The Keefe Report: What's Selling? Handguns

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posted on April 14, 2017
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These are interesting times for firearm companies. And I use interesting as a euphemism for challenging. Remington Outdoor Co. has had a series of layoffs, both blue collar and white. Colt has let go 10 percent of its workforce since the beginning of the year. And it’s not just gunmakers, Magpul laid off 85 temporary employees, although this was part of the accessory maker’s prudent business plan, and they were well taken care of by the now Wyoming-based company. Citing a “downturn in ammunition,” Federal Ammunition in Anoka, Minn., downsized by 172 workers through buyouts and layoffs. 

Does that mean your favorite gun company is on the brink? Probably not. National Criminal Instant Background Check System (NICS) checks, conducted by the FBI are a form of barometer for new firearms sales. In March (the last number available as this was written), there were 2,433,092 checks conducted, which is not far off March last year, which had 2,523,265 checks. In fact, March’s numbers were higher than any years save 2014 (2,488,842) and 2016.

Many dealers and distributors report that phones aren’t ringing, supply is outstripping demand, and that guns are stacking up on shelves and in warehouses. There is no external legislative imperative of national politicians giving speeches about banning guns on the nightly news, although the threat to our rights remains very real. In such conditions, contraction is natural. It’s not enough to make as many guns as a company possibly can, but to make the right number and kind of guns consumers actually want to buy. And do it at a profit. So what is selling out there? In a word, handguns. Specifically, guns intended for those who lawfully exercise their Right To Carry.

Aside from chatting with local dealers, keeping one’s eyes open at gun shows and checking with friends around the country, gunbroker.com compiles a monthly list of what is selling nationally on its site (all its gun sales go through Federal Firearm License holders). It has a new website called “Gun Genius powered by Gunbroker.” When it comes to semi-automatic handguns, what is a “top seller” on the site jibes with a post by Managing Editor Joe Kurtenbach, in which he polled six top holster makers. It’s well worth watching—you can find it at americanrifleman.org/top3carry. It stands to reason, if concealed carry handguns are what is driving the economic gun engine, then the holster makers should be in best position to know. It’s not a hard leap to say folks don’t typically buy holsters for guns they don’t have. Kurtenbach found the S&W M&P Shield, Springfield XD-S and the Glock G19 were the top holster sellers.

 

Not an altruistic effort just for my editorial benefit, gungenius.com, for a nominal fee—much like seemingly every other commercial for automobiles on a cable network—will sell you a 12-month “Pricing Report” on a firearm. Gun Genius put the S&W M&P Shield, a single-stack subcompact, down as number one for March 2017. 

At number two was the Springfield XD-S, which had the .45 ACP polymer frame single-stack segment in that size class to itself for quite a while until S&W brought out the .45 Shield. Interestingly, both version listed by gungenius.com were 9 mm Lugers—pointing to that cartridge’s apparent continued ascendancy. Number three was the Ruger LCP in .380 ACP, which, at suggested retail price of $259, may retail at around $200. 

Next on the list was the SIG Sauer P938, which is a single-action 9 mm Luger that bucks the polymer trend by having a steel frame. In a story you’ll read in the coming months about the “Rifleman Ladies Pistol Project,” the .380 ACP P238 proved to be extremely popular with women in our survey. 

And last in the top five, of course, was the Glock G19. The full-size frame but abbreviated-slide version of the Austrian pistol remains a serious choice among professionals, as well as those that are intent on having a full-size magazine on them at all times. 

There's a trend towards 9 mm Luger single-stack polymer frame semi-automatics in general, as a gun with a single-column magazine is easier to conceal, and guns such as the Shield, XD-S and G43 lead the pack when it comes to appropriate defensive power in a slim, diminutive package. But thanks to aggressive pricing, anecdotally, the Ruger LC-9 has been selling well too. As demonstrated by the LCP being on Gun Genius’ list, size matters, but price does, too.

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