Gun sales slumped after Trump, with little rebound

Rifles displayed for sale inside the Clark Brothers Gun Shop in Warrenton, Va., Feb. 25, 2018. Firearms sales have dropped during the Trump presidency. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

This holiday season is not shaping up to be the gun industry’s best.

Firearms sales slumped after President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, as fears of gun control melted away with the administration’s vocal support of the gun industry.

Two years later, demand still appears damp.

In October, slightly more than 1 million background checks of prospective firearms buyers were conducted through the FBI, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation trade group, which adjusts federal figures to roughly approximate market conditions. That’s 11.2 percent fewer checks than in the same month a year earlier. This year, nine out of 10 months had fewer checks than the same period in either 2016 or 2017.

Some analysts attribute the weakness to an absence of significant federal gun control legislation, or to the firearms industry’s cyclical nature.

“We are definitely in a business cycle,” said Jurgen Brauer, chief economist of Small Arms Analytics, a research firm. “For those who have been around for 30 years, this kind of thing is old hat — and you just deal with it.”

Another possible factor: a nationwide surge of gun control activism after 17 people were fatally shot in Parkland, Florida, in February.

Companies distanced themselves from the National Rifle Association, major firearms manufacturers faced pressure from Wall Street and local politicians proposed a raft of gun control measures.

After Parkland, Dick’s Sporting Goods took a bold step, declaring it would stop selling assault-style rifles and require any gun buyer to be at least 21 years old.

Edward Stack, chief executive of the chain, which has more than 700 stores, went to Washington, D.C. to talk about gun control. Gun rights activists threatened to boycott the company. The company’s financials are still adjusting.

The retailer said Wednesday that sales at stores open more than a year declined 6.1 percent in the third quarter from the same period a year earlier. Dick’s hunting segment, which includes firearms, was responsible for half the decline.

Black Friday, which has historically been one of the strongest selling days of the year for firearms, was far less busy this year. Background checks slumped more than 10 percent, to 182,093 checks, from last year’s record high of 203,086 checks. It was the lowest number of background checks since 2014.

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