A national surge in gun sales that is also reflected in Maine is apparently being driven by fear – of violence and the possibility of increased gun control.

In Maine, the number of background checks in November was up 26.5 percent over the same period a year ago. For the entire year through Nov. 30, the number was up 8.9 percent from the same period in 2014.

Nationally, November 2015 saw a 24.3 percent increase in background checks for firearms purchases. Through Nov. 30, the number was up 6.3 percent.

Those numbers don’t represent all gun sales, because private sales and many sales conducted at gun shows do not require background checks.

The jump in gun purchases comes on the heels of a series of mass shootings worldwide. In November, a group of terrorists killed 130 people in Paris with guns and bombs, and a gunman killed a police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. On Dec. 2, a husband and wife killed 14 people and wounded 21 in San Bernardino, California, before being killed in a shootout with police.

The increased sales have led to a surge in profits for gun manufacturers.

Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. and Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc., both major gun manufacturers, saw their stock prices climb more than 5 percent Monday, according to Zacks Equity Research, an investment research firm. In its second-quarter earnings report on Tuesday, Smith & Wesson reported that gun sales have increased 32 percent over last year.

Zacks also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to a local gun-control ordinance in Illinois that prevents the sale or possession of semiautomatic weapons that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. That could open the door to other areas passing gun restrictions, the company noted in an investment blog post.

Fred Emerson, owner of Allsport Performance in Hermon, said he watched Sunday evening as his supplier’s inventory of assault rifle components was snapped up online while President Obama gave a televised speech calling for restrictions on assault weapons purchases, saying people on the nation’s no-fly list should be barred from buying guns.

Emerson believes the increase in gun sales has been driven by the possibility of more gun control legislation and the fear people have of crime and terrorism caused by the recent shootings.

“They’ve been thinking about it anyway and they just need a little push,” he said. “They’ve been meaning to do it. It’s been in the back of their minds and there’s a speech by Obama or something happening that will put them over the edge to do it.”

Emerson said the state’s repeal of a law requiring a permit to carry a concealed handgun also has increased pistol sales.


The week of Nov. 23-29 ranked fifth historically in the number of national background check requests. The highest number of requests, 953,613, came during the week of Dec. 17-23, 2012, right after Adam Lanza killed 26 people – many of them children – at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

In a speech on Dec. 16, 2012, Obama called for action to reduce gun violence. The number of background checks conducted by the FBI in a single day set a record on Dec. 21 that year, when 177,170 checks were done. That number was broken on Black Friday this year, when 185,345 background checks were done nationally.

Stephen Smith, owner of Smitty’s Trading Post in Machias, said gun sales at his store have been brisk. He’s not surprised.

“Obama’s the best gun salesman in the world,” he said, chuckling. “People are taking gun classes again. They’re buying everything I got in the store.”

Smith believes immigration from Muslim countries threatens the United States, and he says many of his customers feel the same way.

“It’s for personal safety,” he said of his customers’ desire for more firepower. “We’re definitely at war on American soil.”

Asked why, in a state with one of the lowest crime rates in the country, a gun would be so important, Smith doesn’t hesitate.

“I don’t expect a fire, but I got a fire extinguisher,” he said. “A patriot is always ready.”

Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, said the idea that guns are the best way to protect one’s family from mass shootings or terrorism isn’t valid.

“This is a myth perpetuated by the gun lobby, whose interest is only in selling more guns,” Folmar said in an email. “To truly keep our families and Americans safe, we need to close the loopholes that make it easy for dangerous people to get guns, and that means doing criminal background checks on all gun sales and closing the terror gap.”


In the past 17 years, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has rejected 1,258,427 applications, more than half because the applicants were convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison. The total number rejected is about half of 1 percent of the 222 million applications over that period of time.

An FBI spokesman said that any data on the number of denials in individual years, months or by state are not available without a Freedom of Information request.

Everytown for Gun Safety, co-founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, supports a ballot initiative under way in Maine that would require background checks on anyone purchasing a gun from a private seller or from non-licensed sellers at a gun show.

Emerson, the owner of Allsport in Hermon, said part of the recent jump in gun sales can be attributed to seasonal fluctuations. Sales tend to climb in October because of hunting season, at Christmas and in April when people get their tax refund checks. The summer months are the slowest, when people spend their money on vacations and leisure activities, he said.

Guns also can become harder to acquire at the end of the year as manufacturers work to reduce inventory while demand remains high, he said.

Smith, the owner of Smitty’s Trading Post, said one of the recent developments boosting gun sales in his Washington County area is a recent spike in lobster landings, which came late this year. That meant lobstermen had more money to spend.

“All I know is, money is flowing,” he said.