George Washington made this “gun valley” when the Springfield Armory started making muskets under his orders in 1794.
Today, the inheritors of that gunmaking tradition — and their thousands of local employees — are waiting to see what impact Democratic President-elect Joe Biden will have on an industry wrapped up today with politics as much as technology.
“I have no idea. We’ll just have to sit and wait,” said Al Kasper, president and CEO of Savage Arms Inc. of Westfield, which has 400 employees making mostly hunting and target rifles.
“Anybody who takes a platform stance on gun control obviously drives the market,” Kasper said. “There are other factors at play now, too. There is social unrest. It’s very interesting times we live in.”
Gun sales always go up in an election year. And if a Democrat wins, businesses is even better for gunmakers because buyers fear tougher gun control legislation. That business is better under Democrats is an irony for gunmakers and lobbyists who support Republicans.
The gun industry has already had a record 2020, with the number of federally required background checks topping 32 million — well over the 28 million checks conducted in all of 2019. The industry uses the checks as a rough measure of nationwide sales.
The uncertainty has already shown up in the stock price of Springfield’s Smith & Wesson Brands Inc., which has 1,600 employees at its Springfield manufacturing plant and headquarters. The stock, SWBI on the Nasdaq exchange, traded Monday afternoon at $15.90 a share, down from a high for the day of $17.02.
The stock fell by more than 12% on the Wednesday after Election Day as investors saw the first indications that Biden would prevail over President Donald Trump. It seemed to even out as it looked like Republicans would hold onto the U.S. Senate. Control of the Senate still hinges on the outcome of two runoff elections set for January in Georgia, a state Biden won.
Smith & Wesson management declined to comment Monday, citing a legal “quiet period” after the close of its most recent quarter and before earnings are announced publicly.
Smith & Wesson said in September that its firearms business had revenue of $230 million in its most recent quarter, a figure that represents shipments of more than 584,000 guns. Both of those numbers are new records, the 164-year-old company said at the time, citing strong demand in an election year.
On their campaign website, Biden and running mate Kamala Harris — a senator and former California attorney general — promised voters they would:
regulate possession of existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act.
buy back assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
make it harder to stockpile weapons by limiting firearms purchases to one a month.
require background checks for all gun sales.
close loopholes in the federal background check system, like the “boyfriend loophole.
reinstate a Obama-Biden policy to keep guns out of the hands of certain people unable to manage their affairs for mental reasons, which Trump reversed.
“We are going to take Joe Biden at his word,” said Mark Olivera, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry lobbying group. “We are not going to discount anything that he said.”
The foundation estimated 40% to 60% of consumers purchasing firearms this year were first-time buyers. Purchasing seemed to peak in March, soon after the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic but before the widespread protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
New buyers, Olivera said, are choosing handguns and AR-style rifles — often called assault rifles by critics due to their military-looking accoutrements. Smith & Wesson makes rifles of that type as well as its well-known handguns.
Olivera talked Monday about then-Vice President Biden’s interest in the foundation’s efforts around tightening background checks and making sure relevant criminal and disqualifying mental health information is included. He said Biden also supported the foundation’s anti-suicide efforts.
The foundation, based in Newtown, Connecticut, met with Biden in the aftermath of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“If he’s willing to work with us on these things, we are willing to work with him,” Olivera said.
Smith & Wesson began in 1852 when Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson partnered to manufacture a revolver that used a self-contained cartridge. Over the years, Smith & Wesson made revolvers for Old West gunslingers and the army of the Russian czar. It made guns for the allies in both World Wars I and II.
Savage Arms was founded by Arthur Savage in 1894 in Utica, New York. Its factory and headquarters are on Springdale Road, near exit 3 of the Massachusetts Turnpike, in Westfield. It has a factory in Canada as well.
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