When gunmakers and dealers gather this week in Las Vegas for the industry’s largest annual conference, they will be grappling with slumping sales and a shift in politics that many didn’t envision 2 years ago when gun-friendly Donald Trump and a GOP-controlled Congress took office.
Some of the top priorities for the industry – expanding the reach of concealed carry permits and easing restrictions on so-called “silencers” – remain in limbo, and prospects for expanding gun rights are nil for the foreseeable future.
Instead, fueled by the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the federal government banned bump stocks and newly in-charge U.S. House Democrats introduced legislation that would require background checks for virtually every firearm sale, regardless of whether it’s from a gun dealer or a private sale.
Even without Democrats’ gains in November’s midterm elections, the industry was facing a so-called “Trump slump,” a plummet in sales that happens amid gun rights-friendly administrations. Background checks were at an all-time high in 2016, President Barack Obama’s last full year in office, numbering more than 27.5 million; since then, background checks have been at about 25 million each year.
Gary Ramey, owner of Georgian gunmaker Honor Defense, says the mood at last year’s SHOT Show, which stands for Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade, was subdued. He’s expecting the same this year.
“There was no one to beat up. You didn’t have President Obama to put up in PowerPoint and say ‘He’s the best gun salesman, look what he’s doing to our country,’” he said.
“Numbers are down,” he added. “You can’t deny it.”
Robert J. Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and a longtime watcher of gun issues, said that not only have shifting politics made it difficult for the gun industry to gain ground but high-profile mass shootings – like the Las Vegas shooting that happened just miles from where the SHOT Show will be held and the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting – also cast a pall.