When candidate Donald Trump stood atop the stage at last year’s National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky, the gun world felt a proverbial “thrill up its leg.”
For the previous eight years, gun rights advocates, gun owners, and the firearms industry had been fighting an all-out war with the Obama administration and its allies in Congress, the media, and the courts to fend off the constant chipping away of the Second Amendment. From magazine limits to ammunition bans to attacks on the character of gun owners, it seemed each day brought a new skirmish.
But fate had delivered a savior, many thought. Trump was unabashedly pro-gun, pro self-defense and pro-Second Amendment, and wasn’t cowed by previous Republicans’ inclinations to downplay the role of lawful firearms ownership in the protection of American society. When he received the full-throated endorsement of the NRA, gun owners knew they had a candidate they could get behind.
So it’s no surprise that when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton — who’d once hinted that Australian-style gun bans might be a valid option for U.S. gun control — the pro-gun world went wild. No longer would each day bring a potential new fight. Finally, gun owners had a president in the White House who bragged about his concealed-carry license, for crying out loud.
The victory even prompted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) leaders in the “deep state” to rethink their enforcement of outdated gun laws, like suppressor regulation, the import ban on AK-47 rifles, and restrictions on some now-ubiquitous ammunition. Gun owners believed a new day had dawned.
Gun Control Threats Are Good for Business
Unfortunately, Trump’s win has had the unintended consequence of throwing the firearms industry into a deep slump, forcing major companies to lay off workers, driving prices deep into the red, and forcing some gun dealers out of business. While the Obama years might have been a dark time for gun rights, the Democrat president was a boon for gun retailers and manufacturers (a fact Obama has admitted himself). Each time the needle ticked further in the direction of gun restriction, Americans flocked to their local gun store and plunked down cash for more irons.
The industry swelled because of the “panic buying,” with new manufacturers popping up, old names in the industry swelling their ranks, and more new gun owners pushing into demographics with previously tepid interest.
In the Trump era, however, that fear is gone, and with it the market’s urgency to beat the clock on the next “commonsense” gun ban. That’s helped nudge iconic gunmakers Colt and Remington to lay off hundreds of workers and shut down entire divisions of their companies, forced manufacturers to close their doors, and prompted retailers and distributors to offer deep discounts on firearms, with one offering an AR-15 rifle at prices below even the cheapest handguns.
“The combination of increased inventory in the channel and a likely decrease in consumer demand for the near term has made for a more challenging sell-through environment,” said a top executive with gunmaker Ruger during a February 23 investor call.
Supporting Gun Rights Takes Off the Pressure
In another shot to the gut, the suppressor industry is also feeling the Trump slump. Under Obama, the number of suppressors (which dampen the sound of a gun’s report to hearing-safe levels) sold to America’s gun owners skyrocketed — despite the onerous ATF application process, additional regulations, and $200 tax for each. It seemed that each week featured a new company entering the market and interest surged among hunters and sport shooters.
But in a sad irony, Trump’s support of legislation working its way through Congress that would allow suppressors to be purchased over the counter like a handgun or rifle has prompted potential customers to wait on their next suppressor buy. That’s forced companies like SilencerCo — which Trump son Don Jr. has endorsed and has cornered about 75 percent of the suppressor market — to deliver upwards of 50 percent of its workforce pink slips.
Suppressor industry groups have pleaded with consumers to buy anyway, arguing if the legislation passes (and that’s a big if) it won’t for a while and waiting with crossed fingers just drives manufacturers out of business. It is demonstrably a tough time for the firearms industry today, with the panic-buying surge over and buyers waiting on the sidelines for the next legislative move.
“You’ve never had a better administration for the gun industry than Obama, and now never a worse one for the gun industry than Trump,” an industry analyst said during the earnings call with Ruger.
But many say Trump and Congress can pull the gun market out of its nose dive with legislation like concealed-carry license reciprocity (which would prompt a surge in handgun purchasing), accelerating the progress of the Hearing Protection Act (which would get new buyers in stores for suppressors), and by adopting many of the rule changes proposed by ATF leaders (which would open the market to more gun imports and allow the purchase of more ammunition).
Until then, though, expect further decline until the industry bottoms out. But in the meantime at least, there’s hope among gun enthusiasts that at least for the next four years their rights won’t be pried from their “cold dead hands.”