Gun Sales: Who's Buying What?

Jim Curcuruto

Mark Twain once quipped there are three kinds of lies: "lies, damned lies and statistics." He had a point; nevertheless, well-based statistics quoted from their source are still fundamental.

Jim Curcuruto, director, industry research and analysis for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), is one of the first people I call when I want information about gun sales. When most of the news media, for example, was reporting that the rise in gun sales was all about fear of coming gun control from the Obama administration, Curcuruto pointed out records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that show gun sales have actually been rising since about 2000, and that the number of concealed-carry permits in the U.S. has risen from about one million in the mid-1980s to more than 12 million today. These and other statistics make it clear that the rise in gun sales isn’t just about the politics of gun control, but is also about a new and growing class of Americans buying guns for home defense and sporting purposes. Here's what Curcuruto had to say about recent gun sales in the U.S.

Range 365: The NSSF reported that the number of women gun owners is growing. What numbers are you basing this on?

Curcuruto: The National Sporting Goods Association conducts annual sports-participation studies that show an 85-percent increase in the number of female hunters from 2001 to 2013. In the same period, their data shows a 60-percent increase in female target shooters. The NSSF’s recently released report, “Women Gun Owners,” tells us that women are purchasing firearms for protection, target shooting and hunting. Women are an important segment for the firearms industry and the NSSF will be working to provide information to our members to better serve this market.

Range 365: What are people buying for their first gun? How much are they spending?

Curcuruto: From the NSSF’s consumer report “First-Time Gun Buyers” conducted in 2013, we see that people are buying semiautomatic pistols as their first gun 34 percent of the time with an average spend of $526, followed by shotguns 25 percent of the time with an average spend of $486. After shotguns, new buyers are purchasing revolvers 20 percent of the time with an average spend of $476 and then traditional rifles (not AR platform) 8 percent of the time with an average spend of $443. Finally, they are purchasing AR-platform (or Modern Sporting Rifles) 6% of the time for an average spend of $876. Seven percent of respondents selected “other” type of firearms for their first purchase (presumably these are muzzleloader/black powder or high-powered air rifle) for an average of $426.

Range 365: What statistics do you have showing how interested gun owners are in modern sporting rifles (AR-type rifles the media often calls “assault weapons”)?

Curcuruto: Data from the ATF’s “Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Reports” coupled with import and export data from the International Trade Commission shows more that 8.5 million Modern Sporting Rifles (MSR) are available for consumer possession since 1990. Results from the NSSF’s annual “Firearms Retailer Survey Report” show that MSR’s are the second most popular firearm being sold behind semiautomatic pistols and ahead of traditional rifles, shotguns and revolvers.

Range 365: How are most people using modern sporting rifles?

Curcuruto: In 2013 the NSSF released “Modern Sporting Rifle Comprehensive Consumer Report” that aggregated the responses from more than 20,000 MSR owners nationwide. The report lists respondents’ reasons for owning an MSR as recreational target shooting, home defense, collecting, varmint and big-game hunting and competitive shooting.

Range 365: Gun sales have been going up for years. How much is this related to threats of gun-control politics?

Curcuruto: Firearms retailers have been telling us that there are many reasons for the increase in gun sales over the past few years. While some people are buying guns due to fear of new legislation, other reasons for the increased sales include returning military wanting to buy firearms to practice with, female customers buying firearms for personal protection, reality TV shows introducing guns to new audiences, existing gun owners doing a good job of bringing new folks to the range or field and those people now buying their own guns and increased outreach efforts by organizations such as IDPA, SASS, ATA and state departments of wildlife.

Range 365: What's your shooting background?

Curcuruto: I grew up in the 1980s using my father’s guns to hunt and shoot, and he’s handed many of them down to me over the years. I remember buying my first gun, a Sig Sauer P230 .380-caliber pistol, back in the early 1990’s.

Range 365: What’s your favorite gun?

Curcuruto: My favorite gun is a hand-me-down from my grandfather. It’s a Belgium made Browning A5 “hump back” 16-gauge, semi-auto shotgun. It has seen a lot of field and range time and has taken its share of whitetails and ruffed grouse while breaking a few clays along the way.