Coronavirus and Your Money: Special Coverage
By Ian Salisbury
October 2, 2017

In the wake of Sunday night’s terrible shooting at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, gun makers are certain to come in for searing public criticism. They’re also due for something else: a jump in stock prices.

Details are only just emerging from the Mandalay Bay shooting, which killed at least 50 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival near the hotel on the Las Vegas strip. Yet gun stocks began climbing as soon as the market opened Monday, with shares of Sturm Ruger rising 4.7% in early trading. American Outdoor Brands, formally known as Smith & Wesson, was also up 4.5%.

Surprised? In truth, gun stocks frequently rise in the wake of mass shootings—including the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 and last year’s Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. The reason gun stocks rise after these shootings is tied to Americans’ often contradictory attitudes toward gun control.

The dynamic works something like this: Mass shootings inevitably lead to public calls for gun control. Those calls typically go nowhere in Washington, but they do appear to motivate gun lovers—who tend to buy new guns, and sooner rather than later, lest the government somehow succeed in curtailing gun sales. Under former President Barack Obama, who was generally considered sympathetic to gun control, handgun sales rose 287%, while rifle and shotgun sales climbed 166%, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wall Street investors, however, tend to take a slightly different view of guns. They see the increase in gun sales as very real, while they’ve tended to brush off the risk of new gun control rules. That makes gun makers look like a good investment—hence the increases in gun stocks.

Indeed, gun stocks did very well throughout the Obama years—a time when there was a lot a talk but little effective action to restrict gun sales. Shares of American Outdoor Brands rose more than 800% between November 2008 and January 2016, according to CNNMoney—handily beating out both Apple (550%) and Google (315%).

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