In the hours after a mass shooting in America, there’s recently been a noticeable pattern: Gun companies’ stock prices go up. It happened after San Bernardino. It happened after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. And it happened again on Monday, after the massacre in Las Vegas. The spikes in share prices are now predictable enough that financiers bet on them happening again.
What’s behind this grim trend? Understanding how mass shootings affect the demand for guns requires first recognizing the charged political and emotional space that guns occupy in American culture. There are a few reasons Americans buy more guns after shootings. Some describe wanting to protect themselves from violence; others worry that high-profile massacres will lead to stricter gun regulations, or a ban on the purchase of firearms entirely. Both of those impressions add some urgency to buying a gun, so demand goes up, and, in anticipation of that, so do the share prices of gun makers shortly after a shooting.
The uptick on Monday actually wasn’t a huge move, and it was in the opposite direction of what gun manufacturers’ stocks have been doing in the past year. Since Donald Trump took office, sales have been down. One explanation is the inverse of why stocks perk up after a shooting: When government is controlled by a party that is unlikely to pass any gun-control legislation, that limited-time-only feeling becomes much less potent. Conversely, a frequent line among those who follow the industry is that Barack Obama, who regularly signaled his interest in gun control, was the best gun salesman on earth.