Gun sales skyrocket

Gun sales at Smith & Wesson have hit a record high in a 12-month period that has been marked by some of the most horrific acts of gun violence in United States history.

The manufacturer reported this week that sales for the year ending April 30 had hit a record $588-million, a 43% year-on-year rise.

Smith & Wesson said fourth-quarter sales were up 38% year on year to $179-million.

It told investors it expects its first-quarter financial results to top market expectations and it is planning to buy back $100-million of its shares.

US gun sales are hard to track, but one of the most reliable figures comes from the number of requests for background checks, an FBI-required precursor to obtaining a gun licence.

Nine of the 10 days with the most daily requests for background checks recorded occurred after December's massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown.

CBS Connecticut reported that permit applications in Newtown itself more than doubled in the three months after the killings.

Retailers also reported a spike in gun sales after James Holmes allegedly shot dead 12 people and injured 58 at a screening of the Dark Knight Rises in a Colorado cinema last July.

Sales soared again after Barack Obama's re-election in November as buyers feared a clampdown on sales, especially on assault weapons.

Smith & Wesson's shares rose after the announcement of the buybacks to a three-month high of just less than $10.

But the US's tragic spate of gun violence has also triggered a backlash among some investors.

California State Teachers' Retirement System, a $154-billion pension fund, announced last year it would sell off its holding in Freedom Group, manufacturer of the rifle used in the Newtown shooting.

Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity group, also announced it was selling its interest in Freedom Group.

"It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level," Cerberus said in December.

Four months later, it emerged that Cerberus's billionaire founder, Stephen Feinberg, was considering making a bid for Freedom Group, which makes the Bushmaster rifles, one of which was used to kill 20 children and six adults at the school. The company has reportedly struggled to find another buyer. — © Guardian News & Media 2013

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