Guess what? The great surge in gun sales that started after Obama was re-elected and then spiked when a national gun bill was pushed (but defeated) after Sandy Hook has come to a jarring end. Smith & Wesson just announced its results for the quarter ending July 31 and earnings dropped 45% with sales revenues off by more than 20%. The biggest revenue tumble occurred in “black” guns, aka modern sporting rifles, aka Ar-15s, aka assault rifles which, according to company documents, accounted for 87% of the total sales decline. But even more interesting was the fact that product inventory increased by more than 20% from the end of the previous quarter, which means that more and more guns are simply sitting unsold on factory shelves.
Smith & Wesson’s stock price shot up from $2.50 in September, 2011 to $16.68 in June of this year, an increase which reflected the surge in gun demand before and particularly after the massacre at Sandy Hook. During roughly the same period, the value of Sturm, Ruger stock also increased more than four times. These were heady days in the gun business, with a demand outrunning supply for every type of gun.
But that was then and this is now. While the gun industry tried to explain this surge as due primarily to new customers (women, millennials, urbanites) coming into the shooting marketplace, the hard, cold facts are that most of the recent sales of guns ended up in the hands of people who already owned guns and were therefore more sensitive to the possibility that gun legislation might take their precious toys away. The NSSF recently published the results of a membership survey which claims that target shooters are increasingly younger, female and urban-based. But the report conspicuously avoids any discussion about whether the number of people participating in target shooting is going up or down. Here’s a hint: Smith & Wesson’s quarterly report noted that the only type of guns for which sales increased in the last quarter were small, concealable polymer pistols. You might want to take your new pocket pistol to the range once to make sure it works, but if the NSSF considers such people to be getting into “target shooting,” then I can say that I’m following my diet between meals.
The gun industry began pretending that assault-style rifles were “modern sporting rifles” because they were encountering resistance from family-oriented chains like Cabela’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods who felt that black guns didn‘t have the wholesome image that stores which considered themselves to be family shopping destinations wanted to project. I happen to be the person who, in 2009, donated the URL www.modernsportingrifle.com, which I owned, to the NSSF. I gave them the rights to use the URL at the 2009 Shot Show and in our discussions that preceded the transfer their counsel made it clear that this was part of a marketing plan to align black guns with mainstream consumer tastes. Given what has happened to sales of assault rifles in the last several months, it looks like the mainstream and the black gun stream have parted ways.
I’m not surprised at this recent turn of events as regards the sale of guns. You can justify gun ownership as important for self-defense, as representing liberty and justice for all, as protecting hearth and home, but a majority of Americans don’t own guns, and the industry hasn’t been able to figure out a marketing message that explains to non-gun owners why they should change their views. The real trick, however, is to get all the non-gun owners to be as committed about regulating guns as the gun owners are committed to making sure that more gun regulation doesn’t take place. Because there’s always the possibility that sooner or later there’s going to be another high-profile shooting and Smith & Wesson’s stock price will take off again.