2011 – A Mixed Bag For Firearms Production

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released their 2011 interim Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report on Tuesday of this past week. These summary statistics provide a view of the trends in the firearms industry over the past year and especially when compared to the prior year’s report. The table below shows both the absolute and relative changes by category in firearms production in 2011 from the prior year.

If 2010 was the Year of the .380, 2011 certainly was not. Production of .380 pistols fell by 128,449 or 19.3%. It appears that demand for small pistols has shifted from the .380 to the micro-nines such as the Ruger LC9, the Kimber Solo, the Beretta Nano, and the Kahr family of small pistols. In their letter to shareholders for the first quarter of 2011, Ruger attributed new introductions such as the LC9 (and the Gunsite Scout rifle) for 29% of the quarter’s sales.

There was significant growth in the medium and larger pistol calibers with 9mm production growing by 33.3% and the greater than 9mm calibers growing by 32.9%. With the way the ATF compiles manufacturing statistics, it is impossible to break out production of the .40 S&W from the .45 ACP. I did suggest last year that I expected to see an increase in this category as 2011 was the centennial of the 1911. While the 1911 did garner a lot of attention in 2011, I just don’t think the amount of growth in the category can be attributed to that alone. I do think that a good deal of the growth in these categories can be traced to what Michael Bane calls Gun Culture v. 2.0. That is, That is, those who have come to guns not through growing up in a hunting family – Gun Culture 1.0 – but as a result of the concealed carry movement.

Change in Firearms Production From 2010  to 2011
To .22
To. .22
To .25
To .32
To .32
To .357 Mag
To .380
To .38 Spec.
To 9mm
To .44 Mag
To .50
To .50
Total Pistol
Total Revolver
Total Rifles
Total Shotguns
Total Misc. Firearms

While overall production of revolvers was up 2.48%, production fell in all categories except the very smallest and the very largest. The detailed report which shows production figures in each category by manufacturer are not yet available. Thus, I can’t say the 29.2% increase in revolver production in calibers larger than .44 Magnum is only due to increased production of the Taurus Judge and S&W Governor as opposed to a large growth in the number of Single Action Army revolvers in .45 Colt. Nonetheless, it is a reasonable assumption given the marketing campaigns for both the Judge and the Governor by their respective manufacturers.

I think we can safely say the market for long guns has rebounded. After experiencing a significant decline last year, production of both rifles and shotguns grew by double digit percentages for 2011. Even more importantly, both categories saw more shotguns and rifles produced in 2011 than in the banner year of 2009. I anticipate that rifle production in 2012 will be even greater given the continuing unease that gun owners and would-be gun owners feel about President Obama and potential gun control measures his administration might enact in a second term.

One final category of note is what the ATF calls miscellaneous firearms. They define this category as consisting of items that don’t fall into the normal firearms classifications of handgun or long gun. Included within it are silencers. As the American Silencer Association pointed out last month, applications for the NFA tax stamp for silencers are growing by leaps and bounds. That would be consistent with the 169% growth in production in this category.

This last year was a good year for the firearms industry. If the continuing year-over-year growth in NICS checks is any indication – and I think it is – 2012 will be an even better year for the firearms industry.

CORRECTION: In my original chart, I compared the Interim 2011 numbers with the Interim 2010 numbers. I have corrected the 2010 numbers to reflect the final report for that year. It does not change the trends but it does change some of the percentages. I have corrected them within the original post.

2010 – The Year Of The .380

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released their 2010 interim Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report on Thursday of this past week. These summary statistics provide a clear view of the trends in the firearms industry over the past year and especially when compared to the prior year’s report. The table below shows both the absolute and relative changes by category in firearms production in 2010 from the prior year.

Production of rifles in all calibers dropped by over 650,000 rifles or a drop of 28.4% when compared to the previous year. By contrast, total pistol production was up by 19.25% for a total of 2,227,871 pistols manufactured in 2010. Revolvers are in a separate category from pistols. Production for that category was flat with an insignificant drop from the prior year. Shotgun production was also flat with 1.2% drop in the number produced in 2010 as compared to 2009.

The production figures by manufacturer within each category are not yet available. Thus, I can’t say for sure that the drop in rifle production is due to the bubble bursting for AR-15’s but I think that is a reasonable supposition. With the fear of a new Assault Weapons Ban that began with the inauguration of Barack Obama fading, the market for “modern sporting rifles” or “sport utility rifles” is returning to normal.

Change in Firearms Production From 2009  to 2010
To .22
To. .22
To .25
To .32
To .32
To .357 Mag
To .380
To .38 Spec.
To 9mm
To .44 Mag
To .50
To .50
Total Pistol
Total Revolver
Total Rifles
Total Shotguns

While the market for rifles has dropped, the same can’t be said about pistols. That market had an over 19.25% growth in production in 2010. If 2009 was the Year of the AR, then 2010 was the Year of the .380. Production in that category of pistol grew by 70.2% or 274,613 units. The growth in the production of .380 pistols accounted for three-quarters of the total growth for pistols in 2010. If one listened to the stories from last year, you knew that .380 ammo was hard to find. These production figures, while not sales figures, definitely point to the increase in demand for these small pistols.

9mm pistol production also grew in 2010 while the larger pistol calibers – .40 S&W and .45 ACP – contracted just a bit. I imagine that the 2011 numbers will show a growth in that category with 2011 being the centennial year of the Browning-designed 1911.

I think a strong argument can be made that the growth in .380 pistols has come from the concealed carry movement. The Ruger LCP, the Kahr P380, the Sig P238, and the Kel-Tec P-3AT are all easily concealed and have been readily adopted by those who want a small pistol that fits in the pocket. It will be interesting to see the complete production numbers by manufacturer when they are released by BATFE.

In conclusion, while 2010 was a down year for the firearms market overall – 5,107,309 units in 2010 versus 5,417,003 units in 2009 – certain segments grew very strongly. While the Violence Policy Center and other gun prohibitionists will try to spin this as a negative overall for the firearms industry, it really isn’t. It merely illustrates that firearms production has peaks and valleys in demand by segment just like any other industry. I think most industries in America would have been very happy to only have had a 5.7% drop in production for 2010 when compared to the prior year.