Recently I passed along a fascinating dispatch from an insider on the firearm industry’s annual convention in Las Vegas. Richard Feldman, a former National Rifle Association lobbyist and trade group executive, predicted that gun manufacturers would follow a torrid 2013 by selling fewer rifles, shotguns, and handguns in 2014. He also explained why some in the industry are secretly pulling for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 (think: fear marketing).
Today I’ll follow up with a more granular, product-oriented assessment. Daniel Terrill writes for the website Guns.com, a source I consult for company and consumer trends, and he avoids the tendency common among gun writers of displaying unmitigated enthusiasm for every new weapon that comes onto the market. Here are some of his reflections on the just-completed Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade (SHOT) show:
“The show was more relaxed this year than last and a lot less focused on politics,” he writes. The industry feels it has weathered the reaction to the Newtown school massacre of December 2012. Despite the NRA’s dire warnings, gun-control advocates did not succeed in sharply restricting access to firearms. Firearm manufacturers and retailers are focusing more on business than on legislative debates.
“Smaller companies pushed tactical features,” Terrill notes. “Tactical” is a term of art referring to military- and law-enforcement-style weapons. Manufacturers, Terrill reports, are continuing to market their wares to civilians by imitating the kinds of rifles and handguns preferred by SWAT divisions and special-operations troops. A company called Lancer, for example, “introduced a stock capable of holding two ammunition magazines, although only one can be loaded at a time,” Terrill reports. Here’s a video demo. I don’t know who needs a rifle holding two magazines when you can easily carry a spare on your belt or in a pocket, but there you are. Gun-control advocates aren’t going to be happy about this innovation, I predict.
Century Arms introduced an Americanized version of the Russian AK-47 semiautomatic military-style rifle. “This is just a weird, quirky design that intrigues AK and Century fans,” Terrill reports. ”I guess what I’m getting at is this year companies were a lot more comfortable talking about and introducing these types of products.”
One may deplore the industry’s emphasis on heavy firepower and battlefield stylings. Or one may see the new products as neat. Either way, the gun business is continuing to introduce models that allude to battlefield weaponry. The strategy assumes that consumers want to buy versions of the firearms depicted in cable news reports from war zones. Strong revenue figures in recent years indicate that this pitch is working.