A Loaded Issue
7:20 am
Mon February 11, 2013

N.H. Benefits From Firearms Boom

Workers cast firearms parts at Sturm, Ruger's Newport foundry
Credit Amanda Loder / NHPR

As federal lawmakers grapple with tighter gun control laws, business is good for the firearms industry.Across the country, gun dealers can’t keep them on the shelves, and manufacturers can’t keep up with demand. But how do these trends affect New Hampshire's economy?

A look at the impact of the firearms industry on the Granite State's economy

If you pick up a Sturm, Ruger gun—rifle, pistol, revolver, assault rifle -odds are it was made in Newport, New Hampshire.  Or at least, parts of it were cast in the company’s on-site foundry, and shipped to Ruger’s other factory, in Arizona.

 

“It takes about two or three hours to make a gun from components into the box,” says Tom Sullivan, Vice President of Newport Operations for Sturm, Ruger. “Every product we make at this point is very popular, and we have large backlogs on every product we make.”

That’s good news for Ruger’s 1,200 New Hampshire employees.  In fact, the company’s considering adding some jobs as it introduces new products.  The wages for floor workers here can go up to about $25 an hour.  In Sullivan County, where the median wage is about $13,000 dollars lower than the state as a whole, it’s hard to overestimate how important Sturm, Ruger is to the area. 

“And a lot of your Newporters work there,” says Ella Casey, head of the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce.  She moved to the town with her family back in the 1960’s, when Sturm Ruger was just getting set-up.

Like many firearms manufacturers right now, Sturm, Ruger can't assemble guns fast enough to meet consumer demand
Credit Amanda Loder / NHPR

“And of course, at that time, we had Brampton Woolen Mills, we had Dorr Mill, we had three shoe manufacturing factories, and they’ve all gone," Casey says.  "So this is really the largest business of its kind, or whatever, in this part of the state.”

Sturm, Ruger is actually one of two large-scale gun manufacturers in New Hampshire.

On the Seacoast, Exeter-based Sig Sauer is another big employer. 

The company didn’t respond to repeated phone messages requesting an interview.  But Christopher Way with the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development says Sig Sauer is planning to expand into the Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth.

“[The company is] probably putting in about $7.5 million into that expansion," Way says.  "When it’s all said and done, they’re probably going to be bringing people from Massachusetts—about 570 employees.”

Adding together the workers at Sturm, Ruger, Sig Sauer, and the small gunsmiths dotting the state, firearms manufacturing doesn’t actually account for that many jobs.  That’s according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Citing these figures, Dennis Delay with the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies says the industry only represents two-tenths of a percent of jobs in the state.  But, “Proportionally, we have 18 times more people working in small ordinance manufacturing in New Hampshire than is true at the national level," Delay says.  "So in that regard, it’s a fairly important industry in the state.”

According to an industry-funded report, around 2,100 Granite Staters work in jobs directly related to firearms and ammunition.  But when you add in suppliers and other jobs on the periphery, that number shoots up to about 6,000.

Bob Lee's business is about double what it was this time last year. Like gun dealers all over the country, his inventory is stretched thin.
Credit Amanda Loder / NHPR

Some of the jobs, of course, are at gun stores.  Take Bob Lee, who owns Lee’s Gun Shop in Hudson. He’s glad the industry is doing well—after all, his livelihood depends on it. But the kind of demand he’s seeing right now isn’t necessarily good for business in the long run.

“Any gun across the board, right, these days is, I sell one, I can’t bring five in to replace it.  I sell it, I don’t have that gun anymore," Lee says.  As for how long he will have to wait for that gun,  "We don’t know.  Nobody knows.  Nobody’s experienced what’s going on right now.  The demand for firearms is far greater than the manufacturer’s production capabilities.”

And Lee says his situation’s not unique—the same is true for gun shops pretty much everywhere. “Because everybody’s in panic mode as to what the government may try, or states may try to do.”

Back in his office at Sturm, Ruger, Tom Sullivan says it’s hard to tell when places like Lee’s Gun Shop might see more stock.

“These days, with the level of demand, it might take anywhere from a week to a couple of months to see something," Sullivan says.  "But we’re producing every model, every day, through our factories."

Sturm, Ruger’s stock price reached historic highs at the end of November, after President Obama was re-elected. Then they tumbled just weeks later, in the days following the Newtown massacre.  Since then, Ruger has steadily regained ground in the market—up 27 percent since the middle of December.

So for now, at least, business is booming.