In his second term as president, gun-control proponent Barack Obama inadvertently became the No. 1 moneymaker for the firearms industry. The past 18 months, in particular, have seen record-breaking gun sales.
But with Donald Trump now at the national helm, and the immediate threat of new federal gun restrictions fizzling, the industry is facing a threat of a different kind: an uncertain economic future and a sudden jam in purchases.
“We don’t expect a collapse, we expect organic growth that isn’t all fear-driven,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president, government and public affairs, for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told FoxNews.com. “We are likely to see the market to normalize, which is better for the industry long term. It is hard to respond to constant spikes. Slow and steady wins the race.”
The biggest players in the firearms industry convened in Las Vegas this week for the world’s largest trade show of its kind, the NSSF-helmed annual Shot Show, where much of the focus was – quite calmly – on what will happen next.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump routinely voiced his support for the Second Amendment and pledged that, if elected, he would abolish gun-free zones in schools and military bases and quickly repeal a number of Obama’s executive actions, including efforts to streamline the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ background checks on gun buyers.
But Sandy Zusman, marketing director for Glock, said the industry is still standing by to see exactly what will happen under Trump, who has become notorious for defying expectations.
“The last two years have been exceptional for the industry, much of it driven by the very public discussions Obama had about gun control,” he said. “Those discussions have grown quiet now, but everyone is waiting to see the new path. There has been a slowing down of demand; we expect to focus more on individual needs of gun owners now.”
The post-Obama world also means that manufacturers are having to redirect marketing tactics and zero in on more niche audiences. In particular, many are figuring out ways to reach the fast-growing female market, designing products suitable for women’s personal defense.
“There has been a huge spike in all-female classes for concealed carry and for competition,” said Anette Wachter, member of the U.S National Rifle team and founder of a shooting blog, 30CalGirl.com.
Almost all the major manufactures at the Shot Show included females in their marketing materials and advertisements, and not – in Wachter’s words – in an old, stereotypical “gun booth babe” sense, but portraying the legitimate need for women to bear arms and protect themselves.
Shot Show vendor Drew Vedenhaupt pointed out that the market is still in its post-election “artificially inflated” stage, in which many manufacturers overproduced inventory in expectation of panic sales following a presumed Hillary Clinton victory. He said companies are now being forced to sell the overstock at next to no profit to free up room for a new wave of consumer demands.
“We expect customers to take more time with purchasing decisions, and they will turn to buy accessories and things that they really desire – like stylized optics or suppressors,” Vedenhaupt noted.
The industry also appears to be turning its targets toward products suitable for the ever-growing arena of competition shooting, which has taken the place of recreational hunting in recent years. According to Vedenhaupt, hunting has fallen into a “flat” phase – mostly due to the federal government buying up more and more parcels of land and thus limiting land access. The decrease in hunting has encouraged consumers to gather for more “group shoots” and invest time and money in competition instead.
The industry is also gearing up for the high possibility that, with the Republican House and Senate, the newly introduced Reciprocity Act of 2017 will pass under the Trump administration. The controversial measure, which has been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, would enable concealed carry licenses to function much like driver’s licenses in the U.S. – meaning they would be lawfully recognized across state lines. Many firearms-related companies are therefore specializing in accessories and clothing for the concealed carry consumer.
At the 5.11 Tactical booth, for example, the Shot Show hit was seemingly ordinary jeans and pants, made with defender flex denim that enables full range of motion as well as coin pockets deep enough for a knife and hidden carry pockets to shroud a handgun and a magazine.
“We want to provide things that are comfortable and look good,” President Francisco J. Morales said. “But with extra functions.”
And while gun makers and lobbyists have a renewed sense of ease at the federal level, they expect the fight to continue in the states as politicians and gun-control groups push for a tightening of laws and restrictions, especially in blue states. In California, for one, the November election saw a host of new laws come into play, including the registration of bullet-button guns and the imposition of ammunition purchase licensing.
But overall, despite the business slowdown, Trump’s triumph has been a welcome relief for the firearms industry.
“It has been a very steady Shot Show,” added Kevin Thomas, sales and marketing manager for Lapua Cartridges and Components. “There is a sense of optimism among the community that has been missing for the last few years.”