Gun sales have dropped since Trump's election, except among people scared of his administration
BOSSIER CITY, La. — Sales of guns and ammunition in the United States have dropped precipitously since Election Day, according to FBI statistics, trade groups, gun shop owners and corporate reports, what many say is the result of electing a president who has vowed to protect gun rights.
But that overall decline has been accompanied by some unusual growth: Gun clubs and shops that cater to black and LGBT clients say there has been an uptick in interest in firearms since November among those who fear that racial and gender-based violence could increase during Donald Trump's presidency.
The slowdown in gun purchases, which came at the end of a record sales year, is due in part to promises that Trump and the Republican Congress made to expand gun rights. Firearms enthusiasts and salesmen said Trump's victory removed the sense of urgency to buy that some felt under President Obama, who tried to ban the sale of assault-style weapons.
At Ron's Guns here, along the Red River in the northwest corner of Louisiana, owner Gene Mock stocked up on inventory, anticipating that Democrat Hillary Clinton would win the presidency and continue the push for an assault weapons ban. Sales the week before the election were among the most brisk the shop had ever seen.
But now that Trump, who has the full backing of the National Rifle Association, is president, fewer customers are buying, and there is a glut of product.
“There will be a lot of deals to be had in the near future,” Mock said.
But Philip Smith, president of the National African American Gun Association, said his group has seen a recent surge that appears to be driven by fear that the nation's divisive politics could spiral into violence.
“Trump is some of that reason, and rhetoric from other groups that have been on the fringe,” Smith said. “It's like being racist is cool now.”
Smith said the group has added more than 7,000 members since Election Day and new chapters are popping up all over the country. They include one in Bowie, Md., that started last month and already has 55 members.
“People are scared and rightfully so,” said Stephen Yorkman, who founded the Maryland chapter. “They feel better if they at least learn how to shoot a firearm or own one.”
Nationwide, overall gun sales are trending downward after record highs during the Obama administration. According to the FBI, background checks, which are conducted at the request of licensed firearm dealers and retailers when they make sales, dropped from 3.3 million in December 2015 to 2.8 million in December 2016. In January 2017, there were 2 million background checks performed, compared with 2.5 million in January 2016.
Gun manufacturer stocks also have dipped, with shares of Sturm, Ruger & Co., tumbling nearly 24 percent since Nov. 8, and American Outdoor Brand — the renamed Smith & Wesson — dropping 32 percent. Vista Outdoors, which includes Savage firearms and two ammunition lines, saw its share price sink by 50 percent since January, according to Rommel Dionisio, a managing director for the private equity firm Wunderlich.
Sales of the semiautomatic sporting rifles that Obama and Clinton wanted to ban have slowed the most since the election, said Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun manufacturers.
In an earnings call last month, Christopher Killoy, the president and chief operating officer of Sturm, Ruger & Co., said sales of these guns peaked before the election, leading retailers to stock products “which likely would've been in stronger demand if the election had turned out differently.” Now the surplus and decreased customer demand “has made for a more challenging sell-through environment,” he said.
Keane said the industry is used to seeing spikes in demand based on political rhetoric, both nationally and on the state level. Slowdowns typically occur after the holidays, he said, and sales were so brisk in 2016 that the industry did not think they were sustainable.
“Yes, we're coming off the peaks in demand, but the valley floor is higher,” he said.
Trump, who once praised Obama's appeal for gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in 2012 and supported a ban on assault weapons, has rapidly transformed into a pro-gun advocate.
Trump has a concealed carry permit in New York and during the campaign called for making the permits applicable nationwide. He also has suggested abolishing gun and magazine bans and vowed to appoint pro-gun justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, calling the Second Amendment “under absolute siege.” In February he repealed an Obama-era measure to bar gun sales to certain mentally ill people.
At the TargetMaster gun store and shooting range in Garland, Texas, shop owner Tom Mannewitz stood behind wood-framed glass counters displaying handguns. A wooden plaque reading “GOD BLESS TEXAS” and trophy animals adorned the walls.
Mannewitz is glad Obama is out of office but acknowledges that the Democrat was great for business: The store recorded 8 percent growth last year and sold record amounts of AR-15s during his presidency. The numbers bear his perceptions out: In October 2008, the month before Obama's election, the FBI processed 1.2 million background checks. In November, the FBI performed 2.6 million background checks.
Ahead of a possible Clinton win and an expected “panic buy” wave, Mannewitz prepared for customers rushing to stores and emptying shelves for items that had the potential to fall under a possible ban: AR-15s, high-capacity magazines and large quantities of ammunition. It never came, and the extra six-month supply of ammunition that he had amassed — hoping to sell it all in 60 days — is still sitting on his shelves.
Mannewitz, who has sold firearms since 1979, has ridden out dips in the gun market before and thinks that demand will soften but not stop.
“In bad times, when people are fearful of their safety, they buy guns,” he said. “In good times, they buy nicer guns.”
In Cleveland, gun dealer Kevin Jones is seeing the opposite: Trump has been better for sales than Obama, an increase driven by people who want to protect themselves from potential violence.
“A lot of people are afraid of this administration and afraid of what this kind of started,” he said. “Whether it's perceived or true, a lot of people feel that there's a lot more racially oriented violence out there right now.”
Jones said that after the election he got into a racially charged altercation for the first time in years. He was driving and had to move to another lane when another driver did the same. Jones said the other driver, an older white man, leaned out of his car and started shouting racial epithets. He followed Jones for about a mile, shouting the n-word.
The men got out of their cars and Jones drew his firearm, keeping it by his side. The situation de-escalated, but Jones felt safer carrying a gun.
“To be honest, at that point I was thankful that I did have my firearm with me,” he said.
Jan Morgan tapped her hot pink nails on the black holster carrying her 9mm Heckler & Koch sidearm and said she also thinks Trump will be good for business, but for a very different reason.
Morgan owns a shooting range in Hot Springs, Ark., and believes her private firearms instructions classes are packed every weekend because Americans are concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks on home soil. Morgan is particularly suspicious of criminally minded refugees. She declared her shooting range a “Muslim-free zone” a few years ago, which made her a viral sensation on conservative websites and also brought her to the attention of the FBI's counterterrorism unit, which said she had been declared a “target of opportunity” by the Islamic State.
For Gwendolyn Patton, Trump's victory has her caught in the middle: Some members of her LGBT shooting organization, the Pink Pistols, are thrilled to have a gun-friendly president. But many new members are terrified that Trump will roll back gay rights and feel they must learn how to defend themselves.
“Suddenly they're buying guns,” she said. “The rhetoric has flipped.”
Patton said her organization saw an uptick in membership last year after a gunman killed 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub. Interest also boomed after the election, and new chapters are opening.
“One side didn't perceive despotism under Obama and they do under Trump,” Patton said, noting that there is “this new contingent of LGBT people who have decided that they have been mugged by the election.”
Yorkman and Brown said they have seen the biggest rise in interest from black women. According to a 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center, 19 percent of black households surveyed said they have a gun, rifle or pistol in their home, compared with 15 percent the year before.
But some black gun owners are concerned about the safety of owning a gun, pointing to the death of Philando Castile. Castile, who was licensed to carry a gun, was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Minnesota last year despite telling the officer he had the proper permitting. The killing was broadcast on Facebook Live, and the officer who shot Castile was charged with manslaughter.
Yorkman said he wants to change the stigma that people have when they see black people carrying guns. He also wants to let his community know that they have the right to defend themselves, particularly in this political climate.
“They have a concern with what's going on nationally when they see certain groups feeling more energized now to spew hate,” he said. “You have young mothers with their kids who want to be comfortable with any environment that they're in.”