Firearm Background Checks Decline

Although not a widely-utilized indicator, we like to look at the number of firearm background checks conducted by the NICS every month to gauge geopolitical uncertainty and volatility within the US. In uncertain times, firearm background checks tend to increase, as individuals increasingly acquire the means to protect themselves in a worst-case scenario. On the contrary, when times are ‘good’, background checks tend to decline. An additional factor that impacts background checks is the outlook on firearms legislation. When the populous fears that they may not be able to purchase certain firearms in the future, they will step up purchases in the short term to ‘stock up’. At the end of June, the Supreme Court ruled against the state of New York in regards to carry laws, which could help to expand demand for firearms, at least in that part of the country. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.

In the month of July, firearm background checks declined by 6.5% sequentially and by 16.6% year over year continuing a recent trend of sharp declines.  While checks are down, it followed a period of surging demand in 2020 as geopolitical unrest ran rampant throughout the US (BLM protests, claims of election fraud, COVID lockdowns, etc.). Nonetheless, background checks have declined by 33.9% on a two-year stack.

Gun Background Checks

However, background checks are still in a longer-term uptrend. At 2.4 million, July’s background checks rank in the 16.2% of all months since NICS began reporting this data in 1998, and outside of late 2019 and into early 2021, there were only a few months that the number of checks was higher.  Still, they are down 48.8% from the all-time high in March 2021. This may be because demand was pulled forward, but it could also be due to a more normalized domestic situation.

Gun Rights Data

Through July, the 22.4% YTD decline in background checks in July versus December has actually been smaller than average.  Background checks in July are practically always lower than in December, and the only year where that wasn’t the case was in 2020 when the country was gripped by riots in cities nationwide.  Going back to 2000, background checks in July were typically more than a third (-33.8%) lower than in December. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.

There are two publicly traded stocks directly exposed to these trends: Sturm Ruger (RGR) and Smith & Wesson (SWBI). The monthly performance of these two stocks tends to be highly correlated to trailing twelve-month NCIS background checks, as this is a clear read into the demand picture for these two companies. Just like background checks in general, both stocks are still in sustained downtrends. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.

Gun Stocks

Gun Background Checks Fall

Although not a widely accepted indicator, we like to look at the number of NICS firearm background checks as a barometer for fear and geopolitical volatility for the United States. In uncertain times (like the beginning of government-imposed COVID lockdowns), background checks tend to spike. Inversely, when times are good, background checks tend to decline. An additional causal factor of background check spikes is the outlook on gun policy. When the public feels as if gun policies are going to become stricter, Americans tend to rush to purchase firearms, which is evidenced by the record y/y increase after President Obama was reelected. Recently, several mass shootings have brought gun control regulations back into the news cycle, so one would expect to see background checks tick higher. Granted, much of this rhetoric really picked up towards the end of the month, so any effects will likely be seen in June (or later) numbers. Nonetheless, background checks declined for the second consecutive month after briefly spiking earlier this year. In May, checks declined by 27.4% y/y to just 2.3 million.

NCIS background checks

On a YTD basis, background checks have fallen by 30.7%, the largest first five-month decline since at least 2000.

Background Checks Decline

Although the decline is certainly significant, monthly background checks are still comfortably above their longer-term trend line. To summarize, although checks are down significantly y/y, the long-term uptrend that was in place prior to the COVID surge is still largely intact.

Firearm Background Checks

Although we like to think that the market is forward-looking, the price action of gun manufacturer Sturm Ruger (RGR) tends to be highly correlated with the number of background checks over the prior twelve months. Since the start of 2000, RGR’s end-of-month close and the trailing twelve-month background check figure has held a correlation coefficient of 0.90, a near-perfect positive relationship. Therefore, a reversal in the downside momentum of background checks as Americans step up purchases in advance of perceived or actual new regulations in gun ownership would leave room for upside in RGR.

RGR vs Gun Background Checks

Looking at the last twelve-month price charts of two firearm manufacturers, a relatively similar pattern emerges. RGR and Smith and Wesson (SWBI) are both in sustained downtrends. However, both have seen consolidation as of late, and SWBI is even testing its trendline. The decline has been warranted due to the significant decrease in background checks (and in turn firearm purchases), but a reversal higher in checks would likely provide a tailwind for both companies.  Click here to become a Bespoke premium member today!

Sturm Ruger (RGR) Stock

Smith and Wesson (SWBI) Stock