WASHINGTON President Obama has presided over a heyday for the gun industry despite predictions by the powerful U.S. gun lobby four years ago that he would be the "most anti-gun president in American history." Gun buyers fear that Mr. Obama wants to restrict their purchases, especially if he were re-elected.
An analysis by The Associated Press of data tracking the health of the gun industry shows that sales are on the rise, so much that some gun manufacturers cannot make enough guns fast enough. Major gun company stock prices are up. The number of federally licensed, retail gun dealers is increasing for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The lobby, the National Rifle Association, a gun advocacy group, is bursting with cash and political clout. And Washington has expressed little interest in passing new gun laws, despite renewed calls to do so after recent deadly shootings in the states of Colorado and Wisconsin.
Mr. Obama has made no promises to impose new gun control legislation and does not have the support in Congress or among voters even if he did. During this week's presidential debate, Mr. Obama suggested renewing a U.S. ban on assault weapons and coming up with an overall strategy to reduce violence, but both Mr. Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said the government needs to enforce gun laws already on the books.
"The driver is President Obama. He is the best thing that ever happened to the firearm industry," said Jim Barrett, an industry analyst at C.L. King & Associates Inc. in New York.
Tennessee lawyer Brian Manookian said he never considered himself a gun enthusiast like others in his state. He owns only one handgun. But the firearms industry has proved so lucrative for him that he is enthusiastic now. Manookian and his business partner, Gary Semanchik, opened a $5 million firearms retail and training complex in September in Nashville.
Inventory is selling three to four times faster than they expected since the facility opened.
"It is a very strong investment," Manookian said.
Others agree. For the first time since 1993, the number of federally licensed retail gun dealers in the U.S. increased slightly in 2010 and 2011, as the country added 1,167 more licensed retail gun dealers, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives records. After the assault weapons ban in 1994, the number of gun dealerships dropped annually until 2010. As of October 2012, there were 50,812 retail gun dealers - that's 3,303 more than in 2009.
"Business has been very good," said Frederick Prehn, who a year ago opened a small gun store above his dentistry practice in Wausau, Wisconsin. In the past year, Prehn has relocated twice to larger spaces and gone from one employee to eight.
Some gun store owners can't keep shelves stocked, said Brian Jones, owner of Bullseye Shooter's supply in Painted Post, New York. Jones said he opened his gun store in November 2010. In his first year, Jones said he sold between 600 and 700 guns. A little more than halfway through his second year, he's already sold 700.
For the first time in the company's history, Sturm Ruger & Co. Inc. stopped taking orders for a couple months this year. Ruger, one of the nation's largest gun manufacturers, has since resumed taking orders, though gun-sellers say demand is still outpacing production.
Mr. Obama is not yet through his first term, but the federal government already has conducted about as many background checks for gun owners and prospective buyers on his watch as it did during the first six years of George W. Bush's presidency. In the first 3 1/2 years of the Bush administration, the FBI conducted about 28 million background checks. During the same period of the Obama administration, the FBI conducted more than 50 million. The gun industry uses the number of background checks on gun owners as a reliable indicator of demand.
Ruger and Smith & Wesson represent nearly 30 percent of the U.S. gun manufacturing industry and lead the market in production of pistols and revolvers, according to government statistics. The two companies have been running production lines around the clock, hiring workers and operating at maximum capacity, said Barrett, an industry analyst who also owns Ruger stock.
Ruger's sales have increased 86 percent since Mr. Obama took office, and Smith & Wesson's sales have gone up nearly 44 percent, compared with 18 percent for overall national retail sales.