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Industry News: April 2002

By Robert M. Hausman

Sales Increase Came At Right Time

After a lackluster first half, firearms sales began to increase in August and the sale jump lasted pretty much through the end of the year. The onset of the hunting seasons and concerns over the terrorist attacks on September 11th, combined to give the firearms industry the boost it had needed so badly.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency administering the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in place at most licensed firearms dealers, says in the month after the attacks, requests by dealers for NICS background checks of gun buyers rose over 20%.

Monthly NICS data shows there were 864,038 background checks conducted in September 2001 compared to 782,087 for Sept. of 2000, representing a 10.5% increase. For the month of October 2001, there were 1,029,691 such checks conducted, versus 845,886 in Oct., 2000, showing an increase of 22%. In November 2001, some 983,186 NICS checks were performed compared to 898,598 in the same month the year before. This was an increase of 9%. These numbers followed declines in the same three months in 2000, when compared to the higher number of NICS checks conducted during those same months in 1999.

Another barometer of gun sales, firearms and ammunition excise taxes, dropped 15% through the first three quarters of fiscal 2001, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. The excise taxes are paid by manufacturers on their production. The more goods they make, the more tax they pay. The total tax collected was $123.1 million versus $144.8 million for the same period in 2000.

Retailers reported a steady stream of buyers, both first time and multiple gun owners, coming into their stores this fall seeking everything from pocket pistols to fully automatic firearms.

“September 11th, like other catastrophes, makes people panic, makes them fearful, makes them want to protect themselves and their families against the enemy - who, in this case, is hard to identify,” James Allen Fox, Lipman professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston, told The New York Times. “People may say, ‘Let Tom Ridge watch out for our shores, I’ll watch out for my doors,’” he added.

In otherwise politically-liberal Delaware, gun sales are up 32% since Sept. 11, while range use has climbed 25% and firearms training classes are booked solid for the next several months. Concealed-carry license applications have tripled in Texas. The Florida Dept. of Law enforcement says filings for gun purchase background checks increased 50% in mid to late September. The number of holders of Michigan’s new concealed carry licenses are expected to rise from the current 50,000 to over 125,000. Interest in guns is even rising in the vociferously anti-gun state of Massachusetts, where shooting instructors say class enrollment has gone up 50% or more.

A survey conducted by the industry’s main trade organization, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), found 15% of those retailers answering the survey had increased sales by more than 25%. Most of the increase was reported by retailers in the Northeast as well as those in the state of Florida, where some of the alleged terrorists had lived for a time.

Firearms sales began to show an increase in August, most likely as folks prepared for the fall hunting seasons. But the number of NICS checks conducted began to grow dramatically on Sept. 12, the day after the attacks. Daniel A. Wells, NICS’ assistant operations manager, said the number of checks increased 12% on Sept. 12, compared to the same day in the year before.

“If they were sitting on the fence between ‘should I buy a gun or not buy one,’ well, this was the catalyst that pushed them over,” said a former employee of a major firearms manufacturer who lost his job in the early part of 2001 as a result of slumping sales.

Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst at the anti-firearms ownership Violence Policy Center, said most guns would sit on closet shelves or in glove compartments, never used to fight crime, let alone terrorism. “What are you going to do, shoot an envelope filled with anthrax, or stop a 747 with a handgun?” he asked. “It’s literally crazy.” The anti-gun organizations, however, have seen their number of contributions decline greatly since the attacks, and some, such as the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, have had to reduce their staffs.

However, an existing anti-gun group, Alliance for Justice, has formed a new organization, Gun Industry Watch (GIW) to monitor the activities of the firearms industry. It is attempting to recruit college students at campuses all across the country. The group’s focus is on “educating” students on the supposed “dangers” of bringing a gun into the home and on what it calls the firearms industry’s “effort to boost gun sales in the wake of Sept. 11th.”

In response to the California Rifle & Pistol Association’s recent re-launch of its pro-gun billboard campaign, GIW has launched its own counter anti-gun campaign on 135 billboards in the Los Angeles area.

In opposition to Beretta U.S.A.’s offering of the “United We Stand” edition Model 92F 9mm pistol with a laser-etched American flag with a portion of the sale proceeds going to the New York City Police Department Foundation and the Survivors Fund of the National Capital Region, GIW is urging students to protest to Beretta. “We shouldn’t seek to help the victims of one senseless tragedy by increasing the likelihood of more senseless tragedies,” the group says. But, consumers evidently aren’t listening. Beretta sold 2,000 of the limited edition pistols to wholesalers in one day.

GIW also takes issue with Ithaca Gun’s new Model 37 “Homeland Security” shotgun, which is made to military specifications. Also, GIW complains of Tromix, a heavy caliber rifle builder’s decision to name a forthcoming .50 BMG caliber model, the “Turban Chaser.” GIW says this name is a “disgusting display of bigotry.”

Meanwhile, at the Firing Line, a South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania gun shop and pistol range, there has been a 20% increase in the sales of guns since Sept. 11. The store’s owner, Gregory J. Isabella, said the economy may be sour, but that has not stopped sales. He sold 58 guns in the first 20 days after the attacks, an increase of at least 20% over the same period the year before. He also sold over 18,000 rounds of ammunition in the same 20 days, an increase of over 30% from year before totals.

Isabella said women were buying their own guns, as well as ammunition for their husband’s guns. Other customers come by just to shoot at the Osama bin Laden targets. “I got him,” Isabella said he could hear shooters saying, or, “I got even with him!” It’s a way to blow off steam, and perhaps, practice for some nebulous future event.

“Let’s just say that personal security is now on the minds of individual citizens,” Isabella said. “Definitely.”

Smith & Wesson has developed a prototype airline security revolver as an outgrowth of its development work with scandium. The air crew scandium alloy revolver uses an internal hammer design. No word yet on the new gun’s marketing plans has been revealed.

News In Brief

In a patent infringement suit, a federal jury in West Palm Beach, Florida recently reached a verdict for Hodgdon Powder Co. to the tune of $1,014,660 against Clean Shot Technologies. Hodgdon said in a statement that the jury unanimously found Clean Shot had willfully infringed Hodgdon’s Pyrodex Pellet patent by copying and selling pelletized powder known as “Quick Shots.”

At presstime, Hodgdon was expected to ask the court for an injunction prohibiting further production and sale of Clean Shot. A post-trial motion was also expected to be filed by Hodgdon asking the judge to increase damages up to three times based on the jury’s finding of willfulness.

Three employees at Canada’s sole handgun maker, Para-Ordnance Manufacturing, are accused of smuggling gun parts out of the factory, later assembling them and then selling the completed firearms (built without serial numbers) through a Toronto gun trafficking network. The arrests came after a yearlong probe headed by the Ontario Provincial Police with help from the American Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. Reportedly, the traffickers planned to smuggle the completed guns across the border and sell them in Detroit, Michigan.

In all, police arrested six men (three were Para-Ordnance employees) and one woman. Some 95 handguns, 14 long guns, hundreds of magazines and over 500,000 rounds of ammunition were confiscated by police. The guns were sold for as much as $1,100 each.

Those arrested were long-term employees with 7 to 13 years of service. The woman charged is the wife of an employee of 9 years. The company’s management and existing staff are said to be devastated by the revelations, as they are a close-knit group.

Extensive security was in place at the factory, notes a company spokesman, including the use of metal detectors and other devices. Canadian regulations require that whenever parts leave the factory, such as being sent out for bluing, they be accompanied by an employee who has passed a background check. The accused employees reportedly had passed such checks.

In another country with an extensive amount of gun control already in place, Norway, the country’s Police Directorate wants to reduce the number of legally-owned handguns even further, by claiming less guns will mean less theft of guns.

There are presently about 130,000 licensed and registered handguns in the country. In order to own a handgun, one must be a member of a gun club, but there is no requirement (as in many other European countries) that one must be an active club member. Police are asking for the authority to confiscate handguns from those not actively participating in club range activities. Socialists have exerted so much influence that gun ownership for the purpose of self-defense is unheard of in the country.

Triton Cartridge Corp., the producer of such famous brands of ammunition as Quik-Shok, Starfire and Hydra-Shok, has been relaunched as a new corporate entity - Triton Ammunition Corp. Tom Burczynski, original designer of much of the line, is heading up the new firm’s research and development department. Eric Powell, proprietor of the GlockTalk Internet forum is developing the company’s new web site. Two investors, Vincent Molinari and David Kotowski, with backgrounds in investment banking, now own the new company. Molinari is serving as Triton’s chairman, while Kotowski is president.

The Justice Department is holding firm on the issue of access to records generated by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The U.S. Justice Dept. has halted an FBI attempt to review gun purchaser records compiled under the NICS. The Bureau sought review of the files to determine whether individuals being investigated in conjunction with the Sept. 11 terrorist incidents had purchased firearms.

But after a preliminary check that revealed that two suspects had indeed been approved by NICS, Justice put a halt to the process, citing federal law that prohibits the government from maintaining a permanent file of gun buyers and bars using the NICS data for anything other than auditing purposes to insure that the system is operating properly. Under the law, NICS records must be destroyed after 90 days, but the FBI effort sought to review files beyond that time frame.

Despite the media reports that would make the issue seem to the contrary, school violence is rare. A recent report on school violence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that school violence is a rare event, and that the number of violent deaths at schools dropped 43% between 1992 and 1999.

“The risk for violent death that a child faces at school is less than one in a million,” said one of the study’s authors. While the number of violent deaths dropped, the study found that incidents involving more than one victim had increased. During the 1992-1993 school year, there were no multiple-victim school slayings. By 1998-1999, they accounted for 42% of all violent deaths at school.

The author publishes two of the small arms industry’s most widely read trade newsletters. The International Firearms Trade covers the world firearms scene, and The New Firearms Business covers the domestic market. Visit www.FirearmsGroup.com. He may be reached at: FirearmsB@aol.com.


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