The firearms industry is reeling after yet another mass shooting.
It seems as though this time is different. The politics of it haven’t faded in the few weeks. Yet what makes the Parkland tragedy truly unique is how utterly preventable it was. While we can usually say in the investment world that something like a bubble was obvious in hindsight, that’s not always the case with shootings. This one was.
Dozens of reports were made about the killer’s specific intent to shoot up a school. Yet the FBI and local sheriff’s offices ignored or failed to follow up on tips. And, when the shooting was going on, sheriff deputies waited for the carnage to end rather than risk their lives to potentially save the life of even one student.
The old saying about how when seconds matter the police are only minutes away holds true if police have to race several miles to the rescue, or if they’re just waiting in the parking lot a few hundred feet away.
Look, I have faith in my government’s ability to protect me. But after an attack like this, I don’t have faith in my government’s willingness to protect me.
I’m not alone in that thought. Last weekend featured one of the first gun shows in the state of Florida, albeit in the Tampa area on the other side of the state. It set record numbers.
And a Google trend search for “how to buy a gun” is soaring.
That’s why I think there’s a contrarian investment play here—in the beleaguered firearms companies.
I know, I know, it may sound callous. But when a police officer shoots an unarmed kid, we don’t blame the gun then, and we shouldn’t blame the gun when someone other than a cop uses a firearm. When a terrorist in a place with gun control uses a different tool like a knife, acid, or a truck, we still blame the terrorist, not their means of carrying out their horrific attack. That’s the logical consistency we should apply here.
And the lesson of applying that logic is that people want to feel safe and secure. They may not get it in a gun-free zone like a school, but moves to increase security funding make sense.
But security works best in layers. If you only have one line of defense and it’s broken, you’re done. If you have layers, the loss of one layer sends an immediate and critical signal that you’re under attack and need to use additional layers.
One critical layer is the right to keep and bear arms. And with the role of government security now in the spotlight—particularly at how spectacularly it’s failed our children—some folks are getting the message loud and clear.
Does this increased interest in buying firearms (or, on the other side of the political divide, calling for more restrictions on firearm ownership) have legs?
Possibly. It took a week after the Parkland tragedy for things to heat up. And so far, it seems like it’s not going away.
Fears of new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms could lead to higher firearm and ammo sales in the short-term. We saw this trend play out during the last presidential administration after every shooting. Firearm sales surged through 2016, on fears that a strongly anti-gun presidential candidate would win the election.
When that didn’t happen, sales moderated—but they didn’t fall off a cliff either. Today, overall gun deaths are at lows—and most of those are, unfortunately, suicides. But in today’s 24-hour-news-cycle and fear climate, each mass gun shooting will likely end up being more politicized than the last.
That makes companies like Sturm Ruger (RGR) and American Outdoor Brands (AOBC) two simple, publicly-traded ways to benefit from this political divide.
But it’s a tough trade; well beyond that of holding your nose. Shares of both companies have been sliding since election night 2016. And that made sense, as the growth of gun sales sharply declined. It’s an industry with excess capacity. Yet both companies trade like value names.
American Outdoor Brands trades at just under nine times earnings and has seen its share price get cut in half in the past year. On Thursday, they reported some poor sales numbers—reflecting the pre-Parkland fears and not the massive shift in sentiment by gun owners in the past few weeks.
Sturm Ruger has held up better, but, as with its counterpart, faces a growing chorus of voices calling for the companies to be removed from diversified funds. Yes, the chances are if you own an index fund encompassing the S&P 500 Index, you own at least one of these companies.
Everything about these companies as an investment screams a contrarian play. But I get it. This is more than a contrarian play on more than just an investment level. It’s a contrarian statement that goes against the ongoing, relentless narrative that guns are bad. But they’re not bad. They’re a tool. They can be used to protect and to hunt. As with a knife, a baseball bat, or hammer, it’s the intent of the person using it that decides whether it’s used to improve human life or to make it worse off.
Our gun debate will likely never end in this country—and that’s a good thing. We should continue to find ways to improve public safety. But we need to have an honest debate, and to do so in a way that balances the rights of the law-abiding against preventing criminal activity. There will be some changes at the local and state level regarding firearms, but it’s an industry that’s down but not out. And that makes these two companies look attractive on a valuation basis, although maybe not on a political one.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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