Columnist: More evidence that gun sales aren’t doing so well

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 29, 2015

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

Colt files for bankruptcy. Smith & Wesson’s sales and stock still slump. So do Strum, Ruger’s numbers. And now Wal-Mart pulls AR-15s because of low demand. Couple that with poll numbers showing falling gun ownership, and you can see Americans have a very different view of gun ownership.

You’ll find no shortage of articles, liberal and conservative, that claim gun sales are still booming, even after the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting. They rarely, if ever, cite gun sales statistics. They note membership in a gun group like the NRA. Or they’ll list background check data.

But as Josh Horwitz points out, there are many reasons for background checks, many of which can be unrelated to gun sales. Not every background check can constitute the sale of a gun.

Evidence from the General Social Survey (GSS) shows that the number of Americans who report owning a gun dropped from nearly 50 percent in 1974 to 22 percent today. The GSS is conducted by the University of Chicago, hardly a liberal bastion. That’s even with so many states loosening regulations on gun laws.

Both times I’ve written on this subject, I’ve received plenty of emails on the subject. Most focus on how poorly Colt has been run. That may be the case, but even a poorly run company should be doing well if gun sales are in the stratosphere, as so many have claimed. It also doesn’t explain why the other leading gun manufacturers aren’t doing so well either.

I’ve also had people question whether people would tell a pollster, a total stranger, the truth. That’s an interesting question, despite the improvement in polling techniques, and better sampling. We know that respondents are more accurate with their views on politics involving issues of race. Compare the “Bradley Effect” of 1982 with good poll predictions of Obama’s performance in 2008 and 2012.

Besides, I’ve had plenty of people commenting, sometimes bragging about how many guns they own, even though, I’m a total stranger to them (and yes, some friends are quite willing to detail their gun collection, very proud of it).

Others insisted that the gun sales were driven by Barack Obama’s election, and a fear that he would take all guns away. Well, not only has he refrained from even proposing such a measure, but he’s almost out of office, running out of precious time to engage in that socialist coup d’etat that several critics assured us would happen.

But there is a reason why gun ownership is down, especially for assault weapons. They make poor hunting weapons, are impractical in many self-defense scenarios, and seem more ideal for those who wish to perpetuate violence (like killing a family, co-workers or, on rare occasions, some total strangers) than stop it.

And there’s poor leadership at the top. When gun ownership was higher, groups like the NRA were once about being gun clubs, promoting gun safety and responsible gun ownership. Maybe you get that on local level among friends, but nationally, it’s a lobby with some pretty extreme stands that don’t often reflect the views of gun owners themselves. Even Colt is run better than this. And until groups like the NRA return to their old principles, there will probably be more bad news for the gun industry.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at