Firearms Industry Booming in Face of Increased Gun Control
By Dan Parsons
LAS VEGAS — President Obama hit the nail on the head when he said Jan. 14 that “business is booming” in the firearms industry.
With high-profile shootings and the Obama administration’s response dominating the news, small-arms manufacturers are ramping up production but cannot meet demand for handguns, rifles and especially ammunition.
“We're strong and steady,” said a representative of Glock, the Austrian firearms manufacturer. “We support the Second Amendment in everything that we do.”
The specter of a possible erosion of that amendment looms over the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual exposition in Las Vegas. SHOT Show, the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoors Trade Show, has the benefit of not being directly related to the politically charged National Rifle Association, but it nonetheless the largest firearms exposition in the country.
On the eve of the president’s anticipated new proposals on gun violence and control of commercial small arms, the nation’s firearms manufacturers remain “hopeful,” the Glock spokeswoman said.
Part of the dilemma with controlling firearms is the proliferation of companies that do not build weapons outright, but make accessories for the now-infamous AR-15 rifle. Bushmaster — the company that reportedly built the rifle used in the Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., shootings — is but one of dozens of companies that manufacture AR-15 style rifles.
There are also hundreds of companies represented here that make stocks, scopes, magazines, sights, tactical lights and customized parts for the weapons. Slide Fire is one of the newest and has quickly become one of the most controversial accessory manufacturers on the market.
Their unique stocks allow a shooter to “bump-fire” a rifle, be it an AK-47 or an AR-15. By simply holding a finger against the trigger, the sliding stock uses the recoil of the rifle to repeatedly fire the weapon almost as fast as a machine gun.
“But it’s very important to remember that it is not actually a machine gun,” said Laura Shackelford, chief executive manager at Slide Fire. “We have been [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] approved for two years. We are a young company but demand has been really good. These guns are fun for shooting and we market to both law enforcement and to families who like to go to the range together.”
Even with political tremors about gun control, Shackelford said firearms are a wise business investment.
A spokesman for Heckler and Koch, which makes several handgun and rifle models, including the new light machine gun used by Marines in Afghanistan, agreed.
“Anyone you ask is going to tell you that backorders are ridiculous,” he said. “Everyone has lost their minds buying up guns and ammunition and companies like us are scrambling to keep up. It’s not like we were running at 50 percent capacity before, but now we’re running at maximum capacity or more if we can.”
H&K is one of the companies showcasing handguns to replace the U.S. military’s standard M-9 Beretta pistol. Others debuting designs for the Modular Handgun competition are Glock, Colt and Smith and Wesson.
The Army and Marine Corps have expressed concern over the M-9 regarding its power and inability to accept accessories like tactical lights. Its open-slide design has proven problematic in dusty environments like Iraq and Afghanistan. The weapon was also designed in the late 1980s and many of the guns themselves date from that era.
In a moment of nostalgia, the H&K spokesman, who was not authorized to speak on the record, warned against dismissing the M-9 as outdated.
“Beretta makes a damn good gun,” he said. But the environment that is going to be the most difficult for any pistol, especially an open-slide design is going to be a dusty, sandy place. Still, many of those guns are old and need to be replaced regardless of their design features.”
A big issue with the M9’s durability are the barrels, frames, and locking blocks, an active duty Army Special Forces member who asked not to be named told National Defense.
“All have a tendency to break, especially on the older models,” he said.
The lifecycle of an M9 is estimated to be 10,000 rounds, which isn’t necessarily a problem for conventional troops that may only fire 200 rounds a year. The problem is exacerbated for Special Forces that churn through 2,500 rounds or more in the same time period.
Special Forces have begun to migrate away from the M9 and have carried the P226, a .40-caliber handgun built by Sig Sauer. They are more concealable than the M9. Some have begun to carry the Glock 19, which is a 9mm pistol design for concealed carry. Glock has unveiled a sub-compact .45-caliber version of their iconic gun at the SHOT Show.
Springfield Armory and Colt have also joined the trend of building very small, powerful handguns for personal use, as have several other companies that make versions of the M1911 pistol.
By all measures, the firearms industry is in good shape, despite looming restrictions on gun purchases and ownership.
“Everyone understands that really bad things have happened recently, but, at the risk of being cliché, it isn’t the guns that are the problem,” Shackelford said. “The  assault weapons ban did not affect the industry or the amount of guns the public owns. We don’t see new legislation against guns having any more impact, except that prices will go up and business will get better in the short term.”
Photo Credit: iStockphoto