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Because of the current firearms-related economic, judicial and legislative concerns, the future of the gun industry is being looked at with what can be characterized as "guarded optimism."

That sentiment was echoed by six of the industry's most leading, influential writers and photographers during a three-day conference with the editors of Shooting Industry, and sister publications American Handgunner and GUNS magazine in San Diego, Calif., this March.

Present at the conference were highly regarded revolver expert John Taffin self-defense/law enforcement authority Massad Ayoob, long-gun specialist Jon Sundra, and Frank James, whose expertise runs the entire firearms gamut. Photographers Ichiro Nagata and Nyle Leatham were also on hand to offer their views and insights.

While their "guarded" attitude embodies certain concessions such as the inevitable passage of the Brady Bill, it also embraces a hopeful future in which the firearms industry will rebound and not only survive, but thrive.

Since the mid-1970s, the firearms industry has shown a gradual decrease in the quantity of firearms manufactured and exported, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Census Bureau. Recently, the descent has been more drastic, and on the surface appears to be headed for a hard fall. Evidence supporting this includes the number of gun manufacturers and importers that have dramatically down-sized or closed in the past few years.

It is difficult to imagine that with these factors, combined with a worldwide economic stalemate, there is room for any optimism at all.

So how will the market survive and where is the firearms industry heading?

Last Great Bastion

Despite the legislative and judicial threats that loom, the U.S. is still considered the last bastion for private gun sales, says Frank James. "It is the last great market."

As a result, foreign ownership and influence of gun companies will increase, and a considerable percentage of guns will be foreign produced, he predicts.

Economically, James speculates the market will mimic the national economy, with slow improvement. He is confident the U.S. market is in better shape than the European market, thus recovering quicker.

Because we live in a generally urban nation, there are fewer people who have the opportunity to shoot long-range weapons, leaving gun clubs to provide the locale for practice with handguns, shotguns and rimfires James says. "Handguns are easily available in that they can be utilized; most everyone can find a place to shoot. If you can't find a place to shoot, how can you justify possession of this device?

"Guns capable of snagging a target at 400 yards are luxury items. There is no opportunity to engage a target at 400 to 500 yards under a sanctioned range," he says.

Another area of concern lies in product liability. "This issue is real and dangerous," he says, citing other industries such as private aviation that have threatened by liability concerns. "If we continue with liability, manufacturers will stop manufacturing firearms," and the American gun market will eventually die out.

Reasonable Trade

Massad Ayoob says he sees a light at the end of the tunnel: With the Brady Bill on the horizon, we will not regret bargaining for certain rights in exchange for certain unpleasant concessions. A national concealed carry bill, for example, might be put forth in exchange for a seven-day waiting period.

Ayoob likens the issue of highly restrictive gun control to a California referendum of the 1970s designed to ban handguns. That bill was defeated because the massive silent majority said, "I don't have a gun now, but I'm not going to close the door to owning one in the future. One day I may need to buy a gun to defend my family."

Ayoob believes there is an unquantifiable large number who will cross the line and become a gun owner. "Subconsciously or consciously, they will become one of us," he says. "We need to reach out to this market." That group includes the thousands of people who saw footage of Hurricane Andrew and the L.A. riots.

There already exists a strong market for defensive handguns and very low-priced guns, he says. Additionally, there is a strong resurgence toward traditional markets such as the Ruger Vaquero and 2" .38s.

"Glock owners are buying S&W 442s for backup," he says, which is universally recommended as the simplest gun to use. "But the Taurus Model 85 2" .38 is dramatically the best seller on the market."

Additionally, lower priced shotguns such as Mossberg and Maverick are also hot sellers for home defense, he says.

Furthermore, there is a great thrust of interest toward intermediate defensive tools such as the pepper sprays. "Readers want to see the most material on defensive weapons," Ayoob says.

The Lighter Side

Is it possible for the market to be saturated with defensive guns? John Taffin and at least one gun manufacturer have considered that possibility.

"[Gun manufacturers] are missing a big part of the market - fun guns like the Bearcat and Vaquetro," says Taffin. The Vaquero recently took honors as "Handgun of the Year" at SI's Academy of Excellence Banquet at the NRA Show in April.

In fact, after a decade of focusing on defensive weapons such as the P series, it is Ruger that is in large part rekindling the interest in single actions and cowboy action shooting. "If you want to know where the market is going," advises Taffin, "look at Bill Ruger."

Taffin predicts there will be so many orders for the Vaquero that Ruger won't be able to keep up. He is emphatic in his statement that today's guns are better than ever. "They're safer, stronger and cheaper," he says.

The Rifle Market

With the assault rifle era practically extinct, the rifle industry may follow in the footsteps of handguns and progress backward - what's old is new again, says Jon Sundra.

The future of the rifle market will probably reflect our society: The low and high-end of the market will prosper as the middle weakens. "Companies like Marlin and Savage are appealing to the low end, and Remington and Winchester are marketing to the high end," he says.

One of the driving factors in the rifle industry, says Sundra, is innovation, or at least perceived innovation. Convincing people they need more guns is the job of innovation.

During the 1950s and 60s, new rifle cartridges were introduced practically every year compared to the relatively few we see emerging in the 90s. Currently, there is a move toward beltless cases and a resurgence toward wildcatting based on these new cases, he says. "They won't do anything different, but it has no belt, so they're supposed to be better."

The Bottom Line

Nyle Leatham says his industry sources see the market as good for guns as it relates to a soft economy. "The lean. efficient companies are doing, well."

During tough financial times many companies abandon their tunnel vision on one sport and cross over to other disciplines. he says. "There is more interactive support between the different shooting disciplines."

The bottom line. says Leatham. is that guns are selling and businesses as a whole are doing, well. "The worries about our government, liability and the possibility of a continued depression of the market are all tied to the economy," he says.

When those involved in the gun industry are threatened, they band together and fight the cause as a whole. Leatham quotes one of his closest sources as saying, "Reasonable people fear guns in the wrong hands. but they universally refuse to give up their own guns. This may be our salvation."

The firearms industry's salvation will in fact be a combination of the predictions and suggestions offered by these experts. Dealers and manufacturers must accept the challenge and responsibility to do their part to help this market survive. Effective marketing strategies, good product, perseverance, and a little luck will all play a part.
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Title Annotation:the future of the gun industry
Author:Smith, Ann Y.
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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