After a strong Black Friday, gun sales were surprisingly lackluster in December despite the traditional role of the holidays as the time when many Americans give each other firearms.
While the government doesn't keep an exact count of firearms sold, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System can be used as a reliable barometer. According to records kept by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2,586,138 firearm background checks were logged last month, down from 2,771,159 in the same month last year and 3,314,594 in 2015.
"December's softness may be explained by a pull-forward of demand into November, especially given the booming Black Friday 2017," according to a note sent by the equity research firm Cowen. Black Friday background check numbers were up to over 203,000 this year from 185,713 last year. That early holiday sales boost came during an otherwise slow year for firearms: after the 2016 election, the stocks of publicly traded gun companies sank and continued on a double digit decline through 2017.
The sluggishness in sales is due in part to a lack of fear on the part of gun enthusiasts. Now that Republicans who typically oppose gun regulation control Congress and the White House, even rushes on gun stores (and increases in gun stocks) have slowed in the wake of mass shootings.
"There was some fear-based buying that would take place from time to time," said James Debney, chief executive of gunmaker American Outdoor (formerly Smith & Wesson), on a conference call. "There is no fear-based buying right now."
Instead, he said, deep discounts are now "the primary driver for a consumer who wants to acquire a firearm."
Despite the all-around slow year, however, holiday gun sales remain robust compared with the rest of the year. December was still the fourth busiest on record since the FBI began tracking background check data in 1998. Last month also saw the most background checks of any month in 2017, which isn't unusual given the popularity of firearms as holiday gifts.