Gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson reported this week that company revenue from firearms boomed in the first quarter of 2020 to $230 million—an increase of $134.4 million, or 141 percent compared to the first three months of last year.
“The current increase in consumer demand for firearms is, in many ways, unparalleled,” said Mark Smith, president and CEO of the company, in a conference call with investors on Thursday. The company’s shipments of handguns increased by 122 percent to 441,000 units between January and the end of March, Smith said, while the company shipped 108,000 long gun units, or 89 percent more than in the corresponding period in 2019.
The CEO said that Smith & Wesson was working with third-party manufacturers to aggressively ramp up production as consumer demand outstripped supply, exceeding internal manufacturing capacities and leading the company to eat into finished goods inventories.
The figures are borne out by data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The FBI system compiles statistics representing the number of firearms background checks carried out per month in the United States, which the firearms industry takes as an indicator for the level of interest in firearm purchases. The 3.9 million NICS checks carried out in June represent a 70 percent increase over the 2.3 million checks performed in the same month last year.
Seismic Shift in Gun Ownership
According to a survey carried out in May by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a trade association for the firearm industry, almost 5 million Americans purchased a firearm for the first time in 2020—or 40 percent of firearms sold. In an online survey of firearm retailers, the NSSF found that the most popular products were semi-automatic handguns, followed by shotguns and modern sporting rifles. Retailers reported that the vast majority of firearms were acquired for personal protection purposes, and not for hunting or target practice.
“This is a tectonic shift in the firearm and ammunition industry marketplace and complete transformation of today’s gun-owning community,” said Lawrence Keane, NSSF senior vice president of General Counsel, in a statement. “These first-time buyers represent a group of people who, until now, were agnostic regarding firearm ownership. That’s rapidly changing, and these Americans are taking hold of their God-given right to keep and bear arms and protect themselves and their loved ones.”
A second survey carried out in July suggested that the largest increase in firearm purchases occurred in the African American demographic. In addition, women accounted for some 40 percent of first-time buyers. NSSF-affiliated retailers reported a 95 percent increase in firearm sales and a 139 percent increase in ammunition sales in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Uncertainty Feeding Firearm Boom
A Connecticut-based gunmaker said in a statement that demand for firearms was running ahead of his firm’s manufacturing capacity.
“The incredible surge in demand outstripped our production capability during the second quarter,” said Killoy, president and CEO of Sturm, Ruger & Company. He suggested that according to retail information, inventories at Ruger and other firearms brands are now running at very low levels.
“This staggering increase in demand appears to be attributable to a few factors,” Killoy said. “Number one, concerns about personal protection and home defense stemming from continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Protests, demonstrations and civil unrest in many cities throughout the United States. And lastly, the call by some for the reduction in funding and authority of various law enforcement organizations.”