These four trends are shaping the gun industry

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The Trace, a gun watchdog site, analyzed FBI data to estimate that Americans bought an estimated 1.19 million guns in July, down 17% from the previous July. The shoot, which has been held since 2016, lets gun enthusiast and others shoot machine guns at targets in a controlled and secure wooded location.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

The gun industry is finding its footing after a post-pandemic sales slump forced some of the largest manufacturers roll back production.

In July, Americans bought an estimated 1.19 million guns, down 17% from the previous July, according to FBI data analyzed by gun watchdog site The Trace.

However, while fewer firearms are being sold across the U.S, the business is still profitable as manufacturers adapt to meet changing consumer demand, develop a new generation of weapons, and employ marketing strategies that increasingly resonate with younger, more diverse consumers.

Gun makers, in turn, such as

Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Company have seen their declines stabilize. Smith & Wesson shares are up about 40% so far this year, while Sturm, Ruger is up 2%.They’re assuring investors that their business models have weathered the slowdown and that a handful of positive trends will help the industry rebound.

Here are four trends that are shaping the gun industry today:

Market normalization

Several companies in the gun market are slowing down production and slashing prices as they combat material cost increases and waning demand for their weapons.

During the pandemic, more Americans than ever purchased firearms. National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that new gun ownership reached a record high of 21 million in 2020. This was at the peak of the boom. NSSF uses FBI data and background checks to estimate new gun ownership rates.

However, by 2022, feelings of insecurity and instability experienced by many Americans amid the pandemic subsided, and so did the surge in firearms sales. Mark Smith, CEO of Smith & Wesson said that the company was “adjusting production rates to meet normalizing demand patterns” on a conference call. Smith added that “focused consumer promotions” have helped the company maintain its leading market share and retain profits.

In its most recent earnings report, Sturm, Ruger & Company reported flat sales for its second quarter amid softening demand for some of its most popular product categories like its polymer pistols.

However, the company’s bottom line during the second quarter, while down from the prior-year period, improved from the first quarter.

CEO Christopher J. Killoy said the company will “continue to adjust our level of production and product mix to better align our output with current, and expected, consumer demand. “

It is not going to get any worse from here,” Aegis Capital’s Dionisio stated. Dionisio said that gun sales usually spike during presidential elections. The 9mm handgun from Biofire Technologies, which uses facial recognition and fingerprint verification to operate, is leading the way. CEO and founder Kai Kloepfer said the smart-gun, which is the first to come to market after years of failed attempts by other companies, can help reduce accidental firings and suicides.

“When you pick the firearm up, it uses either your fingerprint or your face to unlock, so only an authorized user can fire it,” Kloepfer told CNBC.

Kloepfer said thousands have already placed preorders online, with some models selling out. Biofire says it can’t share details about the production volumes because it is “competitively sensitive”. Their guns are priced between $1,499 to $1,899. Investors in Biofire include venture capitalist Ron Conway and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

Biofire’s smart gun comes as gun manufacturers increasingly look for different materials and technologies to make their products more appealing to consumers. Investors in Biofire include venture capitalist Ron Conway and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund

Biofire’s smart gun comes as gun manufacturers increasingly look for different materials and technologies to make their products more appealing to consumers.

Mark Oliva, an executive at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said red dot sights have become a popular accessory among consumers in recent years.

An alternative to the more traditional iron sight, which requires shooters to look through an optical telescope for aim, red dot sights project a small light directly onto a target.

“My eyes aren’t getting any better,” said Oliva, “so I’m one of the people who’s switched over to using a red dot sight on my handgun. “

Oliva said that the industry is moving towards lighter materials like polymer in order to create slimmer and more durable guns, which are also cheaper than steel or metal alternatives. These days, said Oliva, polymer can be found in every type of modern firearm, including those produced by startup Biofire.

Anti-firearm violence nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety sees the positive potential in smart guns.

“Smart guns can ensure that guns are accessible by their owners and no one else,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown, who has tested Biofire’s smart gun. Gun manufacturers have an opportunity to innovate towards safety, and they must act. “

Changing demographics

The pandemic-era sales boom for firearms showed the face of gun ownership in the U.S. is changing.

Of the 7.5 million Americans who bought guns for the first time between January 2019 and April 2021, half were female, a fifth were Black, and another fifth were Hispanic, according to a study by Matthew Miller, a professor of health sciences and epidemiology at Northeastern.

By contrast, gun owners overall are 63% male and 73% white, the study found.

Another study by NORC at the University of Chicago noted similar trends.

First-time gun purchasers during the pandemic, according to the study, were younger than previous, pre-pandemic U.S. gun owners.

Eighty-six percent of first-time gun buyers during the pandemic were younger than 45. According to NORC, prior to the pandemic 41% of gun owners in the U.S. were younger than 45. The group started tracking these data in March 2020.

The idea that only gun owners who are old, white and male is not true,” NSSF Oliva told CNBC. The survey found that respondents cited other factors such as hunting and sport shooting at 30% and 32%, respectively. “

Self protection

Gun owners are increasingly ranking personal protection as the top reason for buying a firearm.

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. gun owners cited protection more than any other factor as the main reason they own a gun, according to a 2023 Pew Research center survey.

The survey found respondents cited other factors such as hunting and sport shooting at 30% and 32%, respectively.

In 2017, when the survey was last conducted, 67% of respondents cited protection as a major reason for owning a firearm.

This increase is consistent with how gun culture has evolved over the last few decades, according to a 2020 survey by online academic journal Palgrave Communications.

Many manufacturers, especially amid the social upheaval experienced within the U.S. over the last few years, have moved away from themes of hunting and recreation to advertise their guns, and have instead leaned into themes of personal protection and self defense to reach consumers.

“Although we recognize the continuing existence of various subcultures of guns in the U.S., these changes suggest the movement of self-defense to the core of American gun culture today,” authors for the study said. In 2017, when the survey was last conducted, 67% of respondents cited protection as a major reason for owning a firearm. This increase is consistent with how gun culture has evolved over the past few decades. According to a 2020 study by online academic journal Palgrave Communications, manufacturers have shifted away from themes such as hunting and recreation to reach consumers. This is also consistent with the types of guns that have increased in popularity. Oliva says he has seen gun buyers gravitating towards handguns such as semiautomatics pistols or “glocks,” which are compact, easy to conceal and designed for self-defense.