Every year on Black Friday, shoppers across the United States brave crowds to battle each other for doorbuster sales on flat-screen TVs, video games, Uggs and the hottest toys.
But other bargain hunters are out stalking a different sort of discounted prey: firearms. And they should find plenty of deals. Gunmakers are marketing aggressively, trying to revive sales that have slowed a bit after a flurry a year ago.
Gun-buying after Thanksgiving is becoming something of a holiday tradition. In each of the past two years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has reported a record number of calls for background checks for gun purchases on the Friday after Thanksgiving. A flood of 154,873 calls on Black Friday in 2012, nearly three times the daily average that year, caused outages at some of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System’s call centers.
The FBI does not track actual firearms purchases, and customers can buy multiple guns at one time, suggesting the total number of weapons sold on Black Friday could be even higher than the number of background-check calls. The bureau has reported 17,238,102 background checks this year through Oct. 31.
Last year’s gun fever was due in part to worries that the reelection of President Barack Obama could lead to stricter gun-control legislation. The December massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., only exacerbated those fears, keeping demand for guns high into early 2013.
Since then, gun sales have cooled off. Top executives at the major outdoor recreation retailers Dick’s Sporting Goods and Cabela’s have each said on recent calls with analysts that firearms sales have “slowed” as of late.
Gun-sellers aren’t expecting to match last year’s sales numbers through December and January, but retail chains are determined to try. Promotional offers for rifles, pistols and shotguns are easy to find ahead of the Black Friday rush.
Bass Pro Shops has deals on semi-automatic rifles such as a Bushmaster M4 Carbine, along with an assortment of handguns and shotguns.
Dick’s Sporting Goods is touting sales on all of its guns Thursday through Saturday.
Cabela’s is even giving away guns as part of a Black Friday contest, offering a Browning X-Bolt Medallion rifle among the mystery prizes its first 600 customers can win on Friday morning.
Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Cabela’s did not respond to requests for comment.
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, a national gun-rights organization, said the primary reason for the annual rush for firearms is that gun-owners are “nervous” about Obama attempting to take away their weapons.
Even as gun ownership per household has decreased over the last four decades, according to data from the research center NORC, that declining popularity hasn’t translated to a drop in sales. Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun control advocacy group, attributes that trend to aggressive promotion from gun lobbyists looking to capitalize on tragedies like Newtown and other mass shootings.
“The reality is that in America, fewer people are owning more guns,” said Watts. “They have to keep marketing to [gun owners] to buy more weapons.”