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Gun sales decline further under Trump

November 23, 2018

The “Trump slump” in the gun market is only getting deeper, according to the latest numbers from several analysts that show last month was the weakest October for sales in seven years.

Analysts both inside and outside the industry say firearms enthusiasts are no longer spurred to buy because of fears of a gun crackdown the major contributing factor, they said, to a massive surge in sales during the Obama administration.

With President Trump in office, even renewed media attention to gun control in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February has not been enough to scare gun owners into stocking up.

“That fear dissipated with Mr. Trump being elected hence, a big fall in 2017 and it’s a continuation of that fall,” said Jurgen Brauer, the chief economist at Small Arms Analytics Forecasting, a research firm.

Robert Spitzer, a professor at SUNY-Cortland who has written extensively about the politics of gun control, also suspects longer-term demographic trends at play in the sluggish sales.

“The largest gun-owning segment by far is declining gradually, and it’s not being replaced older white males,” he said.

Whatever the reasons, the results are clear.

Mr. Brauer’s group figures there were slightly more than 1 million firearm sales in the U.S. in October a 12 percent decline from October 2017. And through the first 10 months of the year there have been 10.8 million firearms sold, down from 11.4 million over the same period last year and 12.9 million in 2016.

“I would not be surprised if the numbers next year, 2019, continue to decline, but as this year, at a more moderate level,” he said. “It seems to me that they’re kind of evening out in firearms demand nationwide to some sort of normal baseline level that is not overly influenced by politics.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the leading trade group for the firearms industry, does its own calculations and said October was the lowest it has been in seven years, dating back to 2011.

Both groups base their calculations on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is run by the FBI to vet gun transactions.

There were about 2.1 million total NICS checks in October a slight increase from October 2017. But those include checks made for concealed-carry permits and other non-purchases. When those are subtracted out, the numbers show a drop, analysts said.

Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF’s senior vice president and general counsel for government and public affairs, said the gun industry is still healthy, even if it’s not roaring.

“Is it down compared to ’16 and ’17? Yes,” he said. “But if you told somebody in the industry in 2008, for example, leading into the Obama administration where the [background] checks and sales would be in 2018, they would be very happy.”

President Obama never got Congress to pass major new controls, but Democrats’ public push for expanded background checks and bans on semiautomatic rifles after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting helped spur record gun sales as people rushed to stock up before any new rules could take effect.

“I think people recognize this: That for this market, for this product, there’s a lot of purchasing decisions by consumers that are driven by concerns over their constitutional rights, their Second Amendment rights,” Mr. Keane said.

This year’s Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, reignited the gun control debate, with Stoneman Douglas students leading the push.

They took particular aim at the National Rifle Association, which saw some major corporate sponsors distance themselves. Manufacturers are also feeling the pinch, with moves like that of Bank of America, which pulled financing help from companies that manufacture semiautomatic rifles, like the AR-15.

“The political winds are kind of blowing against the gun industry,” Mr. Spitzer said. “So demography, politics, and the Trump slump I think are pretty good explanations for what’s going on.”

Several gun control groups did not respond to questions about the recent decline, but advocates have said in the past that the post-2016 decreases are evidence that the gun lobby has suffered with its chief “bogeyman” in Mr. Obama out of office.

Though Democrats couldn’t pass new controls after Sandy Hook, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said her party will try to force the issue in the new Congress, at least in the House, where they are about to take control.

“There is bipartisan legislation to have common-sense background checks to prevent guns going into the wrong hands. It doesn’t cover everything, but it will save many lives,” Mrs. Pelosi said on CNN earlier this month.

Congress did approve legislation to incentivize more record-sharing with the FBI and to boost funding for school safety after the Stoneman Douglas shooting in February killed 17 people.

But with Mr. Trump in office and the Senate firmly in GOP hands, broader action at the federal level on anything broader is highly unlikely.

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