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The Real Story About Gun Sales in America


Gun sales in the United States continued at a record pace over the Black Friday shopping weekend.

Gun sales in the United States continued at a record pace over the Black Friday shopping weekend.

Gun sales during the past eight years of the Obama administration have been very good. A 2016 report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation showed the gun industry has grown by more than 150 percent since President Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

Right-wing and left-wing pundits have suggested this growth has been fueled by fears guns will be regulated out of existence, or that gun owners will be criminalized by what many gun rights supporters call a cabal of Democrats, leftists, anti-gun nuts and anyone who suggests that guns should be subject to some form of regulation.

Guns in a Trump presidency

But President-elect Donald Trump has been vocal in his support of the Second Amendment, which reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

"Our Founding Fathers knew, and our Supreme Court has upheld, that the Second Amendment’s purpose is to guarantee our right to defend ourselves and our families," Trump's website proclaims. "This is about self-defense, plain and simple."

FILE - Then-Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., handles a AR-15 style rifle as he meets with customers during a campaign stop at a gun show at Bektash Shrine Center in Concord, Jan. 23, 2016.

FILE - Then-Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., handles a AR-15 style rifle as he meets with customers during a campaign stop at a gun show at Bektash Shrine Center in Concord, Jan. 23, 2016.

If the huge expansion of the gun industry was driven by fear that Democrats would legislate guns out of American life, Trump's election should have put those fears to rest.

The New York Post in late November reported stock in gun manufacturers like Smith and Wesson had plummeted following Trump's win. The same day, Fortune magazine ran a report predicting flat or disappointing gun sales in the coming holiday season.

But something curious happened as the holiday season opened. As America's annual Christmas shopping spree began the Friday after Thanksgiving, the FBI received 185,713 requests for gun background checks. Each request means someone somewhere was buying a gun on the country's biggest shopping day. That breaks any record set during the past eight years, and suggests guns will be good business even during a Trump administration.

Changing demographics of gun ownership

But the rise in sales masks a fact about guns in America: gun ownership is on the decline and has been for more than 20 years. Gun ownership was at its highest in the 1970s, when a reported 47 percent of Americans owned a firearm. But that number has declined until the most recent statistics from 2014, which suggest between 31 and 34 percent of Americans now have a firearm in their home.

FILE - People look over a table of handguns for sale at a gun show in Kansas City, Missouri, Dec. 22, 2012.

FILE - People look over a table of handguns for sale at a gun show in Kansas City, Missouri, Dec. 22, 2012.

So how does the meteoric rise in gun sales square with the slow decline of gun ownership? Answers can be found in a study done this year by researchers from Northeastern and Harvard Universities.

"While the fraction of U.S. adults who report owning guns has declined only modestly ..." the report concludes, "current gun owners are likely to own more guns." In other words, people who already own a gun are buying more guns and, according to the study, some of them are buying a lot more guns.

"We estimate that, as of 2015, there were approximately 270 million guns in the U.S. civilian gun stock, an increase of approximately 70 million guns since the mid-1990s," the report says. But it notes that half the respondents own only one or two guns.

New era of gun 'super owner'

According to the report, a small group of Americans — about three percent of the population — own half the nation's guns.

This group of seven million people each own an average of 17 guns, and some reported owning more than 100 individual firearms. The report dubbed them "super-owners," and it's not so much the nation that is on a gun shopping spree as these Americans adding to their already considerable arsenals.

The reasons Americans own guns are also changing. As recently as 1999, according to the Pew Research Center, most Americans said hunting was the main reason they had a firearm in the home. But these days, the primary reason cited by the largest group of gun owners, 48 percent, was protection.

The Pew report also says 85 percent of Americans support more background checks. At the same time, a more recent Pew study suggested "the public overall remains divided over whether it is generally more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns, 52%, or to control gun ownership, 46%."

So while there are more guns in America than ever before, they are in the hands of fewer and fewer people. What this means for society will continue to be part of the divisive and ongoing conversation about America's Second Amendment and how far its right to bear arms should go.

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