Tim Dickinson writes: For gunmakers, the political fight over assault rifles and high-capacity pistols is about more than just profits – it’s about the militarization of the marketplace and represents a desperate bid by gunmakers to prop up a decaying business. The once-dependable market for traditional hunting guns has fallen off a cliff. To adapt, the firearms industry has embraced a business strategy that requires it to place the weapons of war favored by deranged killers like Adam Lanza and Jared Loughner into the homes and holsters of as many Americans as possible. “They’re not selling your dad’s hunting rifle or shotgun,” says Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a top industry watchdog. “They’re selling military-bred weaponry.”
As recently as 2008, shotguns, rifles and other traditional hunting weapons made up half of all new civilian gun sales in America, according to SEC documents – a brisk billion-dollar business. Today, hunting guns account for less than a quarter of the market, and the hunting industry is forecasting a 24 percent drop in revenue by 2025. Gunmakers are on the wrong side of the same demographic curves that haunt the modern Republican Party. Its customer base is too old, too white, too male and too Southern. According to Gallup, 61 percent of white males in the South own guns today. Nationwide, just 18 percent of Latinos do. “The white males are aging and dying off,” says Sugarmann. Flooding the market with battle-ready guns, he says, “is an effort to find one new, shiny thing to sell them.”
For the moment, that strategy is paying handsome dividends. Handgun sales have jumped 70 percent since 2008, racking up an estimated $1.5 billion in sales last year. Powerful pistols – sold under brands like Beretta, Glock and Ruger – have replaced traditional hunting guns as the industry’s cash cow. Revenue from assault rifles is growing at an even faster clip – having doubled in the past five years, to $489 million. Gaudy profit margins have become the norm: Top gunmakers enjoy gross profits of 30 percent or more. Ammunition manufacturers, too, boast of being fat and happy. And it’s no wonder: AR-15 enthusiasts brag they can fire up to 400 rounds in 60 seconds. Paying roughly 50 cents a bullet, such shooters are blowing through $200 worth of ammo in a hot minute.
Much of the industry’s recent success is linked to politics – in particular, to the gun-buying public’s anxiety about the first black man in the White House. The phenomenon is reflected in Smith & Wesson’s SEC filings, which trumpeted “strong consumer demand for our firearm products following a new administration taking office in Washington, D.C., in 2009.” Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas has joked that Barack Obama is “his own stimulus plan for the gun industry.” [Continue reading…]