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The U.S. Firearms Industry: Inside the Numbers

In the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. the debate over gun control has been thrust onto center stage.

President Barack Obama unveiled his highly-anticipated plan to control gun violence Wednesday. Obama announced 23 executive actions he can take on his own and urged Congress to pass additional legislation to mandate universal background checks and limit loopholes around them, restore the ban on military assault weapons and implement a 10-round limit on magazine clips.

The proposed actions will cost an estimated $500 million.

“I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality," the President said before an audience of gun violence victims. "Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence – if even one life can be saved – we have an obligation to try.”

During and after President Obama's press conference, gun stocks surged. Shares of gunmakers Smith & Wesson’s (SWHC) and Sturm, Ruger & Company (RGR) closed up roughly 5% as investors prepare for a rush on guns and ammunition.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also signed new legislation this week that calls for tougher gun restrictions.

Even as lawmakers look for new measures to curb gun violence, the firearms business is booming and has been in recent years. Anecdotally, gun sellers report demand from buyers is high. According to The New York Times article, "one gun owner said he “sold an AR-15 rifle at a gun show for $1,700. Before the Newtown shooting the gun was worth $500."

Here’s a look at the numbers:

  • The U.S. firearms industry's economic impact is $32 billion. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same size as the U.S. organic industry and more than the budget of Nigeria. It’s grown from a $19 billion business in 2008 and appears to be accelerating at a quick clip.

  • Background checks for gun buyers increased nearly 60% from December 2011 to December 2012. The FBI has already recorded 16.5 million background checks from Jan. 1, 2012 to November 2012 – the most on record.

  • There are 51,000 gun shops in America, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosives. That’s close to four times the number of Starbucks or McDonald’s stores in this country.

  • The largest gunmakers in the U.S. have been raking in the profits over the last several years. Sturm, Ruger & Company stock has increased nearly 500% in five years. Shares of Smith & Wesson’s have soared more than 75% in one year.

  • Altogether, about 5.5 million firearms were made in America in 2010 and more than 26,000 new gun-related jobs have been created over the past two years.

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