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Gun Sales Might Slump Under Trump — But He Could Fire up the Industry

2016 was the biggest ever year for gun sales, but less than one month after the election of a Republican president, shares of gun makers tanked.
Image: Hand guns
Hand guns are displayed at the Top Guns Arms booth at Rocky Mountain Gun Show Sunday, March 3, 2013, in Sandy, Utah.Rick Bowmer / AP

2016 was the biggest ever year for gun sales — yet less than one month after the presidential election, shares of gun manufacturers started to tank. By the first week of December, shares in Sturm, Ruger were down 17 percent. Between election day and the first week of January, Smith & Wesson shares were down a staggering 26 percent.

But the softening has little, if anything, to do with a decreased consumer interest in firearms. Instead, it reflects confidence that under a Trump administration, there's no longer any reason to worry that gun restrictions will be enforced.

No Panicking, Less Buying

"Republican presidents tend to be more friendly toward Second Amendment rights and to gun ownership," said Sam Hoober, writer for the gun accessory retailer Alien Gear Holsters. As a result, 'panic buying' is drastically less likely, he explained.

"President Obama was, in many respects, the best salesman the gun industry has ever had, as sales were very high during his tenure for precisely this reason, though such fears were (in the end) unfounded," said Hoober. "The kind of panicked buying that Obama inspired is not likely to happen, so the gun industry may enter a cooling period."

But a cooling period in this case could look more like "normalizing" for an industry that has been seeing erratic spikes in recent years.

"I expect 2017 will be a more normalized year with fewer spikes in demand," said Larry Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Even though 2016 was the industry's biggest year in terms of sales, the months following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 were also huge, "because of talk of potential gun control measures being enacted," said Keane.

A 'Silencer' Surge on The Horizon?

Kellie Weeks, the owner of Georgia Gun Store in Gainesville, Georgia anticipates that 2017 will not be as stellar a year as 2016, when the store "saw a lot of panic-buyers who were worried when they thought Hillary [Clinton] would win," but she does think the year will turn out strong — and even stronger if Trump passes one particular law.

"Trump could bring excitement if he passes the Hearing Protection Act," said Weeks.

The Hearing Protection Act, introduced on Monday by Congressmen Jeff Duncan of South Carolina and John Carter of Texas, proposes to remove suppressors, aka "silencers," from regulation under the National Firearms Act. If passed, this law would make it much easier for people to buy suppressors.

"Right now you have to pay a $200 tax and wait about eight months to get a suppressor," said Weeks. "So if you [remove those regulations] we could sell them straight out of the store, like a regular handgun. A lot more people would be buying suppressors."

Related: Trump's Victory Has Fearful Minorities Buying up Guns

It's likely that the Hearing Protection Act will be passed simply because it's a Republican law that's fairly easy to pass.

"Trump has been inconsistent on many things but he's been pretty consistent in his support of liberalizing American's gun laws," said Adam Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA, and the author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

"Unlike a replacement for a complicated law like Obamacare, the National Rifle Association has this legislation already drafted and has been waiting for a Republican in office for years," said Winkler. "These things will go through the legislative process, obviously, but I think it will be passed fairly quickly."

Silent — and Deadlier

Making silencers cheaper and less complicated to obtain will likely drive a spike in consumer activity, as Weeks noted. It could also generously feed the suppressor black market.

"There's always a black market for silencers; but because silencers are so difficult to get, the black market for them is relatively small," said Winkler. "By making them easily available, we can expect to make a bigger black market."

If criminals are already getting guns, the idea of them getting silencers may not seem any worse. Until you consider the fact that were a mass shooter to use a silencer, death tolls would surely rise, and people who have permits to carry concealed weapons would be less likely to know that a shooting is taking place and step in because they wouldn't be able to hear it.

"If someone who is carrying a gun lawfully doesn't know a mass shooting is happening, how can they help out? If you can't hear the gun shots how do you know someone is coming at you?" said Winkler.

Democrats and those in favor of gun policy reform will likely bring up this argument, but most likely, it won't do any good. Not for now, at least.

"For most of Obama's administration he faced a hostile Congress, making it very difficult for him to pursue his agenda [on gun policy]," said Winkler. "Trump has the majority in both houses and will have the Supreme Court. Democrats have very little to say about it at this point."