New killings, same question: What to do about guns?

Gun shopper
A customer gun shopping in Texas.
Pat Sullivan | AP 2012 file

There's a familiar pattern that immediately follows mass shootings in America. People pray for victims and their families. They hold public vigils. The president offers his condolences.

And more people go gun shopping.

The mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub Sunday has renewed calls to ban guns similar to one of the weapons used by the killer. Forty-nine people died and dozens more were wounded after a lone gunman opened fire on them with a military-style assault rifle.

But gun rights advocates and some firearms industry experts say outlawing assault rifles will do nothing to decrease crime and will likely increase profits for gun makers.

"We've seen a sort of post-Sandy Hook, post-San Bernardino" effect, Steve Dyer, an analyst who follows the firearms industry for the Minneapolis investment firm Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC, said referring to mass-shooting incidents in Connecticut and California. "You get a temporary surge in gun buying and background checks and permits."

In the week that followed the mass killing of more than two dozen students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the FBI processed a record 953,613 background checks.

The week following the San Bernardino shootings in 2015 that killed 14 people was the third busiest week in the history of the instant criminal background check system.

While the number of background checks is widely accepted as an indicator of gun sales, the FBI warns the number of checks does not correspond one to one with the number of guns sold. A person undergoing a background check may buy one or more guns or buy no guns at all.

And the Sandy Hook and San Bernardino shootings occurred during the Christmas shopping season, which is a popular time for people to buy guns.

Stock prices for Smith and Wesson and Sturm Ruger, another United States gun maker, each temporarily jumped several percentage points in the aftermath of the carnage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. However, background check numbers for the month of June are not yet available from the FBI.

Gun lobby groups like the National Rifle Association are fueling spikes in gun sales, Dyer said. The groups stoke fears among gun owners that legislators will ban assault rifles like the one used by the Orlando shooter. The heated discussion about guns between the presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees will also have an impact, he added.

"Generally in an election year the stock prices of gun manufacturers perform pretty well," Dyer said. "Ultimately, you have two very different candidates who have talked in two very different, sort of, extremes in terms of gun ownership."

Democrat Hillary Clinton has called for a ban on some semi-automatic military style rifles, which she calls "weapons of war." Republican Donald Trump has said more people should carry guns in order to defend themselves against mass shooters.

Mass shootings drive more people to his shop out of fear for their safety, said Kevin Vick, owner of Crucible Arms gun store in Lakeville.

Some people choose handguns they can carry with them for self-defense, others choose semi-automatic rifles to protect themselves at home, he said, adding that Clinton's call for an assault weapons ban, like the one signed by her husband President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago, is futile.

"The ban had absolutely no impact on gun violence whatsoever," he said. "The studies proved it had zero effect on reducing crime or increasing crime."

A 2004 Department of Justice report concluded that the government couldn't clearly establish that the assault weapons ban had any impact on crime. FBI statistics show that far more murder victims are killed by people wielding handguns than assault rifles.

However, some of the deadliest mass shootings in the country have been carried out using semi-automatic, military style assault rifles. That's why gun safety advocates support banning this type of gun.

Protect Minnesota, a group that advocates for tougher gun laws and supports a federal assault weapons ban, says it will continue to lobby at the state Capitol for a law requiring background checks for nearly all private sales of guns.

"Even as we're supporting that, we know that there are probably 20 million assault-style weapons in America right now," said the Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, Protect Minnesota's executive director. "But you have to start somewhere in this process. And that is a good place to start."

Volume Button
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News