Tomorrow, a coalition of "gun rights and conservative groups" ranging from the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the Second Amendment Foundation to the Social Security Institute (which isn't what it sounds like) will hold the first ever "Gun Appreciation Day" in America. Across the nation, these folks are urging Americans to turn out and "show their support for gun ownership by turning out en masse at gun stores, ranges, and shows from coast to coast."
But will they?
A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post-ABC News calls the issue into question. The results of telephone interviews of 1,001 adults around the country show that in fact, 43% of Americans support passing stricter gun control laws -- such as the ones President Obama proposed earlier this week -- to curb gun violence in schools, versus 41% who prefer the NRA's solution of posting armed guards in schools.
A majority (52%) of those polled say that the shootings at Sandy Hook last month made them more inclined to support new gun control legislation -- and no wonder. A whopping 55% of respondents said they personally worry that a mass shooting may one day occur in their own communities.
And yet, that's not the whole story -- not by a long stretch. At the same time as Americans seem to like the idea of increasing security by restricting guns in theory, less than 1 in 3 think passing stricter gun control laws -- or indeed, doing anything to try to address the epidemic of gun violence in America -- should be a priority of this administration. Given their druthers, most poll respondents say they'd much rather President Obama spend his time trying to (a) fix the economy, (b) cut spending, or (c) enact tax reform. Best of all: all three, and leave gun legislation to a later date.
What's more, neither of the two highest-profile measures that the president urged this week -- banning "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines in firearms -- receive majority support among Americans polled. Both measures fell noticeably short of a 51% consensus. Rather, the most popular solution supported by the people appears to be tightening the rules requiring criminal background checks to include sales conducted between private parties at gun shows.
What does it mean to you?
Personally, I've got my own opinions on all of the above... and none of them matter a whit. The Motley Fool is not a public policy website, and this is not a column on the merits (or lack thereof) of passing gun control laws (or not). We're all here to discuss investing, and to the extent the gun debate affects our investments, that's all we're going to discuss today.
So here's the deal: Based on all the above, it looks to me like all the furor over the recent spate of gun violence in America -- Aurora, Sandy Hook, and everything between now and all the way back to Columbine (which took place in the middle of the 1994-2004 Assault Weapons Ban, by the way) -- will ultimately have little effect on the business of gun manufacturing and gun retailing in America in the long run.
First things first
While Americans by and large support gun control in theory, very few Americans truly want the government to limit their personal right to get a gun when and if they decide they need one. And even among the majority of people who think it would be a good idea to keep somebody else from getting a gun, passing laws to achieve that isn't really a priority. Not, at any rate, as long as the economy is in the tank, millions of Americans are out of work, and government spending (and printing presses) is running amok.
For this reason, it seems that the sell-offs we've seen at publicly traded gun manufacturers Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ:AOBC) and Sturm, Ruger (NYSE:RGR) in recent weeks are unjustified. After all, while gunsmith shares have taken a hit, shares of companies operating in the adjacent industries of ammunition manufacture and gun retailing haven't been hurt badly -- as you'd expect they would be, if there was any longevity to be expected out of the movement to regulate guns and ammo. To the contrary, shares of Alliant Techsystems (UNKNOWN:ATK.DL) and Olin Corp (NYSE:OLN) are both up strongly, while sports equipment retailer Cabela's (NYSE:CAB), after an initial sell-off, has rallied strongly in recent days.
Long story short, and for better or worse, I simply disagree with the prevailing wisdom that gun makers, and their stocks, are vulnerable to gun control legislation out of Washington today. And yes, I still think both Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger remain strong candidates for investment at today's prices.