Industry News: AR Rifle Owners Most Active Shooters
By Robert M. Hausman

A comprehensive survey of ownership and use of AR-style rifles finds that 8.9 million Americans went target shooting with these rifles last year and most significantly, that users of these types of rifles were the most active among all types of sport shooters.

“These findings underscore that these rifles are becoming commonplace in America and are among the most desired firearms by sport shooters,” said Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). “Those who want to ban these civilian sporting rifles simply because they look like military rifles must acknowledge after seeing this study that AR-style rifles are exceedingly popular with millions of Americans. These rifles are our industry’s high-tech, cutting-edge product - rugged, accurate, versatile, fun to shoot and easily accessorized - and they’re here to stay.”

The study, “Shooting Sports Participation Survey in the United States in 2009” was conducted for the NSSF by Responsive Management through a random digit dialing telephone survey of 8,204 U.S. residents aged 18 years and older. The survey was said to have a 95% confidence factor, and a 1.08 percentage point plus or minus sampling error.

High Level of Target Shooters

The statistics on AR rifles were part of a wider-ranging survey that revealed a new high for annual participation in formal and informal sport and target shooting. Some 15% of the U.S. population, representing 34.4 million nationwide, went target shooting in 2009. The figure surpasses all other previous survey estimates of annual sport shooting participation.

The study measured all forms of shooting participation but found that compared with sport shooters using other types of firearms, users of AR-style rifles were most active nationally and also in every U.S. region identified in the study. The survey found that an estimated 8,868,085 people shot an AR rifle in 2009, doing so on 22.9 days. Regionally, those who lived in the South participated on 29.6 days, followed by the West (21.1 days), Northeast (20 days) and Midwest (15.5 days). Though more people shot other types of rifles (24 million) and handguns (22 million) than AR rifles, they ranked below AR shooters in activity, with rifle users participating on 17.3 days and handgun shooters 16.7 days.

More people shot with AR rifles, and more often, than with shotguns in the established sports of skeet, trap and sporting clays. The survey showed 7.6 million people went trap shooting on 14.8 days, 7 million went skeet shooting on 15.5 days and 8.4 million participated in sporting clays on 13.7 days.

AR Rifle Shooter Demographics

The survey also sought to define the demographic makeup of those who shoot with an AR-15, but not a traditional sporting rifle, such as bolt or lever action. It found the following:

  • Most AR-rifle users reside in small cities or towns (25%) and non-farm rural areas (25%) compared with urban areas (19%), suburban areas (16%), and farms/ranches (15%).
  • AR rifles appealed to younger shooters, with 64% of users ranging in age from 18 to 44.
  • AR-style rifle users were 86% white, with Hispanic/Latinos the next largest ethnic group at 5%.
  • Men represented 84% of AR rifle shooters and women 16%.
  • Some 34% of AR rifle shooters had some college education or a trade school degree, 29% a bachelor’s degree and 27% a high school degree or equivalent.

“We hope this survey helps shed light on the often misunderstood AR-style rifle and demonstrates the tremendous appeal they have with recreational shooters,” said Jim Curcuruto, NSSF’s director of industry research and analysis. “This survey provides a baseline to measure what will undoubtedly be an increase in participation with these rifles in the future.”

U.N. Makes First International Gun Trace Request

The first international firearms trace request by the United Nations has raised great concerns by the firearms industry. The U.N. has long advocated for civilian disarmament and global gun control.

The U.N. trace request was made to the manufacturer Heckler & Koch. H&K declined to provide the information to the U.N. and instead advised U.N. officials to make its request through proper international law enforcement channels. This would ensure that ATF, the appropriate law enforcement entity responsible for handling such requests, would be aware of the world body’s actions.

Some foreign states and well-funded non-governmental organizations, like the International Action Network on Small Arms, are using arms trade-control talks at the U.N. to restrict or ban the private ownership of firearms. The firearms trace request by the U.N. though, appears to have been an isolated incident.

The trace request was sent by facsimile transmission on March 5, 2010 to Heckler & Koch, Columbus, Georgia sales office by the U.N.’s headquarters in New York. The faxed letter, signed by James Bevan, Coordinator, Group of Experts on the Ivory Coast, requests assistance in identifying the origin of an H&K P7 M13 pistol caliber 9mm with serial number 72157 M13. The Group of Experts says it had photographed this pistol in the hands of former rebel forces in Northern Ivory Coast and believes it has been diverted from the legal market (possibly from a neighboring country).

The U.N. thus requested the following information:

    1. The name and address of the entity to whom Heckler & Koch, or any agency acting on behalf of the company, sold the arm; 2. A list of any arms which may have been sold in the same consignment as the aforementioned pistol; 3. Any information regarding theft from or re-transfer/re-sale by the recipient entity.

It should be noted that the U.N.’s Security Council’s resolution 1893 (2009) gives the Group of Experts unfettered access to information concerning the supply of arms, ammunition and related materiel to the Ivory Coast for the stated purpose of maintaining the peace and stability of the country.

The Group of Experts is composed of representatives from various countries who are charged with monitoring different aspects of the Ivory Coast’s affairs. A representative from the Congo monitors the Ivory Coast’s aviation, a representative from Turkey monitors the Ivory Coast’s customs, a representative from Bahrain looks over the country’s diamond production while another from Colombia, watches over the country’s finances. Bevan, who is charged with monitoring arms in the Ivory Coast, is from the United Kingdom.

U.S. Imports Rose 31% in 2009

U.S. imports of sporting arms and ammunition were up 31% in 2009 to $1.28 billion, according to industry research. The figure for 2008 was $974 million. Imports of handguns went up 53%, while imports of ammunition increased 40% during 2009. In the fourth quarter, imports of all sporting arms and ammunition increased 22.3% compared to the same period in 2008.

Massachusetts High Court Upholds Trigger Lock Law

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts - that state’s highest court - has upheld the constitutionality of a state gun storage statute that mandates the use of trigger locks, or locked storage of a firearm in the home when not in use.

The ruling came in the case of Commonwealth v. Richard Runyan, which drew national attention from gun rights activists and organizations.

Runyan’s developmentally disabled son had been involved in an incident in which a neighbor’s house was apparently shot with a BB gun. When police arrived to investigate, the 18-year-old showed them where the elder Runyan stored his firearms, resulting in a charge against the father for keeping a hunting rifle under his bed in a manner that did not comply with the state law.

According to court documents, the teen “admitted to the police officers that he had fired shots at his neighbor’s house with a BB rifle that was in his bedroom closet.” Officers asked the son if there were more guns in the home, and he led them to his father’s bedroom, where they found two cased guns under the bed. One was a shotgun fitted with a trigger lock and the other case held Runyan’s semi-auto hunting rifle that was not locked. “When the officers asked if there was any ammunition for those firearms, the son opened a dresser drawer that contained rifle rounds and shotgun shells,” the court document detailed.

Referring to the 2008 Heller ruling, a lower court had dismissed the charges against Runyan, but Massachusetts prosecutors appealed. The Heller opinion struck down the District of Columbia’s gun law, which required trigger locks on long guns and prohibited possession of handguns. The Massachusetts court held that state statute did not include an outright ban, and that the state does have the authority to regulate firearms.

Significantly, the court based its opinion largely on the premise that since court precedent at the time of its decision had not established that the Second Amendment has been incorporated to the states through the 14th Amendment. The court also found that under existing statute, “an individual with a valid firearms identification card...is not obliged to secure or render inoperable a firearm while the individual carries it or while it remains otherwise under the individual’s control,” as had been the case in Washington, D.C. prior to the Heller ruling.

Firearms Industry’s Economic Impact

The economic impact of the American firearms and ammunition industry was $27,846,304,300 in 2009, compared to $19,199,634,700 the year before, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

The firearms and ammunition industry also provided 183,424 jobs in 2009, an increase from 166,200 in 2008. The wages the industry paid to employees during 2009 was $8,210,881,000 compared to $6,361,205,400 in 2008.

In terms of tax revenue, the industry paid $2,035,154,440 in federal taxes last year, versus $1,503,740,471 the year before. State taxes totaled $1,909,417,793 in 2009, a significant rise from the $1,299,088,678 paid in 2008.

Ruger Sales Gained 49% in 2009

Sturm, Ruger & Co. reports that sales were up 49% in 2009, compared to the previous year. Earnings for the year jumped 260% compared to 2008.

“Our firearms sales grew from $174 million in 2008 to $267 million in 2009 on the strength of new product shipments and overall robust firearms demand, particularly in the first half of the year,” said Ruger CEO Michael Fifer. In the fourth quarter, sales rose 9% compared to the same period the year before, while earnings rose 24%.

Firearms Freedom Act Gaining Support

A growing number of states are supporting the Firearms Freedom Act of Montana which exempts from federal regulation firearms made and sold in intrastate commerce. Some seven states have filed amicus briefs supporting Montana’s position. They are Utah, Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia. The suit is intended to validate the validity of Montana’s law in federal court. It was filed by the Montana Shooting Sports Association and the Second Amendment Foundation.

However, the Commerce Clause of the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which allows congress to regulate commerce amongst the states) has a history of being broadly interpreted by courts to include that virtually any conduct, even purely intrastate conduct, can have a “substantial effect” on interstate commerce and thus is subject to congressional regulation. This trend began with the Roosevelt “New Deal” 1942 era case of Wickard v. Filburn which held that wheat grown and consumed entirely within one state still had a “substantial” effect on commerce in wheat in other states.

In the case of United States v. Lopez in which the Supreme Court looked at the conviction of a 12th grade student for carrying a gun into a school in violation of the federal Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990, the opinion pointed out that prior decisions had identified three broad categories of activity that Congress may regulate under its commerce power:

  • First, Congress may regulate the use of the channels of interstate commerce.
  • Second, Congress is empowered to regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in Interstate Commerce, even though the threat may come only from intrastate activities;
  • Finally, Congress’s commerce authority includes the power to regulate those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce (i.e., those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce).

Bruce Savane, Former Taurus CEO, 71

Bruce Savane, Executive Vice President and CEO of Taurus Firearms in the company’s early years, died recently at age 71 after a prolonged illness.

Under his leadership, Taurus became a major player in the shooting sports industry. He had retired in the fall of 1997. When he started with the company in 1983, a good day was shipping out three guns, according to a former employee. It was Savane’s decision, approved by the ownership in Brazil, to offer a lifetime repair policy (on the lifetime of the gun, not its owner) to back the products of the then little known company that put Taurus on the map.

Other “firsts” under Savane’s leadership were a 7-shot .357 Magnum, followed a year later by an 8-shot. Taurus was also the first firearms company to earn the ISO 9001 citation.

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.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V13N11 (August 2010)
and was posted online on March 16, 2012


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