Without Obama, once-booming gun industry poised to shrink
President Trump’s election appears to be negatively affecting gun sales in the U.S. and the bubble appears to be bursting despite a staunch advocate for gun rights in the White House and Republicans ruling Congress.
“President Obama was the best gun salesman the world has ever seen,” Karl Sorken, a production manager at Battle Rifle Co. in Houston. Sorken is an Army veteran and self-described liberal who voted for Obama and notes the change for the industry under Trump is a topic of conversation in the shop.
Fears of government limits on guns — some real, some perceived — led to a surge in demand during Obama’s tenure and manufacturers leapt to keep up. Over the decade ending in 2015, the number of U.S. companies licensed to make firearms jumped 362 percent.
“The trends really almost since Election Day or election night have been that gun sales have slacked off,” said Robert Spitzer, political science department chairman at State University of New York at Cortland. “When you take away Barack Obama and you give the Republicans control of both houses of Congress, which is extremely friendly to the gun lobby, then the political pressure subsides. And that surely is at least a key part of the explanation for the drop-off in sales.”
The Washington Post reported that the FBI conducted about 500,000 fewer background checks in December 2016 then in 2015. Gun sales this year have reportedly dropped about 17 percent.
From 2004 to 2013, sales of all handguns — pistols and revolvers — increased nearly fivefold, according to industry figures. Sales of rifles tripled in that timeframe.
Battle Rifle took shape in the middle of that surge, formed in 2010 after its founder Chris Kurzadkowski ventured into his garage to build his police officer son a rifle from scratch.
“Our forefathers realized what tyranny does and if you don’t have a way to protect yourself from tyranny then you become a subject,” said ammunition expert Jamey Spears, who spent five years in Texas law enforcement until he was shot during a raid on a Dallas crack house. The .45-caliber hollow point bullet that went through a gap in his body armor remains lodged next to his spine, a noticeable lump reminding him of how close he came to dying that day.
“I have nothing but the most heartfelt adoration for people who serve so others can be safe,” he said.
One reason for the surge in manufacturers of AR-platform firearms — called “modern sporting rifles” by the industry — is that they are not protected by patents or trademarks. That makes it an open field for anyone with the proper federal license.
Another has been demand helped by a monied clientele. The majority of AR owners are overwhelmingly male, with half between the ages of 45 and 64, and more than half reporting annual income of more than $75,000, according to a 2013 survey conducted for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gunmakers.
Daniel Defense, a company based in Black Creek, Georgia, about 25 miles west of Savannah, capitalized on that growth. It began in 2000 by making parts for AR-style firearms. Last year, Daniel sold 60,000 complete weapons.
Founder Marty Daniel, who employs about 310 workers and is more than doubling his manufacturing facility’s square footage, said he was prepared for the dips in sales and anticipates those will last through the year. But he considers the downturn part of a natural business cycle, like those that hit the housing market.
“There are some blips in there from time to time. And we’re in one of those because Trump was elected,” Daniel said. But, he says, “it’s not gloom and doom.”