Tough times for the gun industry

Tucked in the back of Thursday’s business section of the Star Tribune was this item that probably went unnoticed: These are tough times for ammunition makers.

Federal Cartridge has either laid off or given buyout packages to 12 percent of its workforce in Anoka, with more cuts in the last two weeks.

Last week, 21 salaried engineers, plant supervisors and other workers were laid off. This week, 21 hourly workers took buyouts.

The cuts were on top of 130 layoffs earlier in the month, bringing the total number of displaced workers to 172. The departures drop the Anoka plant’s employee count down to about 1,260 from 1,430.

A company official blames “market conditions” for the slump in sales of ammunition.

It’s not just ammo, of course. Gander Mountain filed for bankruptcy last week.

It was only a few years ago that ammunition was flying off the shelf because people thought the Obama administration was coming after their guns and ammo. They weren’t. And the hysteria was great for business.

With Republicans in control of government, the fear is gone. And that’s lousy for business and, at least in Anoka, jobs.

The stock price of gun makers has plummeted.

It’s the down side of “consumer confidence,” NPR reports.

Since Trump’s election, background checks have fallen three straight months from year-ago levels. And shops like Nova Firearms in McLean, Va., have detected a notable drop in sales of certain types of weapons such as AR-15 military-style semi-automatic rifles. During the heat of the campaign, says salesman Tom Jenkins, the shop couldn’t keep those weapons in stock. Customers were worried the rifles would be singled out for a ban by Hillary Clinton.

“During the political crisis we had dozens of them downstairs, and then there would be zero. And it would go again and then go again. And right up to the election, literally, brought them in, brought them up and sold them.”

Since Trump’s victory those guns aren’t moving nearly as fast, says Jenkins, pointing to five AR-15 style weapons on a rack behind the counter of the shop. He says it’s a certain type of customer whose buying decisions are influenced by politics.

Gun sellers say the customers who’ve fled are those who bought guns and ammo for personal protection.

Thus the irony. The best friends of the gun industry are Democrats.

The National Rife Association does not agree.

A look at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) annual import/export records of firearms shows that the number of guns available for sale in America rose every year between 2003 and 2013. This number dipped slightly in 2014, but it was still three-times higher than it was at the turn of the century. That is hardly a crash. It is simply a market check.

Also, though Obama was first elected to office in 2008, the ATF’s raw numbers show a growing interest in guns beginning in 2003, during the George W. Bush administration. Gun sales are hardly all about fear of gun control.

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) shows the same steady rise beginning in 2003. It turned into a tidal wave during President Obama’s second term and has been falling since. But it has not come close to crashing all the way back down to pre-2003 levels. The FBI says it did about 2.23 million background checks last February, which is down about 14 percent from February 2016. But it is still well above numbers reached just a few years ago.

The NRA says national concealed-carry reciprocity legislation could be the tonic for what ails the industry.

“We do believe that having a Republican in the White House…negatively impacts gun sales in that it effectively eliminates any threat of new gun regulation for the foreseeable future,” counters James Hardiman, managing director of equities research for Wedbush Securities Inc., in an interview with FoxNews.

He expects things to get worse.