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Gun Industry Actually Encouraged By State Of The Union Speech, Observers Say

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STATE OF THE UNION GUNS
AP

The president's emotional tribute to victims of gun violence won accolades from gun-control supporters on Tuesday night, but gun-industry observers said that the people who make and sell guns are unlikely to feel threatened by President Barack Obama's performance.

"He chose to use the gun issue as the emotional crescendo of his speech in a way that I thought was pretty detached from specifics, " said Paul M. Barrett, an editor at Bloomberg Business Week and the author of "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun."

"It was almost a concession that what he's hoping for is to get lawmakers to commit themselves one way or another -- that he's hoping to receive political credit for having pushed certain ideas. But he did not display any confidence that he's going to accomplish anything. "

Obama repeatedly invoked the familiar names of gun-violence victims, insisting that they deserved a vote on a variety of proposals, but he didn't go into great detail about what those proposals would entail.

He mentioned that senators from both parties have been working to improve the background-check system, and alluded to the possibility of a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. But he stopped short of exhorting Congress to vote one way or the other.

Richard Feldman, a former leader of the gun industry and the founder of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, said he expected the president to spend more time on guns than he did.

"I believe the president is facing a realization that what he'd like and what is in the realm of possibility are different things," he said.

With conservative Republicans controlling the House, Obama's more ambitious gun-control proposals face an enormous challenge, if not an insurmountable one. "Being a practical individual he's going to pay more and more attention to what he can achieve and not to what he can't achieve," Feldman speculated. "That's what an intelligent political operative does."

Feldman said he was disappointed that the president didn't spend more time discussing more of those ostensibly achievable goals, like launching a campaign to increase public awareness of how to safely handle guns.

Feldman would have liked Obama to talk more about the possibility of requiring mandatory background checks at gun shows, he said. Despite the fact that leaders of the National Rifle Association have come out against this idea, Feldman, who has an acrimonious history with the group's leadership and is particularly critical of the NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, said he thinks it falls into the achievable category. Citing recent polls of NRA members, he said, "It's not the NRA that's opposed to it, it's the NRA leadership."

Joe Tartaro, the editor of Gun Week magazine, criticized the theatricality of the performance, especially the presence of dozens of gun-violence victims in the crowd. "If he were doing an honest job, the president would have had civilians who saved themselves with guns," he said.

But he said he wasn't at all worried about the speech. "I thought it was interesting that he was focusing very narrowly on, 'Let's have a vote,'" he said. "It suggested that he can't get everything he wants, and if he doesn't get it, it won't be his fault."

It wouldn't be unreasonable to wonder whether gun makers were actually disappointed that the tone of the speech wasn't more confrontational. In the past, sales have shot up when gun buyers have felt that their ability to buy certain weapons may be in jeopardy.

Obama's election was a boon for the industry, and the looming legislative battle has been good for business, too. Feldman, who advised manufacturers as head of the American Shooting Sports Council in the 1990s, said that in the months before former President Bill Clinton signed the now expired assault weapons ban in 1994, gun companies could barely keep up with demand; Feldman himself encouraged them to work extra shifts and weekends.

A spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a prominent gun-industry trade group that happens to be based in Newtown, Conn., did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Barrett said he guessed the industry was "kind of indifferent" to the speech.

"The industry itself does not go out of its way provoke controversy or invite debate about stricter gun regulations," he said. "The industry benefits from that controversy because of the strange behavior of gun consumers in the United States, but you don't see the actual manufacturers retailers and distributers stirring that stuff up."

"That's the NRA's role," he added. "They leave that to the NRA and they can count on the NRA to do it."

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