Despite ongoing debate regarding guns and public safety, firearms seem to be a popular as ever.
Today, Americans own an all-time high of 310 million guns; that figure rises at a 10% clip per year. That's double the number owned in 1968 and includes handguns, rifles and shotguns.
The gun industry's economic impact on the United States is a staggering $31.8 billion per year, which, The Christian Science Monitor pointed out, is "less than 1% of the U.S. gross domestic product, about what Americans spend on the arts in a year and the equivalent of Nigeria's federal budget for 2013."
While public debates about guns focus mostly on their use for personal defense, hunting actually drives the industry's economic health.Hunters spend billions each year
The National Shooting Sports Foundation outlined the contribution hunters make to conservation and the economy in its 2013 report, "A Profile of Today's Hunter." For example, the NSSF says hunters spent $790 million on license fees in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.
The NSSF reports hunters spent $38.3 billion in 2011, as compared to $22.9 billion in 2006, a 67% increase. Hunters also generated $11.8 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues in 2011. During that year, hunters supported 680,937 jobs with their expenditures and activities, and produced $26.4 billion in salaries, wages and business owner income.
"More than $39 million is spent on travel, such as dining, lodging, transportation and similar expenses. Another $190 million is spent on equipment, and more than $62 million is spent on other items," said Patrick Berry, Vermont Fish and Wildlife commissioner, in a Shooting Industry Magazine article.
In short, the gun industry and gun makers are alive and thriving. Here are three U.S. gun and ammunition manufacturers, up an average of 67% in the last year.Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson (SWHC) has seen stock appreciation of 56% in the last year and is optimistic about the near future, raising its fiscal year 2014 revenue guidance to $615 million and earnings per share between $1.30 and $1.35.
The $398 million company expects annual growth over the next five years of more than 30%. Smith & Wesson also recently agreed to a five-year deal with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.Sturm, Ruger
Investors can also consider $1.43 billion gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger (RGR) which recently purchased a 220,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in North Carolina. That highlights the company's confidence that demand will remain strong. Production begins the first quarter of 2014, and Sturm plans to invest more than $26 million in the plant by the end of 2017.
Sturm, Ruger also reported market-beating third-quarter results mainly due to healthy demand for new firearms. Two of Sturm's pistols and its American Rimfire rifle accounted for 32% of all firearm sales in the past nine months. Shares finished 2013 up 56%.Alliant Techsystems
Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is a defense contractor for the aerospace and defense industries and produces ammunition and accessories. U.S. government customers make up 67% of its total sales.
The company's ammunition and accessories products combined make up 40% of Alliant's revenue in fiscal 2013. It sells firearms under the brand names Federal Premium, Fusion and Eagle.
Of that 40%, about a third came directly from came from Alliance's contract to run the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Mo.; the contract lasts until 2020. This past fiscal year, the ammo plant produced 1.8 billion rounds. ATK shares finished 2013 up 84% for the year.