A Hot Commodity

Self-Defense Long Guns

Sitting in a shop with shelves emptied by coronavirus-weary and protest-spooked gun buyers, it can be difficult to remember what life was like before everything sort of came apart at the seams. With customers willing to buy pretty much anything capable of firing a projectile, it would seem to be a challenge to assess real demand for things like rifles and shotguns designed for self-defense.

Unless, that is, you look at the early days of 2020 prior to the pandemic and social unrest. This brief window — before inventories were exhausted — offers a sort of souped-up look at what self-defense shoppers want. Indeed, the sales trends during the initial buying surge were pretty much in line with customer purchases in quieter days, said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C.

Daniel Defense DDM4 PDW. Image: Daniel Defense

Self-Protection Provisions

The shop has always done strong business in home-defense shotguns — in part, because of the state’s two-week waiting period for handgun purchases. So, it was no surprise to Hyatt that shotguns (particularly the Mossberg Mavericks and Remington 870s) were the first things to fly off his shelves. These are buyers far more interested in getting a gun, without spending a lot to do it.

“A lot of these people don’t really want a gun. What they want is self-protection,” Hyatt claimed.

Fun coronavirus story: After all of Hyatt’s home-protection shotguns were gone, he looked around the shelves and saw opportunity in his untouched selection of hunting shotguns. He turned those over to the in-house gunsmith to shorten the barrels: “And then we had 40 more home-protection shotguns,” Hyatt noted.

“A lot of these people don’t really want a gun. What they want is self-protection.”

Larry Hyatt, Owner Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C.

The demand story was the same with ARs. Most of the shoppers were first-time gun buyers, giving them little basis for understanding the advantages of spending $1,500 for a top-tier rifle versus $700 for a more budget-friendly model.

“They look at a S&W MP-15 and Daniel Defense, and they can’t see the difference,” he stated.

These rifles have long been popular with his home-defense-oriented customers — particularly the ones who enjoy modifying their guns. This, of course, opens up the opportunity to sell extras, including lights, lasers and rails.

“We also have a couple of guys who work here who are AR-15 gurus. People will come in here just to get their advice,” Hyatt added.

A Similar Story

The same pre- and post-pandemic demand pattern was seen at Firearms Solutions in Duncan, Okla., where inexpensive ARs have always been strong sellers, particularly from Diamondback and Anderson. Those were among the first to go when the panic buying started according to Owner Keith Stewart.

“They went really fast. It took a little longer for the pricier stuff to go,” he said. “But eventually, they broke down and bought the $1,000 to $1,500 ARs.”

As a rule, he prefers to stock those lower-priced rifles more heavily, catering to customers who might feel more freedom at spending $500 on a new rifle, rather than on a pricier model by Daniel Defense, Noveske or LWRCI. Still, it never hurts to have a few of the upper-tier guns on hand.

“You still have guys who want that name on the AR, guys who want something better than the guy next door,” he said.

keltec SUB-2000

CZ-USA Scorpion EVO3

SB TACTICAL TAC13 Stabilizing Kit For Remington V3 TAC-13

Going Small

Perhaps few things have altered the rifle/shotgun landscape like rulings by the ATF that offered a substantial gray area between the definition of rifle and pistol. Legal pistol braces have effectively created a hassle-free (and tax-stamp free) way for anyone to own what is, for all intents and purposes, an SBR.
It’s opened the door for surging popularity in pistol-caliber carbines – either legal rifles with 16” barrels or pistol versions with braces.

Stewart does a brisk business in the category. He’s tried some of the pricier versions, like the CZ Scorpion EVO 3: “They do okay, but those guns are getting you over the $1,000 mark.”

Better, he said, are less-expensive options like the KelTec SUB-2000 and Diamondback PCC.

With customers willing to buy pretty much anything capable of firing a projectile, it would seem to be a challenge to assess real demand for things like rifles and shotguns designed for self-defense.

“They sell extremely well when I can get them,” Stewart said. “They’re fun to shoot. And they’re cheap to shoot, relatively.”

Hyatt’s in North Carolina has seen the same trend, with growing demand for the KelTec and SIG MPX. They also do well with Mossberg’s Shockwave shotgun. It’s not a gun people are going to use for plinking at the range, but it carries a nice price point for its intended use.

“They’re cool. They just fit that little self-defense spot people like,” Hyatt said.

He’s also convinced it’s a segment with staying power: “It’s already stood the test of time. It’s made the cut.”

Hyatt Guns uses its Instagram page to promote standout home-defense setups, such as this
Cerakote-finished Beretta 1301 topped with a red dot sight.

What’s Next?

Has there ever been a time of greater uncertainty for the gun industry? Like everyone else, shop owners will likely be dealing with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic for months. And there is the specter of the November elections hanging over everything.

Starting with the shorter-term outlook, Stewart wonders how much demand there will be for new guns after things return to normal. Consider many of those pandemic-panic shoppers are first-time gun owners.

“Maybe we’ve already sold all the guns to people who want a gun. I think we’ve probably armed most of the people,” Stewart said. “I really think we’re going to have a paradigm shift in the industry.”

He’s expecting a sales slump and is planning to change his approach to inventory decisions — focusing more on used and consignment guns (which have the advantage of costing nothing other than shelf space.)

“We’ll stock our best-selling stuff, but we won’t stock the stuff that sits here for months,” Stewart said.

Back in North Carolina, Hyatt also wonders what the future will hold, and is less than thrilled by the uncertainties. “It’s a tough one. We’re in unchartered territory,” he stated.

“Maybe we’ve already sold all the guns to people who want a gun. I really think we’re going to have a paradigm shift in the industry. ”

Keith Stewart, Owner Firearms Solutions in Duncan, Okla.

He’s more bullish on the public’s appetite for new guns, particularly with stimulus dollars flowing into the economy.

“There’s always been a demand for guns,” he said. “Firearms are the type of product people would like to have a dozen of. There aren’t a lot of products like that.”

He also thinks there could be new opportunities in the used market after things calm down.

“A lot of those first-time gun buyers might want to sell those guns back,” he suggested. “If there is a used market, we’ll take advantage of it.”

The upcoming presidential election could have an even greater impact on the market. The trick is not moving too soon and guessing wrong — as many gun stores did ahead of the 2016 presidential election, when many shops invested heavily in ARs and other guns anticipating a victory by Hillary Clinton.

Hyatt prefers not to guess. He recalls the 2008 election of Barack Obama. “When we were absolutely sure Obama was elected, we pressed the button and ordered a lot of guns,” he said.

Everyone will be watching in November: “It’s pretty clear. You’re either going to get somebody who’s for guns or somebody who’s against guns. It’s absolutely going to affect inventory,” Hyatt concluded.

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