A report by the Guardian on Friday showed a $100 million drop in firearm revenue for one of the country’s biggest gun makers, American Outdoor Brands, previously known as Smith & Wesson.
Specifically, the company reported an overall drop of 40 percent in general revenue from the same quarter last year, CFO Jeff Buchanan said in an earnings call. The company also experienced a 57 percent drop in long gun shipments; handgun shipments were down some 35 percent.
Given that gun sales tend to drop under Republican administrations, the decline wasn’t entirely unprecedented. Typically, gun manufacturers tend to see higher numbers under Democratic administrations and ahead of elections like 2016, when Hillary Clinton was predicted to win. Gun advocates often believe that Democrats are more likely to come after their Second Amendment rights than their conservative counterparts, which generally leads to a spike in sales.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), for instance, reported in 2015 that gun sales under Obama had risen some $9 billion since 2008. According to the Washington Post, the bulk of that increase came in the days after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, when a lone gunman killed 20 children and six staffers. Most gun advocates, the outlet noted, were worried that the Democratic administration would implement “new control measures” in the wake of the tragedy.
But with Republicans in power and enthusiasm fizzling, gun lobbyists have had to get creative in figuring out how to bring sales totals and membership numbers back up. For the National Rifle Association, that apparently means resorting to scare tactics to drum up support.
“As gun sales plummet under this administration, the gun lobby and NRA leadership are dog-whistling to white supremacists through a series of despicable video ads, while simultaneously pushing dangerous legislation that would profit gun manufacturers by gutting silencer safety laws and making it easy for anyone to buy a silencer without a background check,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a part of Everytown for Gun Safety, in a statement to ThinkProgress.
In June, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch came under criticism for one such video, which many perceived as a call to violence against anti-Trump protesters. Loesch claimed that the protesters presented a credible threat to the “law abiding.”
“[They] smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness,” Loesch said. “The only way we stop this, the only we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” A title card with the url “JoinNRA.org” then flashed across the screen.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, the language echoed earlier comments from NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, who said at the group’s annual leadership forum in April that it was up to gun advocates “to speak up against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites, and media elites … America’s greatest domestic threats.”
The NRA also conjured up mythical threats from the so-called “alt-left” in the wake of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one counter-protester dead, suggesting that conservatives take up arms to fight back.
“What the anti-fascists do is they burn things, they smash things, they assault people, and they attempt to murder innocent, unarmed people,” NRATV host Bill Whittle claimed in a segment titled “Exposing the Violent Left” on September 6. Whittle then compared Antifa protesters to Hitler’s private paramilitary guard, the Sturmabteilung (or SA), whose mission it was to provide protection for Nazi rallies and disrupt opposition meetings.
“For those of you progressives out there on the far left who wonder why guys like me, conservatives like me, have an AR-15, the answer is, I have an AR-15 to protect myself and my family from you. From you,” Whittle added, before promoting an NRA membership as a way to fight back.
In general, the 2017 gun sales forecast appears relatively strong when compared to previous years, Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the NSSF, argued. “2017 is still a very strong year by historic standards and, in fact, we are on track to see the second or third highest year since the [background check] system began,” he told the Guardian on Friday.
But there are still plenty of signs that gun sales across the country have taken a nose-dive. Connecticut-based Sturm, Ruger & Company — better known as Ruger — posted a 22 percent drop in firearms revenue in August. The FBI reported that same month that the number of background checks related to gun sales also dropped 25 percent, down to 907,348. According to Fortune, that figure was the “worst year-over-year decline in background checks since November 2013, a year after Democratic President Barack Obama won his second election.”
Despite their evolving nature, those numbers have no doubt spurred gun advocates to action — albeit under the guise of defending the Constitution and Second Amendment rights.
“The NRA, while claiming to represent [the people] instead represents … the gun manufacturers. And it will use any tack to promote the sale of guns, even if it has to push unconstitutional practices along the way,” Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Solomon Jones wrote in August. “…When you’re in the business of stirring up fear to boost gun sales, Constitutional guarantees mean little.”
The NRA has happily capitalized on Republicans’ position of power in recent months. On Tuesday, an NRA-backed measure that would make it easier for gun owners to buy silencers was presented on the House floor, despite lacking support from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) first floated the measure back in June, but tabled the idea after House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) was injured in a shooting at a congressional baseball team practice. Duncan has argued that silencers “are used by hunters and target shooters to limit potential hearing loss from gunfire.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the NRA applauded the measure, which is part of the broader Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, or SHARE.
“Today marks an important step in protecting the Second Amendment freedoms of America’s hunters and sportsmen and strengthening our outdoor heritage,” said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox. “The SHARE Act will cut burdensome red tape that restricts millions of hunters and sportsmen.”
Gun control advocates, by contrast, were quick to condemn the measure, highlighting the real motives behind it. “NRA leadership and their friends in Congress have gone behind closed doors to try to prop up lagging gun sales by making it easy for anyone to buy a silencer without a background check,” Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt stated. “This sham bill is a giveaway to the gun lobby, which cannot be allowed to use Congress to put profits ahead of public safety.”
This article has been updated to add comments from Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a part of Everytown for Gun Safety.