Americans are arming themselves like never before.
Firearms-related businesses in Wisconsin say they are hard-pressed to meet demand, which they say is being generated by factors ranging from the state's concealed carry law to presidential politics.
"It's incredible," said Steve Lauer, owner of Lauer Custom Weaponry, a manufacturer of firearms, firearm coatings and accessories in Chippewa Falls, Wis. "We can hardly keep up."
Precise figures on firearms sales don't exist. But based on the number of calls made to the FBI and Wisconsin Department of Justice for background checks related to firearms purchases, more guns are being sold this year than ever.
Nationally, calls for firearms purchases using the FBI's instant criminal background check system totaled nearly 1.2 million in March, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group. The number is up 20 percent over a year ago and marks the 22nd straight month-over-month increase, NSSF said.
"The wholesalers are having a hard time getting guns from any of the manufacturers on a nice even flow," said Brian Rafn, portfolio manager at Morgan Dempsey Capital Management, which has offices in Milwaukee and Delafield. "The backlogs go for months on end."
Rafn says the rise in gun sales in recent years has been "stratospheric." He estimates that 11 million guns were sold in the United States in 2011.
The increase in gun sales isn't universally considered a good thing.
"Higher household gun ownership correlates with higher rates of homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings," says the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation's most prominent gun-control organizations.
The Brady Campaign also says "the percentage of American households with a gun has been steadily declining over time" and that gun sales are concentrated among people who already own guns.
Regardless, the renewed interest in guns has been good for arms-related businesses nationally.
"We've seen our business increase 20 percent to 30 percent over last year," said Kevin Nugent, owner of The Shooters Shop in West Allis, Wis. "It's just been phenomenal."
"The biggest problem is finding the inventory," he said. "You can't find the inventory. When it's offered, you buy it. That's all you can do. It's a very good problem to have."
The situation is much the same across the country, he and others said.
John Krieger, owner of gun barrel manufacturer Krieger Barrels in Richfield, Wis., doesn't sell directly into the retail market but keeps a close watch on the industry.
"Manufacturers are bringing out more and more products all the time," Krieger said. "They wouldn't be doing it if there wasn't a market for it."
At Fletcher Arms in Waukesha, Wis., demand for shooting practice range time has been so strong, the business had to add additional shooting lanes, owner Sean Eaton said. "We're busy every day," he said.
Other evidence of the trend is showing up in manufacturing companies and retailers nationally:
New Jersey-based Henry Repeating Arms operates Henry Wisconsin, a metal fabricating subsidiary in Rice Lake. Since 2010, business has doubled at the Wisconsin plant, which makes precision parts for Henry brand rifles, said Anthony Imperato, Henry Repeating Arms president. The company has been adding workers at the Rice Lake facility.
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