WASHINGTON – Tennessee lawyer Brian Manookian says he never considered himself a gun enthusiast. He owns just one handgun and was raised in a gun-free home. But the firearms industry has proven so successful in recent years that he decided to give up practicing law and make guns his livelihood.
It’s a decision that’s put Manookian on track to earn four times what he made as a corporate health care attorney, a job that earned him six figures right out of law school, he said.
And he’s far from alone. An analysis by the Associated Press of data tracking the health of the gun industry shows that President Barack Obama has presided over a heyday for guns.
Sales are on the rise, so much that some manufacturers cannot make enough 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 U.S. gun lobby is bursting with cash and political clout.
Four years ago the gun lobby predicted Obama would be the “most anti-gun president in American history.” Yet it is hard to find a single aspect of the gun world that isn’t thriving.
“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.
Obama has made no pledges to push for 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, he did suggest renewing a U.S. ban on assault weapons and coming up with an overall strategy to reduce violence. But both Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney said the real need is for the government to enforce gun laws already on the books.
Meanwhile, sales are brisk.
“Business has been very good,” said Frederick Prehn, who a year ago opened a small gun store above his dentistry practice in Wausau, Wis. In the past year, Prehn has relocated twice to larger spaces and gone from one employee to eight.
For the first time in the company’s history, Sturm Ruger & Co. Inc. stopped taking orders for a couple of 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.
“Wouldn’t you want to be in a business where customers are just begging to hand you money?” said Bill Bernstein, owner of East Side Gun Shop in Nashville.
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 NRA itself has done well, too. The lobbying organization has had more cash on hand during the Obama years than it had since 2004, finishing 2010 with more than $24 million, according to the most recent figures available.
“Which makes it incredibly ironic that the gun lobby is opposing Obama,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Gross said Obama, who initially campaigned to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired under Bush, has done what he said was “disappointingly little” on gun control.
The gun lobby stands by its 2008 predictions that Obama would be anti-gun. NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam noted Obama’s appointment of two Supreme Court justices whom the NRA considers anti-gun, plus Obama’s support of a United Nations arms trade treaty and the botched operation called Fast and Furious, which the NRA says was concocted as part of a plan to enforce new gun restrictions.
“Gun owners and hunters fear that a second Obama administration with no future political campaigns to worry about will try to destroy this great American freedom,” Arulanandam said.