As the awful reality of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history settles in, many are assigning blame on firearms. According to a 2015 report from The Washington Post, the U.S. has more guns than people. Inevitably, these weapons will find themselves in the hands of deranged individuals, leading to fatal results, such as the horrendous Las Vegas attack.
But perhaps the highest magnitude of animus is directed towards gun stocks. From the same Washington Post report, firearms manufacturers, including Sturm Ruger & Company Inc (NYSE:RGR) and American Outdoor Brands Corp (NASDAQ:AOBC), substantially increased their output since 2009. Combining mass shootings with fears that the government will restrict gun rights, you have the perfect recipe for immense profitability.
Naturally, many Americans feel that the lift in valuations for gun stocks is akin to blood money. Prior mass shootings, such as the unthinkably evil Sandy Hook massacre, rang up firearm manufacturers’ cash registers across the board. A run for guns creates shortages, which in turn spikes up demand. Additionally, civilian ammunition distributors, like Vista Outdoor Inc (NYSE:VSTO), “enjoy” robust income.
A similar dynamic may await us following the Las Vegas attack. Hollywood A-listers and other well-known celebrities railed through Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) and other social-media platforms, calling universally for gun control. This may spark another jump in gun stocks, especially considering that the usually outspoken President Trump remains silent.
But what really is the truth behind corporate-firearm profitability and mass shootings like the Las Vegas attack? Are gun investments our version of blood diamonds, or is reality more nuanced?
Is the Las Vegas Attack the Rule or the Exception?
To answer this question, I dug up the tragic data on American mass shootings that occurred over the past 33 years. I’m deeply indebted to the Los Angeles Times, which presented a timeline of some of the more notorious incidents.
For my analysis, I specifically chose to compare mass shootings to the price action of RGR stock. Although both RGR and AOBC feature similar trends, only Ruger has a chart history going back to the 1980s. This way, we can cover multiple decades and presidential administrations in an attempt to answer the original inquiry.
Notably, a day after the Las Vegas attack, both RGR stock and AOBC spiked higher. The price action is rather conspicuous because neither company has looked convincing this year under the conservative Trump administration. Such “bullish” events do nothing to stem the vice image of gun stocks.
However, historically speaking, gun stocks do not have positive, knee-jerk reactions immediately following mass shootings. Since mid-July of 1984, RGR stock averaged only 0.4% gains a day after a highly-publicized shooting. People forget that the week after the infamous Sandy Hook massacre, RGR and AOBC tanked. For every panic buy like the Las Vegas attack, there are panic sells.
In fact, out of 52 notable mass shootings since 1984, 23 incidents resulted in RGR stock moving immediately higher. Another 23 incidents resulted in RGR moving lower. Finally, six incidents caused no change in market value.
What both sides of the firearms debate will find surprising is that President Obama had the least positive impact (since George H.W. Bush’s term) on gun stocks immediately following mass shootings. During his time in office, RGR stock gained only 0.05% a day after a high-profile attack involving guns.
Therefore, we cannot say with certainty that gun violence immediately causes firearm profitability.
Longer-term Impact of Mass Shootings on Gun Stocks
The longer-term impact, though, is a bit murkier. Looking back at the Obama administration, no questions exist that he was “helpful” to gun stocks RGR and AOBC. During Obama’s two-terms, a month after a mass shooting, Ruger shares averaged 5.7% gains. So far during Trump’s presidency, Ruger is averaging 6.5% losses 30 days after a shooting. Judging from recent price action, the Las Vegas attack may not provide much of an impetus.
So, Democrats are good for gun stocks longer-term (because of gun-control fears) while Republicans are bad for them, right? Actually, not so fast. In the first half of 2007, President George W. Bush oversaw two mass shootings, including the Virginia Tech massacre. These two incidents resulted in a sharp rise in RGR stock a month following the incidents. Furthermore, President Bill Clinton was terrible for gun stocks, even though he supported draconian gun-control measures.
While most folks either credit (or blame) Obama for boosting gun sales, Ruger specifically must thank the elder President Bush. During his single term, every mass shooting jumped RGR stock to profitability a month later. No other Commander-in-Chief can say that.
Where does that leave us in terms of causation? Statistically, Ruger carries momentum one month forward following a high-profile shooting 61% of the time. In my opinion, that’s a fairly solid indicator (though not 100% conclusive) that gun stocks respond “positively” to mass shootings.
However, the reasoning is not clear. No correlation exists between the number of fatalities and how much RGR stock gains or loses. Moreover, determining the future trajectory of gun stocks based on who is president may actually be a fool’s errand.
Gun Stocks Are Not Blood Diamonds
By no means is my article a conclusive report on mass shootings and their impact on the firearms industry. Each incident is different, and can lead to varying political interpretations. People are people, meaning that they can also be wildly unpredictable.
But in light of the tragic Las Vegas attack, I hope I can temper some of the knee-jerk reactions against the firearms industry. Not every gun-violence incident leads to profits for weapons manufacturers. In some cases, gun violence hurts gun stocks, irrespective of who sits in the White House.
Finally, I believe that consumer fears, not politics, cause gun sales to soar. Otherwise, we would see stronger correlating data between political administrations and how gun stocks respond. In addition, we don’t see the firearms industry decisively spike immediately after a mass shooting. Ultimately, this tells us that the gun-control debate is far more complex than the mainstream would have us believe.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.