-only show, taking place at the Sands Expo convention center, features more than 1,600 exhibitors and 60,000 participants from more than 25 countries. The show concludes Friday.
As with most recent gun-related statements from the White House, the buzz on Tuesday’s showroom floor revolved around Obama’s Jan. 4 executive orders on gun control, changing the definition of a federally licensed dealer and proposing a $500 million investment in mental health treatment, among other provisions.
“Every time the president speaks about guns, people come rushing in,” said Bud Fini, vice president of marketing for Sig Sauer, a top-selling firearm brand. “It changes nothing in terms of the law, but people just buy more guns.”
“Really, any attention from Washington that’s drawn to the firearms industry tends to lead to firearm sales,” said Max Ziegler, a representative from Colt’s Manufacturing Company.
A single-month record of more than 3.3 million background checks were run by the FBI in December, part of more than 23.1 million total checks conducted by the bureau last year. Given that as many as 40 percent of firearm sales take place through unlicensed dealers, according to the New York Times, and many of the nation's leading firearm sellers are privately owned, the FBI’s tally is often the most telling about Americans’ interest in guns.
But as mass shootings have increased every year since 2010, according to shootingtracker.com, a site that documents mass shootings nationwide, more Americans also are buying arms for personal protection, SHOT Show participants said.
“With all of the shootings, the mentality seems to be ‘All right, well, what can I do now to prevent it?’” said Kie Wagner, a spokeswoman for Glock.
“People just want to be able to protect themselves, should it come to that,” added Paul Ballash, owner of USA Arms gun store in Tampa, Fla. “We don’t anticipate our guns or our customers going anywhere.”
Missing among Tuesday’s exhibitors were “smart guns,” or firearms that use technology to ensure a weapon can be fired only by its owner.
Those firearms, introduced as early as 1994, were praised by Obama earlier this month but have not been embraced by gun manufacturers. Company representatives and dealers challenged the effectiveness of the weapons, citing the risk of potential technology failures.
“If you’ve ever used an iPad or smartphone, you know touchscreens and fingerprinting fails from time to time,” Sig Sauer’s Fini said. “Unfortunately, you don’t have the same margin of error with firearms.”
“Imagine the consequences of that technology malfunctioning,” Ballash added. “It’s too serious of an issue to mess around with.”
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to correct an error about President Obama’s executive orders on gun control.