- The Washington Times
Tuesday, May 2, 2017

ATLANTA — The firearms industry, fresh off the eight-year Obama gun boom, is now bracing for the post-Obama marketplace, hoping a sales drop-off after the election doesn’t turn into a multiyear slowdown.

Companies that might have become complacent amid ever-increasing sales during the Obama administration will quickly have to find ways to innovate, Frank Harris, vice president of sales and marketing at Kahr Firearms Group, said as he and dozens of other industry bigwigs convened last week for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.

“It’s been a profound change,” Mr. Harris said. “I think a normalization is going on that’s probably going to take, I believe, until the end of 2018.”

Evidence of the change continues to grow.

Gun background checks through the federal system have been down five straight months since Donald Trump’s presidential election — breaking a streak of 19 straight months of increases during the Obama administration.

Manufacturers who made massive leaps in production during Mr. Obama’s tenure are now thinking about scaling back.

“I think that a lot of capacity was built up, so right now there’s too much capacity,” Mr. Harris said. “And there is strong demand, especially in the concealed carry market but there’s so much supply that people are making a lot of deals and incentives.”

Mr. Harris said he has been through booms and busts since he joined the industry in 1994 but added that many others have never experienced what it’s like operating under a Republican president. Mr. Trump is profoundly more pro-gun than his predecessor.

At this point, Mr. Harris said, the company is being conservative, working with distributors and offering promotions and incentives.

“I mean, when you see someone like Smith & Wesson offering a $75 consumer rebate on a gun that costs $400, you know, they’re not doing that because they’re just nice people,” he said.

Handgun manufacturing jumped more than 80 percent from 2009 to 2015, while rifle production grew by more than 60 percent, according to government numbers. Numbers for this year won’t be released for another two years.

James Kirkland, general manager of Schuetzen Black Powder in Arlington, Texas, said the changes are normal.

“It’s just a typical capitalist economy. The market should still be good. It’s not going to be fantastic, where you’re just selling everything you make,” he said.

He said companies that went into debt to expand their operations could face troubles with the slowdown, but he added those were the risks of business.

Consumers said Mr. Obama drove their demand.

“Well, I will say that I joined the NRA because of Obama,” said Alan Merkel, 66, from Atlanta. “I probably bought a whole bunch more guns because of Obama.”

Mr. Kirkland said his products, which include powders and explosive accessories, are specialized to the point where he wasn’t affected as much by outside market forces, though he did report that factories had not been making as many musket caps at one point.

“That’s kind of alleviated, from what I understand,” he said. “My product is kind of a niche. When there’s the big scare on the internet, oh, [someone’s] going to ban this, everyone runs out and buys these guns and this ammo and stuff. They’re not thinking, ‘I need to go buy black powder.’”

Some manufacturers said they are seeing signs that interest in guns will remain strong.

David Corbin, who manufactures bullet-making equipment in Oregon, said business heated up during the Democratic primary as it became clear that the party would choose between “two extremely liberal, anti-gun people.”

“Our sales went through the roof. We doubled our sales,” he said. “And it’s been that way ever since. It’s been terrific.”

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