A man looks at Mossberg shotgun during the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas (© Steve Marcus - Reuters)
As sales of guns and ammunition continue to soar, firearms have become not just a hot commodity, but a job creator.

Gun interest has surged after last year's shooting massacres at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and a Newtown, Conn., elementary school prompted lawmakers to revisit the debate on gun control legislation. And manufacturers are scrambling to pick up as many workers as they can to meet demand. Brian Rafn, who follows the gun industry for Morgan Dempsey Capital Management, told CNN that while the firearms industry employs only about 240,000 people nationwide, it is adding manufacturing capacity in regions where such jobs are scarce.

For companies like Smith and Wesson (SWHC), Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR), Colt and others, that means opening new facilities and bringing in more labor in the Northeast, where manufacturing jobs are usually referred to in past tense. In some states that have come down firmly on the “control” side of the gun debate, those same manufacturers are leaving town for more like-minded political landscapes.

In Colorado, for example, high-capacity ammunition magazine manufacturer Magpul threatened to relocate its 200 jobs after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills requiring more extensive background checks and limiting magazine capacity to 15 rounds. Even in gun-friendly states, however, it's getting tough to find workers qualified to make the increasingly complex weapons that serious gun collectors are looking for.

According to Reuters and the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, women and older Americans were the key growth areas when mandatory background checks for firearm sales at U.S. gun stores rose nearly 50% year-over-year in December. That doesn't mean more folks from each demographic were buying guns, however. In 1977, the University of Chicago's nationwide General Social Survey showed that 54% of American households reported owning guns. By 2010, the last time the survey data was compiled, reported gun ownership had fallen to 32%.

The remaining gun owners, if the data is accurate, are simply buying a lot more firearms and have more sophisticated tastes than one-off buyers. Newer weapons are now built with ergonomic frames, triggers with innovative safeties or actions, or side-mounted laser sights. Engineers with skills to create them can pocket more than $100,000 a year, but both they and $60,000-a-year machinists are in demand elsewhere.

Gun manufacturers complain that expanding oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, the Northeast and the Dakotas are draining the talent pool. The other issue is that gun manufacturers are reluctant to offer steady work, preferring contract hires who can be dropped as soon as demand softens. Guns and ammo may be creating jobs in the short-term, but even those booming industries declare a cease-fire every so often.

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