By Jade Moldae
The U.S. firearms industry’s journey over the past decade has been marked by record-breaking production numbers and dramatic shifts in demand — with six of the past 10 years on record experiencing double-digit percentage swings in both directions. (Of those six, three have eclipsed YOY changes greater than 25%.) It’s certainly a cyclical model, and these wild oscillations have taken their toll on companies now struggling to adjust in today’s downturn.
We don’t want to mitigate the current challenges impacting all sectors of the industry — news of United Sporting Company’s voluntary Chapter 11 filing was announced just days before press time, further evidence of how companies have been reeling from the surprise 2016 presidential election results — but there is merit in taking a step back and evaluating the industry’s prolific firearms production (and subsequent growth) over the past decade.
Simply, the industry’s footprint is greater today than ever before. As the “rising tide lifts all ships” idiom illustrates, years of sustained growth has enabled the industry to establish new footholds and grow its reach among non-traditional consumers. Today, companies that have adapted their approach through diversified offerings and streamlined operations will be able to focus on innovation and customer service to drive their businesses forward.
10 Years Of Firearms Production
As publicized in this year’s “U.S. Firearms Industry Today” report, NSSF revealed the industry’s economic growth has surged 171% (from $19.1 billion in 2008 to $52.1 billion in 2018). Correlating with this substantial rise, U.S. firearms production has likewise ballooned: rising from 4,406,380 in 2008 — peaking at 10,665,318 in 2016 — to 7,569,158 in 2018, an accomplished 71.8% jump.
From 2008 to 2017, the industry produced over 75.8 million firearms. Broken down, this amounts to 38,575,454 handguns, 29,094,582 rifles and 8,355,710 shotguns. Over this 10-year range, the industry averaged an annual output of 7,581,224 firearms; 2017’s total falls marginally below at 7,569,158. It’s not a conclusive measurement but if companies in 2008 were aware the industry would average over 7.5 million firearms over the next 10 years, more than a few eyebrows would surely have been raised.
Close Look: Handgun Trends
To take a closer look at handgun production numbers, we added two new charts to this year’s report (p. 32) — which analyze the top calibers during 2008–2017. (With an emphasis on top-producing calibers, production totals of .25- and .32-caliber pistols and .32-caliber revolvers are omitted here.)
In pistols, it will come as no surprise to industry observers to see 9mm’s dominance over other calibers — the top handgun caliber every year since 2009. (In 2008, the top-produced category was the to .50-caliber category — which includes .40 S&W- and .45 ACP-caliber handguns.) The production gap from 9mm over the other chamberings is unmistakable — especially when visually represented. A record 2,281,450 9mm pistols were produced in 2016, and despite experiencing a steep drop-off in 2017 to 1,756,618 pistols (-23%) it’s still the second-highest total on record.
The .380 category has consistently gained market share over the past decade, aided by significant new product introductions — Ruger’s LCP and LCP II, Smith & Wesson Bodyguard series, GLOCK 42, to name a select few — with 4,523,882 .380-caliber handguns manufactured in the last five years on record (2013–2017). SCCY entered this category for the first time in 2017, producing 412 handguns.
As further evidence of growth from 2008 to 2017, three of four pistol calibers experienced mammoth percentage gains over their 2008 totals: .22 (108.9%), .380 (204.2%) and 9mm (316.5%).
While not achieving the same heights as the pistol category in total output, revolvers experienced a general increase in production over the past decade. Leading calibers in the last 10 years on record have shifted between the .38 Spl. and .22-caliber categories. The .38 caliber was the most prolific in six of the first seven years in the 2008–2014 range. Coming on strong since 2015, .22-caliber revolvers have been the top produced every year on record since. Of note: After a top mark of 319,364 .22-caliber revolvers produced in 2016, 2017’s drop to 319,364 results in a trivial YOY 0.4% decrease.
When the “U.S. Firearms Industry Today” story is released each year, we generally receive a couple emails or comments during industry events asking how numbers from two years ago represent “the latest data available.” While we would be delighted at the prospect on reporting the previous year’s production data, the finalized report from the ATF is not published until about 13 months after the previous calendar year. Per ATF, the one-year delay in reporting is intentional — complying with the Trade Secrets Act, as these reports contain proprietary information. (This means 2018’s data will not be accessible in detail until Jan. 2020).
In response to industry requests, however, the ATF produced an interim report for the first time in 2010. This interim report includes total production numbers only, rather than a comprehensive breakdown by state/manufacturer. And due to its nature as an interim report, will likely differ from the finalized version — which is why SI waits to produce an in-depth report the following July. For example, the 2016 and 2017 interim reports displayed total firearms production numbers of 10,333,509 and 7,437,188 — both significantly different than the published 2016 (10,664,318) and 2017 (7,569,158) totals.
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