Two factors in recent history have tended to send gun sales soaring. Gun sales usually spike in the days after a mass shooting: Requests for background checks rose 41 percent in Colorado in the wake of the Aurora movie theater shooting in July, and similar spikes had followed Columbine in 1999 as well as the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that wounded then-US Rep. Gabby Giffords. After the Newtown tragedy, gun sales have been setting new records in several states.
The second factor is politics. Sales spiked in anticipation of Barack Obama's election in 2008 and 2012, fueled by fears that new gun restrictions would follow.
Mr. Obama's presidency has been a boon for gunmakers, in fact. While he has enacted no new gun restrictions (though he is weighing them now), and has actually acted in support of expanded gun rights, industry analyst Jim Barrett called Obama "the best thing that ever happened to the firearms industry," in an Associated Press interview. According to an October analysis by AP, Ruger & Co. and Smith & Wesson, the two biggest gunmakers in the US, have seen their profits rise by 86 percent and 41 percent, respectively, since Obama took office.
Altogether, gunmakers manufactured about 5.5 million firearms in the US in 2010, a drop of less than 1 percent over 2009, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. That is on the heels of a 29 percent rise in production in 2009 (mostly pistols), however.