By Russ Thurman
The industry accelerated into the 2017 New Business Year, driven by record-setting 2016 sales and, just as important, a White House not occupied by an anti-gun/industry president. Add a Republican-controlled Congress, and the industry — for the first time in eight years — began a business year without the constant threat of attacks from Washington, D.C.
Yes, there are still plenty of battles to fight, with states and major cities continuing to propose anti-gun legislation and ordinances designed to restrict gun ownership and harm the industry.
There also are many opposing opinions as to how much the lack of attacks from the nation’s capital will have on the industry’s sales. Will sales drop?
Undoubtedly, the “Obama Factor” drove a lot of firearm, ammunition and other product sales during the past eight years. Last year, the “Hillary Factor” — characterized by constant anti-gun/industry attacks — helped create a record-setting year for business. Terrorist attacks, mass shootings, an uptick in crime and a dramatic increase in assaults on police officers also drove consumers to gun shops. However, and more important, Americans increasingly embraced gun ownership for non-fear reasons: recreation.
Driving Record Sales
A record number of NICS background checks were conducted in 2016. The FBI reports the system processed 15,700,471 (NSSF-adjusted) checks during the year, a 10.2 percent increase over 2015, and a 6 percent increase over 2013, the previous high year.
The industry began 2016 strong, with 1,362,847 (NSSF-adjusted) background checks in January, a 44 percent increase over the corresponding month in 2015. From January through May, the number of background checks each month was second only to those of 2013. Yet, the number of background checks in May was 16 percent lower than April, forecasting the industry was likely headed toward a summer slump. It never happened.
While sales in early June were slow, this changed on June 12 with the terrorist attack at Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The attack drove sales in two ways: fear of crime and fear it would be used to justify more gun control.
During June, NICS conducted 1,140,088 (NSSF-adjusted) background checks, a 29 percent increase over June 2015. More importantly, it was a 23 percent jump over May 2016. The June number was historical, as it was the largest number of background checks conducted during June in the history of the system.
Beginning with June, the industry saw six straight months of record-setting background checks. In all, NICS conducted 7,675,096 (NSSF-adjusted) background checks during June through November, a 17 percent increase over the same months in 2015.
In November, perhaps in celebration of President Trump winning the election, NICS conducted a record-setting 1,662,338 (NSSF-adjusted) background checks, a 16 percent increase over November 2015. Of those, the FBI reports it conducted a record-setting 185,713 background checks on Black Friday.
NICS conducted 1,845,847 (NSSF-adjusted) background checks in December, the most active month of the year. While this didn’t break any records, it still was the third-highest number of background checks during December in the history of the NICS system.
Expanding Consumer Base
Will sales drop this year? Sales may not match the numbers of 2016, but, for consumers, there are plenty of real-world reasons to own a firearm for personal and home protection — and more. Unfortunately, the “Fear Factor” is not going to go away anytime soon. It’s real, and more consumers realize they are responsible for their personal safety and family protection.
Consumers also continue to learn — sometimes by fulfilling their personal-defense needs — firearms can be fun to shoot. Range time is increasingly becoming a popular option for family time, ladies’ nights, friendly competitions and date nights. Whether it’s shooting steel, paper or clays, range time is increasing.
Driven by a number of factors, the firearm consumer base continues to expand. Many consumers purchasing firearms, ammunition and associated products aren’t “traditional” gun owners. They are increasingly urban, female and races other than Caucasian. This is good — excellent actually.
For years, many in the industry have sounded the alarm that we must expand beyond the “traditional” consumer if we are to survive. This has begun, and we will benefit, not only in sales, but also in who we are as an industry — one that better reflects who we are as a nation.
No, 2017 may not best 2016 in sales, but it will be a better year for business overall.