By Liz Fields
If you’ve recently added a Smith & Wesson to someone’s stocking, you may be among Americans shopping for an increasing number of firearms this holiday season.
The surge in interest comes amid increased angst of terrorism attacks and rhetoric from politicians at home stoking those fears, according to gun shop owners and manufacturers. One store in Smyrna, Georgia, reported its sales had nearly doubled from 2014 around the holiday season. December is already the busiest month for gun sales in the US.“Ever since the Paris attacks, we’ve had a lot of customers coming in,” Eric Wallace, manager of gun store Adventure Outdoors told NBC’s the Today Show. “Buying first guns, buying guns to protect their homes, their families, and themselves.”
But stores have also seen an increase in gun gifting. One of the customers in Adventure Outdoors said he was shopping for his wife, who wanted a different kind of bling this Christmas.
“Like any good husband, I asked for the list of Christmas items that you’d like to have and one of the items was a firearm,” said customer Louis Cole, who already owns a gun. “Above jewelry was a firearm.”
The owner of another store in Albuquerque, New Mexico told KOAT Action 7 News many of her customers were also shopping for Christmas gifts.
“They’ll come in, then they’ll be looking and they’ll leave, then I’ll get a call: ‘Hey, remember that gun we were looking at? Well, she really liked it so I am going to come get it. Don’t tell her.’ Five minutes later, ‘Hey, remember that gun he really liked?'” said Belinda Gallegos, co-owner of ABQ Guns.
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The reports come amid an uptick in FBI background checks, which are processed by the National Instant Criminal Background Check system. In November, the bureau ran 2.2m gun background checks which is a 24 percent bump from the 2014. Over a single day on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, checks were run at a record 2 per second.
Background checks, which are carried out for federally licensed gun purchases and carry permits, are not a definitive indicator of increased gun sales. Customers who have the checks run might end up buying no guns, or more than one weapon. But the checks are a rough signal of how the industry is faring in general.
There are several complications when buying guns as gifts, including taking into account different laws and restrictions that apply in different states. According to federal regulations, anyone buying a firearm has to fill out a Firearms Transaction Record, which includes questions about citizenship, criminal history, and mental health.
The guns also must be gifted, one Arkansas gun storeowner told KFSM-TV. It’s illegal for anything to be given in exchange. It’s also illegal to buy someone a gun who isn’t allowed to own one — a convicted felon, for example.
Kelly Womack, who co-owns Fort Chaffee Outfitters in Fort Smith, said that her store sold more 40 guns on Black Friday.
“A lot of those were gifts,” she said. “What we didn`t sell in guns, we sold in accessories, which were gifts.”
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There are more guns in the US than ever before. In 2009, guns outnumbered the population for the first time in history, according to data from the Congressional Research Service. In 2013, there were an estimated 357 million firearms in the US, or about 40 million more guns than people.
The continued rise in gun sales can also be attributed in part to heightened anxiety about stricter gun control legislation following the spate of mass shootings in the US in 2015. Between July and October, firearms giant Smith & Wesson saw a 15.2 percent increase in sales to $124.9 million. It also noted a 32 percent rise in sales over the entire year.
“Obviously there have been some tragic recent events but we’re in the holiday season with people shopping for firearms,” James Debney, S&W’s chief executive officer, said of the company’s rising share price on a conference call with analysts.
In early December, a mass shooting in San Bernardino brought the total number of Americans killed by guns so far this year to 12,225. Following that shooting, the White House announced it was in the process of finalizing policy to tighten gun laws without Congressional approval.
One of the measures would reportedly include provisions to prevent anyone on a federal terrorism watch list from purchasing guns.
“Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun,” Obama said in an address from the Oval Office after the San Bernardino shooting. “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon?”
Related: Gun Deaths Have Plummeted in the US — But That Doesn’t Mean There’s Less Gun Violence
Gun owners and advocates have counter-argued that the no-fly lists are not always accurate and barring gun ownership to the tens of thousands of people who feature on them would be a restriction of their Second Amendment rights.
Earlier this month, Congress remained deadlocked on the issue, with Republican Senators shooting down a proposal from Senate Democrats to stop suspected terrorists on no-fly lists from buying guns and also a measure to tighten background checks.
“There’s a lot of fear… [Consumers feel that] it’s an unsafe world, and I need to be armed,” Brian Ruttenbur, an analyst with BB&T, told the Guardian. “The Brady Bill [a 1993 bill that mandated background checks and a five day waiting period]was very restrictive and there’s concerns that that will come back.”
VICE News’ Olivia Becker contributed to this report.
By Liz Fields