Industry leaders pushed back Monday on reports that gun sales entered a severe slump after the election of President Donald Trump.
"Reports of the industry's demise are greatly exaggerated," Michael Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Washington Free Beacon.
While the pace of firearms-related background checks conducted by the FBI—a strong but not exact barometer of gun sales—has fallen since the election, it remains historically high. Checks in February were down nearly 400,000 from the record set in February 2016, but still represented the third-most checks conducted in the month of February, surpassing most of the years President Obama was in office. The same is true of November 2016, December 2016, and January 2017.
Despite these facts, media outlets from across the ideological spectrum have characterized the decline in background checks as a major downturn for the industry. "How Donald Trump Shot The Gun Industry In The Gut," reads a headline at the Federalist. "Gun sales are stuck in a Trump slump," says another at CNN. "President Obama was a boon for the firearm industry—while President Trump set off a slump in gun sales," Fox News wrote. A popular YouTube channel that covers gun news, The Gun Collective, described the downturn as "one of the biggest slumps in the gun industry that we've seen in years," likening it to the horror movie The Purge.
As further evidence of hard times in the gun industry, the reports pointed to layoffs by firearms companies such as Remington and the bankruptcy of sporting goods and firearms dealer Gander Mountain. But industry insiders told the Free Beacon that the bleak outlook pushed by many media outlets is exaggerated.
"While business is lower than in the corresponding months during record 2013 and 2016 calendar years, it is still quite good on a historic basis," Bazinet said. "The floor has been raised after a decade-long, generally upward trends in sales."
Bud's Gun Shop, one of the country's largest online gun dealers, told the Free Beacon that sales are up so far in March. "We are actually up in March 2017 over March 2016," Rex McClanahan, the company's president, said. "We were down significantly in Jan-Feb but that was just because of the huge increase we experienced in those months last year following the San Bernardino attack in December and Obama's executive orders in January."
Gun and ammunition sellers see a market that is down from record sales levels but still strong and less prone to volatility.
"There are new shooters getting introduced to the shooting sports and preparedness mindset every day," Anthony Welsch, a spokesman for ammunition seller Lucky Gunner, told the Free Beacon. "The number of self-defense-minded and recreational shooters continues to grow. In fact, there are some manufacturers that still have select pistol calibers on backorder."
"That said, we certainly are not experiencing the volatility we experienced under the previous president. AR-centric calibers like .223 ammo are down relative to where they were prior to the election. As you might expect, that's led to cheaper prices and more choices for customers. For instance, .375 Winchester ammunition is a relatively obscure caliber that was tough to find for awhile that is now in stock and available."
McClanahan said Bud's is experiencing a stabilization of both supply and demand.
"Sales are strong, and more encouraging for us in the long run, recent firearm sales represent all categories and not just a particular category temporarily being inflated by politics, terrorism, etc.," he said.
Both companies expect a decline in sales as the summer months approach. This decline would be in keeping with seasonal trends, as FBI documents show higher numbers of firearms-related background checks in winter months than in summer months.
"We do expect to see a significant pull back in firearm sales from March through June/July but, again, that is to be expected by anyone who is familiar with our industry," McClanahan said.
Undoubtedly gun companies would like for sales to match or exceed the record levels reached during 2016, but industry insiders believe that stability on the supply side may increase interest in shooting.
"The relatively healthy NICS check statistics paired with better ammo availability could be a good thing for the future of the shooting sports in our country," Welsch said. "It's a lot easier to become passionate about shooting if you can readily find ammo at good prices."
At the very least, consumers can expect better deals, without having to worry about the collapse of the gun industry.
"Looking at this from the market in, consumers are certainly seeing some good buying opportunities," Bazinet said.