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No spike in gun sales at Michigan gun shops after Texas massacre

gun store
Debate over gun-control measures following mass shootings often lead to a spike in gun sales following mass shootings. (Bridge photo by Karly Graham)

LANSING—In Lansing’s Dicker & Deal Second Hand Store, owner Gary Potter said he’s seen a spike in gun sales following mass shootings for the past few decades. 

But on Wednesday afternoon, one day after a horrific massacre of elementary school students in a small Texas town, Potter had not noticed an increase. 

“That's just horrendous,” he said of the carnage in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children in a fourth-grade classroom and two teachers before being killed by police. “So sad. But as far as the sales, I don't think it really has changed that much.”

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Across the state in Grand Rapids, Parker Bachelder, one of the owners of Bachelder Master Gunmakers Inc., said incidents like the shooting in Texas put gun store owners on high alert for a possible increase in sales. But he too said Wednesday was relatively normal, and he did not hear any customers say they were purchasing a gun because of Tuesday’s shooting. 

“The events that unfolded yesterday always have retailers aware that that might usher in a run on product, so to speak,” Bachelder said. “It's very little in between in today's market — it's either an overwhelming demand or an excess of inventory.”

Early returns from the two stores stand in contrast to a rise in gun company stocks Wednesday for U.S. gunmakers. 

Investors bumped up the value of publicly held gun makers and dealers, with several opening the day with mild gains but ending up ahead of the overall market, which only saw a 0.6 percent gain.

Sturm, Ruger & Co, the Connecticut gun maker known for Ruger rifles, started trading slowly then jumped up by 7 percent at its peak on Wednesday, around noon. By the end of the day, the company’s overall gain was just under 5 percent, still notably higher than the market average.

Smith & Wesson Brands closed 7 percent higher than before the school killings, as did gun maker Vista Outdoor, the Minnesota sporting goods maker that sells several firearm products, including Remington ammunition. 

“The gun industry has perverse incentives,” Dru Stevenson, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, told The New York Times, “because sales and their stocks go up when there are events like this.”

Not all companies saw a stock price increase on Wednesday. Olin, the New York manufacturer that includes ammo in its portfolio, finished the day nearly flat.

Potter opened his Lansing shop in 1973. Ever since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 by two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher, Potter said he’s seen a sales bump following nearly every mass shooting in the U.S. 

He said increasing levels of paranoia and anxiety over the state of the country are the main cause for the general increase in purchases. “I think it's just people scared of what's going on with society.”

Potter said sales rise in response to the political outcry over gun control after past school shootings, as customers rushed to buy a form of protection for themselves and family. 

“When there's a big incident like that, the first thing that happens, you know, the left starts yelling gun control, the right says gun rights,” Potter said. “So obviously, there's people that get worried that they're not going to be able to get them so you'll get a little spike. I mean, it's not like crazy, they're not trampling us. But yeah, you'll get a little uptick.” 

According to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), background checks for guns in Connecticut were the highest in December and January of 2012-13, following the massacre at another elementary school, in the town of Sandy Hook.  

In March 2018, Florida issued 137,997 background checks to possess firearms, the highest of the year, following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that February that left 14 students and three staff members dead. 

The Texas shooting comes nearly six months after the shooting at Michigan’s Oxford High School, where an 18-year-old gunman is now charged with killing four classmates. And it comes just 10 days after 10 Buffalo residents were killed at a grocery store, with police arresting an 18-year-old said to be motivated by racial hatred.  

Bachelder said discussions about mass shootings and possible legislative solutions fuel the cyclical trend of gun sales, despite seeing lower sales on the types of guns used to carry out recent mass shootings in the months since Oxford. 

“It's a bit odd, it's been a bit of a slowing down in certain sectors, while others have been staying strong,” Bachelder said. 

Bachelder said ups and downs in gun sales are expected in the industry and considered now a “transitionary” period with lower gun sales after a record-breaking amount of guns were sold in the U.S. in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic as national unrest grew. 

Americans purchased a record number of 23 million guns nationwide in 2020, according to a report from Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting (SAAF). Sales fell 12.5 percent in 2021 across the country but nearly 19 million guns were purchased according to SAAF. 

Many of the sales were first-time gun owners. A Jan. report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) reported that 5.4 million people nationwide purchased a gun for the first time in 2021, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all gun sales. 

“There's a lot of interest in owning guns, from people outside of the world of guns that may not have grown up with it and may not have ever owned a firearm,” Bachelder said. 

During the rise in gun purchases, the country also saw a rise in gun violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 45,222 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2020, up from 39,707 firearm-related deaths in 2019. 

In Michigan, it’s legal for residents to open carry without a permit. To carry a concealed gun, it’s required that the person applying passes a background check and possesses a permit. To apply for a concealed carry permit, an applicant has to have at least eight hours of documented training, three of those hours being on the range. You only have to be 18 years old to buy a gun in Michigan. 

Potter said, from his perspective as a gun store owner, there are no issues with Michigan’s current regulations.

“I think Michigan covers it pretty well,” Potter said. “You gotta follow all the rules, and there's background checks on you for buying handguns and all that stuff. So overall, I think everything's going the way that it should go.”

As Bridge reported Wednesday, the Michigan Legislature has approved minor school safety measures since the Oxford shootings, including allowing schools to install temporary locks on doors in school buildings without state approval. But the state has yet to pass any major safety initiatives since the tragedy. 

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