US gun sales hit 20-year high as Obama announces crackdown

Barack Obama dubbed 'best firearm salesman' in the US as fears over regulation spark buying frenzy

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Gun sales in the US are at their highest level in 20 years, amid concerns over President Obama's latest plans to crack down on gun violence.

The figures, released by the FBI, are based on the number of background checks carried out, a precursor to purchasing a legal firearm and thus an indicator of future sales. Their data suggest that around 23 million sales were conducted in 2015, 2 million more than in 2014.

Analysis by the New York Times showed that 2.4 million guns were sold in December, a rise of 38 per cent on the previous year – and more than in any other month in the past 20 years. The US now has more guns than people, it is believed.

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The surge in demand, particularly for handguns, has been attributed to increased fears that future purchases will be restricted, as well as concern about domestic terrorism following the San Bernardino attack last month. Gun ownership is likely to rise yet further as people respond to plans unveiled by the White House yesterday aimed at tightening controls.

In an emotionally charged speech yesterday, a tearful Obama vowed to use his final months in office to clamp down on loopholes in current firearm legislation. His key proposals include increasing background checks for online purchases and gun shows, funding research into making weapons more secure, and expanding mental health provision. Obama compared gun control to the civil rights movement, saying urgent action was necessary to protect citizens' right to safety. In response to Republican critics who have accused him of undermining the second amendment, the president stressed that he believed in the constitutional right to bear arms, but called gun reform "the price of living in a civilised society".

Hours after the speech, The Guardian reported that shares in firearms manufacturer Smith and Wesson had surged by 12 percent in anticipation of the predicted uptick in sales. Brian W Ruttenbur, a financial services analyst, last month dubbed Obama the "best firearm salesman" in the US.

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