Riding The 9mm Wave


Image: Springfield Armory

There’s no debate: We’re firmly in the 9mm era.

Using the past 10 years of ATF’s AFMER data (2013–2022) as our source, there were 44,242,904 pistols produced by U.S. firearms manufacturers. Of those, 22,712,215 were chambered in 9mm — making up more than half of all pistols produced in the U.S.

Take a closer look at each year in the chart below — the proportion of 9mm pistols gradually increases. From 2013 to 2017, 9mm pistol production swayed from 34.9% of all U.S. pistols on the low end up to 48.3% on the high end. In 2018, 9mm pistols made up more than half of pistols produced — and it hasn’t looked back since, peaking at 63.7% in 2021 and maintaining its hold on the market in 2022 (56.5%). 

Competition in this market is only increasing. This year alone, Daniel Defense, Black Rain Ordnance and Rost Martin entered the 9mm pistol market — representing fresh brands for your handgun customers to evaluate. (And this doesn’t even include the number of imported pistols in 9mm that perform capably on retail shelves.)

It all begs the question: What will challenge 9mm’s impressive dominance, especially in the pistol market?

Potential Rivals?

In the pistol segment, it’s difficult to see what caliber will challenge 9mm. Of the six calibers listed in the AFMER data, three experienced an increase in 2022: .22, .32 and .50.

Interestingly, the .32 caliber experienced a sizable increase year-to-year from 2021 to 2022 — more than doubling, from 56,226 to 114,508 (103.7%). 

In his April 2024 column, written before the AFMER data was available, Massad Ayoob earmarked the .32 as a caliber to look out for: “In case you didn’t notice, .32 Autos are coming back. These pistols are super tiny and super light … and in America, convenience sells. In this case, so will .32 ACP.”

Now, pistols in .32-caliber aren’t going to exert the dominance currently enjoyed by 9mm. However, having them in stock will give you additional opportunities to make a sale.

The “To .50” category experienced a 4.5% year-over-year increase (from 682,779 to 713,866). In conversations with my esteemed colleagues at American Handgunner and GUNS Magazine, I’ve gleaned there’s a small subset of those first-time customers from 2020 and 2021 who became active participants in the shooting sports and have expressed interest in learning about platforms they’ve heard about — such as the 1911. 

While 9mm 1911s are certainly on the rise, the classic .45 ACP 1911 would likely appeal to “purists” eager to get their hands on an iconic platform. Something to look out for …

Another “hot” market these days is lever-action rifles. Henry USA and Ruger-made Marlin lever guns have ignited the segment — with several new manufacturers joining in this year, including Smith & Wesson, Taylor’s & Company and Bond Arms (coming Q3 2024).

At the end of the day, having the right product assortment — from top-selling SKUs to stable, slow-and-steady movers — and the ability to add value to customers will result in sales for you and your team. 

With the of uncertainty and challenges facing our industry today, any edge is worth sharpening.

Read More Shooting Industry July 2024 Issue Now