Las Vegas Sun

April 25, 2019

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Why the firearms industry appears stuck in the doldrums


Erin Schaff / The New York Times

Rifles displayed for sale inside the Clark Brothers Gun Shop in Warrenton, Va., Feb. 25, 2018. Firearms sales have dropped during the Trump presidency.

This holiday season is not shaping up to be the gun industry’s best.

Firearms sales slumped after President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, as fears of gun control melted away with the administration’s vocal support of the gun industry.

But two years later, demand still appears damp.

In October, slightly more than 1 million background checks of prospective firearms buyers were conducted through the FBI, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation trade group, which adjusts federal figures to roughly approximate market conditions.

That’s 11.2 percent fewer checks than in the same month a year earlier. So far this year, nine out of 10 months had fewer checks than the same period in either 2016 or 2017.

Some analysts attribute the weakness to an absence of significant federal gun control legislation, or to the firearms industry’s cyclical nature.

Another possible factor: a nationwide surge of gun control activism after 17 people were fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February. Companies distanced themselves from the National Rifle Association, major firearms manufacturers faced pressure from Wall Street and local politicians proposed a raft of gun control measures.

And if the past few weeks are any indication, gun companies have more stress coming.

After the Parkland killings, Dick’s Sporting Goods took a bold step, declaring that it would stop selling assault-style rifles and require any gun buyer to be at least 21 years old. Gun rights activists threatened to boycott the company.

The company’s financials are still adjusting.

The retailer said on Wednesday that sales at stores open more than a year declined 6.1 percent in the third quarter from the same period a year earlier. Dick’s hunting segment, which includes firearms, was responsible for half the decline.

Black Friday has historically been one of the strongest selling days of the year for firearms.

This year was far less busy. Unadjusted background checks slumped more than 10 percent, to 182,093 checks, from last year’s record high of 203,086 checks, which had followed shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

It was the lowest number of background checks since 2014.

The NRA reported a $55 million drop in income, according to a review of tax records published by The Daily Beast on Tuesday. Contributions fell to $98 million last year from nearly $125 million in 2016. Membership dues also slumped more than $30 million.