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Industry News: October 2000

By Robert Hausman

Overall, total U.S. firearm production increased about 2.7% in 1998, as compared to the total output in 1997. The entire firearms production of U.S. firms during 1998 was 3,725,191, versus 3,661,455 in 1997. These, the latest available figures, are contained in the Annual Firearms Manufacturing And Export Report released through a Freedom of Information Act request by this author from the firearms industry’s regulator, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.

While the small rise in production during 1998 is a hopeful sign for a good prognosis of the present state of the industry’s health, it is a far cry from the total numbers of firearms produced in the last several years. For example, in 1996, some 3,874,872 firearms of all types were produced in the U.S. In 1995, the total was 4,246,257. The total guns produced in 1994 was 5,226,566 and in 1993 the total came out to 4,976,289. The jump in sales during 1993, 1994 and 1995 has been largely credited to the efforts of President Clinton in getting the Brady Law and 1994 Crime Law “Assault Weapons” ban debated on and passed in Congress. The gun-buying public reacted in panic believing these laws would largely ban firearms ownership.

When the 1998 figures are compared to those of 1988, a production decline of 11% is noted. The figures reflect the highly cyclical nature of the firearms industry, as well as the outside factors affecting the roller-coaster type sales trends of firearms which are affected by such factors as increases and decreases in the nation’s crime rate, the political climate related to gun control legislation, the economy, and weather conditions which affect hunting.

The report also reflects the high concentration of the firearms industry into a relatively few number of volume-producing firms. In fact, the top 30 firearms producing companies accounted for approximately 97% of the total U.S. firearm production.

Viewed over an 11-year period, handgun production averaged 1,889,417 units annually. When 1998’s handgun production figures are compared to those of 1998, a 32% decline is found in 1998, from 1988. Rifles had a 9% increase in production and shotguns a 4% increase in 1998, compared to 1988’s totals.

MG & AOW Production

Looking at specific types of firearms, there were a total of 32,866 machine guns manufactured during 1998, a large decline from the 67,844 made in 1997 but considerably better than the 22,020 machine guns fabricated in 1996, the 9,185 made in 1995 and the 10,248 manufactured in 1994.

The production for the “Any Other Weapon” category (which includes such things as cane guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, smooth bore pistols, etc.) totaled 645 pieces in 1998, a considerable rise from the 118 made in 1997, the 410 produced in 1996, the 110 manufactured in 1995 and the 56 fabricated in 1994.

Pistols

For the year 1998, the total production of pistols was 960,365. This breaks down to 184,836 pistols produced in up to .22 caliber, 50,936 in up to .25 caliber, 62,338 up to .32 caliber, 98,266 in up to the .380 chambering, 284,374 to 9mm, and 279,615 in up to .50 caliber.

Note: the report groups handguns, though of differing chamberings, into the broad caliber designations stated above. Thus, each category can include firearms in calibers other than those listed. For example, the pistols in up to .50 caliber category, also includes .45 ACP chambered pistols which comprise a far greater share of the total production than pistols produced in .50 caliber.

The American public still favors pistols over revolvers. Those chambered for .22 rimfire and centerfire calibers of 9mm and above are showing the greatest volume. Looking back over the last few years, 184,836 pistols were manufactured to .22 caliber in 1998, compared to 250,983 in 1997, some 204,819 in 1996. A total of 260,059 pistols in .22 caliber were made in 1995, a total of 456,490 in 1994, and 452,509 in 1993.

Pistol production to .25 caliber has remained fairly stable during the last couple of years with 50,936 produced in 1998; 43,103 in 1997; 41, 156 in 1996; 51, 025 in 1995; 110,732 in 1994; and a whopping total of 277,306 in 1993.

Pistols to .32 caliber totaled 62,338 in 1998, a rise from the 43,623 produced in 1997 and the 20,709 made in 1996, the 19,220 manufactured in 1995, the 29,818 made in 1994 and the 52,268 fabricated in 1993. Pistols in the .380 caliber range, were produced to the tune of 98,266 in 1998, a sharp decline from the 154,046 of the year before as well as the 165,789 made in 1996, the 182,802 of 1995, the 313,915 of 1994 and the incredible 508,469 manufactured in 1993.

During 1998, a total of 284,374 pistols in the 9mm segment were made, representing the largest volume segment of the pistol market and a small drop from the 303,212 produced in 1997. A total of 319,696 9mm pistols were made in 1996; 398,467 produced in 1995; 752,801 fabricated in 1994 and 586,039 produced during 1993. Pistol production up to .50 caliber (which includes 1911-style .45’s) was 279,615 units in 1998, a jump from 241,110 in 1997, and the 233,364 produced in 1996. A total of 283,693 pistols in up to .50 caliber were made in 1995; 350,580 produced in 1994 and 216,595 manufactured in 1993.

The nation’s top pistol producer in 1998 was Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. with 161,058 units. In 1997, Sturm, Ruger made 174,627 pistols. In second place was Smith & Wesson Corp. with 133,477 pistols. Beretta USA, Corp. came in third with 110,719 pistols. Lorcin Engineering, the incredibly successful manufacturer of affordable self-defense pistols (which has since gone out of business due to litigation filed by anti-gun activists) produced 79,250 pistols, finishing in fourth place for the year. Bryco Arms, another manufacturer of lower-priced pistols, finished fifth with 66,329 units.

The production totals of other notable makers of pistols during 1998 were: Colt’s Manufacturing 62,757; SIG Arms 54,531; Phoenix Arms, 44,295 pistols; Davis Industries 33,308; Kimber Manufacturing, 31,762; Kel-Tec CNC Industries 19,239; Navegar, Inc. 15,695 and Thompson/Center 11,192.

Revolvers

Total revolver production during 1998 was 324,390. Some 68,108 wheelguns were made in up to .22 caliber, 2,602 up to .32 caliber, 77,289 to .38 Special, 73,905 to .357 Magnum, 64,236 to .44 Magnum, and 38,250 up to .50 caliber. As with pistols, the caliber designations of revolvers have been grouped into six broad categories which include other calibers not specifically listed.

The glory days of revolvers seem to be over. The 324,390 revolvers produced in 1998 are a continuation in decline in production over the last decade as 370,428 were produced in 1997, versus 498,944 in 1996. Some 527,664 revolvers were manufactured in 1995, 586,450 built in 1994, and 562,292 made in 1993.

In terms of caliber, the lesser chamberings have fallen into disfavor by consumers while the more powerful wheelguns in chamberings of .357 Magnum and above show much more stability in sales. In 1998, 68,108 revolvers were produced in up to .22 caliber, compared to 109,296 in 1997, some 127,119 in 1996, a total of 99,578 in 1995, versus 133,990 in 1994 and 122,614 in 1993.

Production of revolvers to .32 caliber totaled only 2,602 in 1998, compared to 2,876 in 1997, versus 2,082 in 1996, a total of 4,381 in 1995, a total of 9,160 in 1994 and 10,421 in 1993. Revolvers manufactured to .38 Special numbered 77,289 in 1998, some 85,935 in 1997, versus 115,432 in 1996. Production of .38 revolvers dropped to 92,913 in 1995, jumped to 146,630 in 1994 and climbed to 146,767 in 1993.

Revolvers chambered for .357 Magnum were manufactured to the tune of 73,905 in 1998, compared to 70,792 in 1997, and 134,910 in 1996. In 1995, there were 210,379 wheelguns made in .357 Magnum, 170,856 in 1994, and 183,328 in 1993. In the .44 Magnum revolver category, 64,236 were made in 1998, compared to 61,324 in 1997, versus 80,456 in 1996. Some 90,144 revolvers up to .44 caliber were produced in 1995; 89,713 manufactured in 1994, and 70,381 made in 1993. Finally, in the to .50 caliber revolver category, 38,250 were manufactured in 1998; 39,205 in 1997; 37,944 in 1996; some 30,259 in 1995; jumping to 36,101 in 1994; and dropping to 28,781 in 1993.

The top revolver producer in 1998 was Smith & Wesson Corp., having produced some 139,583. The year before, Smith & Wesson produced 159,433 revolvers. In second place was Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc., with 120,417. Finishing third was North American Arms, Inc. with manufacture of 32,667 of their little .22 revolvers. Coming in at fourth place was Colt’s Manufacturing Co., Inc. with 24,468 wheelguns. Finishing in fifth place was H&R 1871, Inc., with 3,990 (H&R temporarily ceased cartridge revolver production in late 1999 due to the rising cost of liability insurance). The only other manufacturer of revolvers with production of over 1,000 units in 1998 was Freedom Arms, Inc. with the manufacture of 1,163.

Rifles

There were a total of 1,345,899 rifles produced in 1998. This figure favorably compares to 1,251,341 in 1997. During 1996, a total of 1,424,319 rifles were made in the U.S., compared to 1,331,780 in 1995, the 1,349,116 manufactured in 1994, and the 1,171,872 rifles fabricated in 1993.

The top rifle producer was Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc., with 335,776. The Marlin Firearms Co. was second with 306,164. Production of 275,912 rifles put Remington Arms Co., Inc. in third place. U.S. Repeating Arms produced 112,357 rifles to finish in fourth place. Savage Arms finished fifth with 80,894 rifles.

Other notable rifle makers during 1998 included: Colt’s Manufacturing Co. with 33,212; H&R 1871 with 29,462; Bushmaster Firearms with 25,610; Thompson/Center Arms with 15,788; Beemiller, Inc. with 28,642; and Olympic Arms, Inc. with 4,481.

Shotguns

There were a total of 1,036,520 shotguns produced during 1998, a healthy rise from the 915,978 made in 1997 and the 925,732 produced in 1996. In 1995, a total of 1,173,645 shotguns were manufactured, compared to 1,254,926 in 1994 and 1,148,939 in 1993.O.F. Mossberg & Sons was the number one shotgun producer during 1998 with a total of 383,626 (including its Maverick Arms division). In 1997, Mossberg produced 331,998 shotguns. Remington Arms Co. was second in 1998 with 336,527. H&R 1871 was third having produced 202,908 shotguns. U.S. Repeating Arms was fourth with production of 75,117 and Sturm, Ruger & Co., was fifth with 17,441.

Other notable shotgun makers during 1998 were: The Marlin Firearms Co. with 2,225; Springfield, Inc. with 6,831; Savage Arms, Inc. with 4,278; and Ithaca Gun with 1,326.

Miscellaneous

Finally, a total of 24,506 “miscellaneous” firearms (which apparently did not fit into any of the categories above) produced during 1998. In 1997, a total of 19,669 miscellaneous firearms were produced, some 17,914 in 1996, just 8,607 in 1995, and 10,918 such guns were made in 1994.

Exportation

Export markets around the world for U.S. produced firearms, and handguns in particular, seem to be drying up as a look at the export totals reveals. There were a total of 29,537 pistols exported in 1998, a decline from the 44,182 of 1997, the 64,126 of 1996, the 97,969 of 1995, the 95,036 of 1994 and the 59,197 pistols exported during 1993.

The top pistol exporter during 1998 was Sturm, Ruger & Co. with 4,026. In 1997, Sturm, Ruger exported 5,097. Following close behind in 1998 was Lorcin Engineering with 4,000 pistols. Colt’s finished third with shipment of 3,968 pistols overseas. American Derringer Corp. shipped out 3,167 pistols to finish in fourth place and Smith & Wesson Corp. finished fifth with 3,006 pistols exported.

Other larger pistol exporters during 1998 were Phoenix Arms with 732 pistols, Les Baer Custom with 711, Beretta USA with 1,198, and SIG Arms with export of 2,394 pistols.

A total of 15,788 revolvers were exported by U.S. firms during 1998, a considerable decline from the 63,656 exported in 1997, the 90,058 of 1996, the 131,634 shipped overseas in 1995, the 78,935 of 1994 and the 91,460 exported in 1993.

Sturm, Ruger was the largest revolver exporter in 1998 with 7,178 units. Sturm, Ruger exported 7,282 revolvers in 1997. They were followed in 1998 by Colt’s Manufacturing with export of 4,329 wheelguns. North American Arms, Inc. exported 4,122, H&R 1871 exported 140 and the Robar Companies, Inc. of Phoenix, AZ sent out 13 revolvers.

Some 65,807 rifles were exported by U.S. producers in 1998 compared to 76,626 in 1997, 74,555 in 1996, 89,053 in 1995, 82,226 in 1994 and 94,272 in 1993.

Remington Arms Co., with a total of 21,772 rifles in 1998 exported the most. In 1997 Remington exported 18,074 rifles. The Marlin Firearms Co. followed close behind with 15,884. Sturm, Ruger & Co. finished third with 14,618 trailed by U.S. Repeating Arms with 5,288 and Colt’s Manufacturing with 3,648. Other larger volume rifle exporters during 1998 included Thompson/Center with 1,128 units.

ATF includes combination rifle/shotguns in its shotgun exportation figures, though only a small number of such combination guns are produced in the U.S. For 1998, a total of 89,699 shotguns and combination guns were exported. This compares to 86,263 in 1997, 97,173 in 1996, some 100,894 in 1995, the 146,524 exported in 1994 and the 171,475 shotguns exported in 1993.

The highest volume exporter was O.F. Mossberg (including the Maverick Arms division) with 39,627 units. In 1997, Mossberg exported 44,470 shotguns. H&R 1871 came in at second place in 1998 with 23,051 guns. Remington Arms Co. ranked third with exportation of 17,276. U.S. Repeating Arms was in fourth place with 7,902 firearms and Beretta USA finished fifth with 1,113 units during 1998.

The total number of machine guns exported during 1998 was 12,529, a drop from the 20,857 exported in 1997, the 33,875 of 1996, the 19,259 of 1995, and the 16,729 exported in 1994.

A grand total of just 23 “Any Other Weapons” were exported during 1998, compared to none in 1997, just 223 in 1996, only 27 in 1995 and 56 in 1994. Some 2,513 “miscellaneous” firearms were exported during 1998, versus 4,354 in 1997, some 6,055 in 1996, a total of 2,495 in 1995 and 3,222 in 1994.

Note: For purposes of this report, “production” is defined as firearms, including separate frames or receivers, actions or barreled actions, manufactured, disposed of in commerce during the calendar year.


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