The year 2013 will go down in history as a year of unique firearms trends driven by politics and economics. Anti-gun agendas are springboarding off the recent tragedies in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., and the thin wallets of American hunters are ushering in a new type of deer rifle. Here are five of industry-driving trends for 2013:
AR-15s: America’s Most Wanted
A feeding frenzy is sucking gun racks across America dry of AR-15-type rifles. It’s driven directly by the current administration’s outspoken intent to outlaw such firearms—which came immediately on the heels of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Conservative Americans want to own them; liberal Americans want to outlaw them. Fearing within weeks or months it will be illegal to purchase an AR, folks are breaking into retirement funds and spending their kids’ college accounts to get one before they can’t—assuming one can be found for sale. From conspiracy theorists who believe the whole thing—massacres, media coverage and the resulting anti-gun momentum—was engineered by government, to speculators trying to make a buck on the back of a ban or the perceived threat of a ban, anyone with two gold coins to rub together is cashing them in on overpriced AR-15s.
My prediction? My crystal ball is pretty foggy on this one, but I think the “assault weapons” ban will fail in congress, as will the attempted ban on high-capacity magazines. However, the so-called “gun show loophole” may be closed forever.
Production? Although much of the backlog of backorders that manufacturers have on file will collapse (folks desperate for an AR have placed orders with several dealers; as soon as the first order comes in many shooters will cancel the rest), I’d hazard a guess it will be a minimum of nine months and perhaps as many as two years before AR-15 manufacturing catches up with demand, assuming it’s even legal to manufacture them at that point. Until then, absurd prices will be asked—and paid—without question.
When the AR-15 shelves were stripped bare, buyers turned to high-capacity handguns—specifically Glocks, followed closely by Smith & Wesson M&Ps, Springfield XDs and similar models. I saw one Glock 19 listed in a classifieds section at $4,000. The seller stated he knew what the gun was worth and that he would not be lowballed. I’m sure he didn’t successfully sell it, but still, that’s obscene behavior over a used tool with a true value of maybe $500.
I don’t foresee the dearth of Glocks and their kin lasting nearly as long as that of ARs, or generating nearly as much controversy. After all, the firearm itself is not being challenged—only its high-capacity magazines. Can you imagine anything less appealing than a Glock 9mm with a seven-round mag? If such a restriction was ever put into play, 1911s and revolvers would again be the most popular defense handguns—anything with plenty of poop per pop. Without round-count quantity, shooters would want high-impact quality.
A buddy called me after driving over an hour to a garage reloading supply shop that allegedly had .223 components in stock. He exulted, “I got an 8-pound keg of CFE-223 powder and six boxes of Sierra 69-grain MatchKings!” Only a month before, he might have mentioned that he’d got a box of bullets at a miraculous price; now, the fact that he even found them was the miracle.
Sporting goods stores across America lack components—primers, powder and especially projectiles—for .223/5.56mm reloading. Though the only thing threatening ammo is an anti-gun agenda pushing for background checks on ammo purchases (heaven forbid), it seems shooters want ammo for all those ARs they’re buying. Naturally. I recently visited with the owner of one of the big ammo companies, and he said his warehouse is empty to the point that it echoes when he walks through. When a pallet of ammo comes in, it may skip across the floor a couple of times, but it never stops. It goes straight into the shipping truck.
As a result, few ammo companies will have the time or expendable resources to develop new products this year. Some will have trouble supporting those they developed last year and introduced this year at SHOT Show, due to demand on already established products, as in .223 ammo.
How do you find much-needed ammo and reloading components? Visit shops at opening time every morning for a couple of weeks. I know, you have a full-time job. But many of the stores I’ve spoken with have components trickling in, and those with foresight may even have supplies in the back, from which they conservatively stock their shelves each morning before opening.
Legal Labyrinths of Potential New Laws
I’m no legal analyst, but I can read the writing on the wall. If typically ambiguous new gun control laws are implemented, extensive interpretations, explanations and challenges will ensue. Until gun shops, cops, game wardens, courts and your buddies get the new facts straight, few people will know exactly what is and isn’t legal. I don’t think anarchy will result. Rather, law-abiding citizens attempting to do the right thing will have a permanent pain implanted in their posteriors.
If an “assault weapons” ban successfully passes and becomes law, manufacturers across America will either have to shut down, or rethink the way they do business. There are only so many government contracts to be had, and if private-citizen sales go away, it will strangle a huge industry that provides jobs and quality products for Americans.
What can you do? Write your Congressman. Join the NRA and make your voice heard. I don’t want to spout off about posterity and get all weepy on you, but I look at my little boy and wonder if I’ll be able to hand down my Camp Perry rifle (a Rock River National Match AR-15), or if in 50 years he’ll be restricted to a single-shot rifle and a one-eyed dog—nothing against the band Alabama.
Budget Bolt Action Deer Rifles
On a very different vein, the slow economy is having what promises to be a long-term affect on bolt-action rifles—the rifles every hunter offhandedly refers to as “deer rifles.” Manufacturers are putting more and more focus into building durable, reliable, accurate bolt-actions at a budget price. I’m not talking Walmart lines—some of the new rifles are actually really nice. Browning just introduced a lovely redesign of its legendary A-Bolt, dubbed the A-Bolt III, at $599. Remington brought out a model called the 783, which departs completely from the classic design of Remington’s Model 700, but borrows proven high-performance, low-manufacturing-cost features from a multitude of other manufacturers and sells for $451. Last year, Ruger introduced the American, which has already proven reliable and more than adequately accurate, at a price of $449.
Back to the crystal ball: This trend suggests that big game hunters are not only still actively pursuing their hobby, but they are recruiting new hunters—friends, spouses and kids. Moreover, though they aren’t willing or able to splurge on a top-shelf classic like a Winchester Model 70, a Remington 700 or a Ruger M77 Hawkeye, they aren’t happy settling for $300 bolt-actions with a lot of plastic parts and a detachable box magazine that falls out every time you bump the stock against your hunting knife. Bless ’em, and bless the manufacturers for stepping up and producing rifles that will be hunting strong 20 years from now.