President Donald Trump promised to revive manufacturing in the United States, but there’s one once-burgeoning sector poised to shrink under his watch: the gun industry.
Fears of government limits on guns – some real, some perceived – led to a surge in demand during President Barack Obama’s tenure and manufacturers leapt to keep up. Over the ten years ending in 2015, the number of US companies licensed to make firearms jumped a whopping 362 per cent.
But sales are down and the bubble appears to be bursting with a staunch advocate for gun rights in the White House and Republicans ruling Congress.
“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 pendulum swing is not lost on employees of outfits such as Battle Rifle Co, a small enterprise tucked into a nondescript strip mall outside Houston, with a storefront section featuring cases filled with handguns and walls lined with assault rifle-style long guns.
The manufacturing floor and its eight employees, all veterans of the military or law enforcement, occupy the back.
“President Obama was the best gun salesman the world has ever seen,” said production manager Karl Sorken, 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.
“You might have people who were more inclined to buy because they were worried they might not be able to later. That’s going away for sure,” he said.
“But by the same token, the shooting sports in this country are going to explode because they’re not going to be as worried or restricted about how they can shoot, where they can shoot.”
There are nearly 10,500 gunmakers in the country, many founded since 2000, said Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Experts say many are drawn to long guns, in part because sales for them rose after a Clinton-era ban on “assault weapons” expired in 2004 and politicians’ threats to restrict them drove demand.
At the same time, shooting sports grew in popularity, and returning veterans sought out weapons with which they became comfortable in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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.