What's Going On with Gun Sales?
"Why do you guys promote guns no one can find?" one reader recently posited. That was followed up by: "You put the Kimber Solo on the cover; you might as well have reviewed a unicorn." Another quipped, "I just ordered a SIG Sauer P224 and a leprechaun at my dealer; we'll see which comes in first."
Obviously, unicorn and leprechaun reviews are beyond the purview of American Rifleman, but the Kimber Solo on the October 2011 and the SIG P224 on the April 2012 cover were not. Back when he was an on-the road sales rep for Beretta, Jens Krough, now brand manager for Franchi, spent a lot of time talking with gunshop owners. One of his questions to dealers was "What's selling?" The response from a few of them was invariably, "Whatever is on the cover of American Rifleman."
Odds are that if you're in the same boat as the readers quoted above (save for fairy tale creature references) someone else already bought the gun you wanted, and there are more people after the gun you want than guns available at present. Demand is outstripping supply, pure and simple. Trust me; the manufacturers would like to sell a firearm to every lawful customer that would like one.
Make guns people want to buy, offer features that no one else offers, or offer them at a better price, and as a company you will see an increase in demand. Sales are up across just about every category, based on anecdotal conversations with firearms and industry contacts. In some cases this includes decades old designs. Defensive handguns are particularly strong, defensive shotguns are up, semi-automatic rifles are back up and .22s are extremely strong as well. Surprising to me was increased demand for field shotguns. There are quite a few new shotguns this year, including the Browning A5 (planned May Rifleman cover story; order yours now) and the Franchi Instinct and Affinity, plus at least two major introductions coming in the next few months that I am unable to disclose.
Plants here and overseas are working full out. It is a question of capacity. Domestic companies are adding shifts, cross training workers, reorganizing how the machines in a plant are organized (the last four gun plants I have been on the floor of were in the process of trying to increase efficiency by moving tooling around) and, in some cases, buying new machines. Firms are reluctant to add employees with changes in health care looming as they do not know what the costs will be, and they would rather not hire people only to lay them off six months from now if conditions change.
Sturm, Ruger & Co., recently reported that it is suspending taking orders until May. It is not that Ruger is shutting down—a patent falsehood I saw on a chat room from an anonymous and oblivious "insider"—but the company cannot keep up with orders. So instead of extending the backorders to ridiculous numbers, the company said enough. Once production is closer to being caught up, the company will take orders again.
I'd like to think that NRA members had a big piece of Ruger's success this year with President Mike Fifer's "Million Gun Challenge," which is now the "1.2 Million Gun Challenge" as the firm surpassed every expectation, and in the year from the NRA Annual Meetings in Pittsburgh to the NRA Annual Meetings in St. Louis, the company will have made more guns in one year than ever before in its history.
How many of the backorders out there are "phantom," meaning multiple orders from a dealer through several distributors waiting to see which one delivers, then cancelling the others, is unknown; some certainly are. But when it comes to popular models, one dealer told me, "I have customers with deposits for six, have ordered 12 and could probably sell 20."
The number of background checks through the National Instant Criminal Check system (which thanks to NRA superseded the Brady's Bill's mandatory waiting period) is up at record levels, too. Those checks include more than just new gun sales, as some states require a check every time a gun is transferred and used guns sold by an FFL require a background check as well. But it is indicative of an increased number of American choosing to exercise their Second Amendment right.
The looming contest between Barack Obama and the Republican nominee, anxiety over the country's economic uncertainty, manufacturers actually offering guns people want to buy, new cartridge/gun combinations (such as .17 Hornet and .300 Whisper/AAC Blackout), and, yes, even the unlikely and seemingly ridiculous belief in a zombie apocalypse, all contribute to the spike in interest in firearms.
Throw in increased popular culture television exposure of firearms and shooting, including everything from "Gold Rush" to "Top Shot" to "Sons of Guns" to "Doomsday Preppers," and you can see that the trend will continue for some time to come.
Speaking of "Doomsday Preppers," I really need to buy some more water. I'm okay on ammo.