Top 13 In 2013, #6: Guns Go Berserk

Back in April, rumors of more gun control, in addition to government hoarding, led gun enthusiasts to buy ammunition faster than ever, making it difficult for stores to keep various calibers in stock. Some even worried that law enforcement departments would be pinched for supply. It led to a record-breaking year for gun and ammo makers.

Between December 9 and December 21, we'll be counting down the 13 biggest stories on throughout 2013. From pig problems (see below), to Tesla's on fire, and being held captive in China, we'll be looking into just why these stories resonated with readers here and elsewhere. For the full list, updated daily at 1:00pm EST until the 21st, visit the Top 13 In 2013 page.

Tomorrow, December 14, is the one-year anniversary of the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. In the aftermath of that event, there was much mourning, and calls for both better mental health capacity and more gun control. It was the latter of those concerns that set off a record year for gun manufacturers here in the U.S. And it was a story that captivated readers of for a myriad of reasons.

Back in April, rumors of more gun control, in addition to government hoarding, led gun enthusiasts to buy ammunition faster than ever, making it difficult for stores to keep various calibers in stock. Some even worried that law enforcement departments would be pinched for supply.

What were those federal regulations that worried enthusiasts? The White House still houses a summary of the proposed plan. Among the changes, the background check system would be strengthened and enforced upon every gun purchase. More assault rifles would be banned, and magazines would be restricted to 10 rounds. On the humanitarian side, he asked for more gun violence research and better mental health treatment for young people who might be at-risk for a Sandy Hook-esque shooting.

Certain states had already begun to roll out new measures to keep certain guns out of consumers’ hands. Connecticut itself had signed a measure that banned more than 100 firearms via the state’s assault weapons ban, and instituted a dangerous weapon offender registry. People lined up en masse to buy ammunition, while others called them “doomsdayers” who had been whipped up into a frenzy by bloggers hoisting false information.

Either way, in June Smith & Wesson announced record sales for its fourth quarter and full fiscal year. Net income doubled to $25.2 million from the year before, and revenue hit a record-breaking $178.7 million — up 37.6 percent from the same period the year before.

In its earnings report, the company said, “Although the company continued to increase its production capacity, it was unable to meet the ongoing demand across most of its firearm product lines, resulting in additional growth in the company's order backlog.”

S&W’s CEO, James Debney, attributed the strong performance to “solid marketing, innovative new products, disciplined manufacturing execution, and strict financial management,” but readers were quick to point out that most of the purchases were based on emotional decisions in reaction to the continuously impending rumors about more gun control that would keep them from ever buying certain firearms again.

Of course, much more recently, Smith & Wesson saw its net income fall 20 percent, even as demand for handguns rose, so it’s clear that everything isn’t completely swell in the way the company is handling demand, or event if said demand is as strong as many were led to believe.

Sturm, Ruger & Co. also had a good year, with the company announcing in August its plans to open a new factory in North Carolina, which would create 470 new jobs in a county with a 9-percent unemployment rate. Considering that the company had once considered New England as a location for the same plant, they began what became a common thread through the end of the year: Gun manufacturers were threatening — or actually acting — to move manufacturing facilities based on state-wide legislations that directly affected the sales of their products.

In late August, the Obama administration announced two new initiatives, on top of more than 20 others announced in the month after Sandy Hook. First, the government would end a policy that lets military weapons that were sold or donated to allies be re-imported by private entities. And they would also create a rule that prevents would-be gun owners, who would otherwise fail a background check from buying a gun, from registering a gun to a corporation or trust, instead of themselves.  Under the new rule, people associated with those trusts would need to undergo similar background checks.

While it seems that gun manufacturers have cooled on their rapidly-rising sales, and much of the talk around new regulation hasn’t transformed into actual laws, it’ll be interesting to see where the industry goes in 2014. Stay tuned — we’ll be sure to bring you the latest as soon as it happens.