One of the hottest trends in recent years has obviously been the dramatic uptick in the sale of AR rifles. A lot of reasons have been cited for this, chief among them the election of Barack Obama in 2008 (“We had people flooding the store to buy even as election results were still coming in,” said one Norfolk, Va. shop owner.) and of course his re-election in 2012. Both of these electoral victories put fear into gun owners that new restrictions similar to the so-called Clinton Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 would re-emerge and many sought to secure another gun or two as much for investment potential as they simply wanted to own one. Indeed a lot of first-time tactical rifle buyers rushed into the market at this time as did even a good number of first-time gun owners period.
Other reasons cited for the increased sales were that after a decade of war where many of our citizen soldiers have returned home, the platform is one they are simply more comfortable with. At the same time, seeing them on the news (and in television shows) has made them more recognizable and quite simply, “cool.” With the expiration of the Clinton ban in 2004, the guns have also become more familiar to sportsmen—a number of whom initially resisted the AR in deference to their beloved bolt-action and other traditionally styled long guns—while the technology and performance of the tactical rifles have become more refined. As a result, many are making their way into more hunting camps. The guns are also easily customizable, which is another phenomenal attraction for many buyers.
Despite all of this seemingly good news for gun owners and those who deal in modern sporting rifles, talk to some shop owners and manufacturers now, and you would think the bottom has fallen out of the market.
“The firearms market seems to really be grinding to a halt all of the sudden,” said one California gun shop manager. Owners are starting to slash their prices in order to even move the guns suggested another in Oklahoma. If you read the news it has sounded as if nobody is buying guns—any guns for that matter. “Gun Sales Are Plunging” echoed one CNNMoney headline earlier this year. But are they really?
Numbers released by the National Shooting Sports Foundation based on adjusted FBI’ NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) numbers, which provide the best basis for how many firearms transfers have taken place over a given period, show that in the first seven months of 2014, firearms sales were still the highest they had ever been at 6.95 million transfers over any other year on record except for last year. Last year, was indeed remarkable with an astounding 8.81 million transfers over the same time period. The year before that, even at a time when things were seen as “hot,” there were 6.85 million transfers. Surely nobody expected things to stay that superheated forever. No industry or economy does. It all moves in cycles.
What has really happened is that we are returning to a “new normal” according to NSSF president and CEO Steve Sanetti. Companies and retailers ramped up operations and supply to meet the surging demand and when demand became more normal, it created a surplus supply. This is definitely a challenge for any business that suddenly finds itself with more supply than there is demand, but it can be GREAT for consumers. Product availability returns, choices increase and prices generally drop.
Trending among today’s tactical-style or modern sporting rifles is that higher-end models are still selling quite well and with more hunters coming into the fold, there is an effort by many companies to develop a wider variety of big-game friendly chamberings to make the guns more commonplace in hunting camps where whitetail deer are the most hunted species in North America. Now is an awesome time to be in the market for a tactical rifle.
So the question to gun owners now is “Are ARs so 2013? Or do you see them becoming even more commonplace than they already are? Will these guns eventually replace bolt-action and traditional rifles on the range and in hunting camps just as smokeless powder replaced blackpowder and lever-actions replaced the single shot back in the 1800s?