Business

Gun sales slump with change in permit renewals, Trump's election cited as factors

Ernie Traugh, owner, looks over a Springfield Armory M1 Garand brought in by a customer to sell at Cedar Valley Outfitters in Marion on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Ernie Traugh, owner, looks over a Springfield Armory M1 Garand brought in by a customer to sell at Cedar Valley Outfitters in Marion on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Except for a customer wanting to buy ammunition for his wife’s handgun for her birthday, it was a quiet afternoon at Cedar Valley Outfitters — not unusual, lately.

“It’s been horrible,” owner Ernie Traugh said. “The whole industry is way down. Anybody who says they’re not is probably lying. ”

Call it the Trump Slump. After eight years of booming sales fueled by the National Rifle Association and right-wing media outlets warning that first President Barack Obama, then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, would confiscate their weapons, Donald Trump’s election has taken the wind out of firearms sales nationwide.

“I’ve never seen such an immediate business decrease as this,” Traugh said.

In May, the sporting goods chain Cabela’s reported first-quarter sales were down more than 9 percent over 2016, with a decline in firearms sales cited as a contributing factor. On the day after the election last November, shares of gun maker Sturm Ruger fell 14 percent. Smith and Wesson, now going by the name American Outdoor Brands, saw its stock fall 15 percent.

“Since Trump has become president, gun sales are way, way down for two reasons,” said Arlan Stegen, owner of Sports Outfitters in southwest Cedar Rapids. “He’s very pro-gun and we don’t have to worry about our Second Amendment rights, and people feel safer.”

Sales at the Gun Depot in Dubuque are down 20 to 30 percent, according to owner Ken Freiburger, who said firearms manufacturers are resorting to aggressive rebates and other incentives.

“Everything kind of backfired on everybody, and now they’ve got warehouses full of guns,” he said.

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“It’s just a perfect storm of Trump winning the election, and people sitting back and saying it’s OK,” said Traugh, who doesn’t go so far as to link gun sales to who’s president.

“I never ran around saying, ‘President Obama wants to take your guns away,’” he recalled. “All of the worst anti-gun laws have been at state levels. People that want to pass more gun laws, they understand that.”

Traugh cited laws in Connecticut setting possession limits on ammunition and California, which restricts ammunition supplies and magazine size.

The FBI reports background checks for firearm sales are down about 20 percent over last year. Background checks don’t correlate directly to sales but are a general indicator of sales.

In Iowa, state-issued permits to carry handguns are down, but much of that can be attributed to a January 2011 change in the law allowing permit renewals every five years instead annually.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

Still, Ross Loder, chief of the administrative services bureau for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said gun sales in the state indeed appear to be down significantly, based on anecdotal reports.

“We certainly know that gun sales — and to a lesser extent permit issuance volume — can be affected by elections, and by events such as multiple-victim shootings, terrorist attacks anywhere in the world, significant social unrest / protests, significant discussions about changes in gun law, actual changes in gun laws, and more,” Loder wrote in an email. “It is my impression that gun sales volume is more directly affected by these sorts of political and societal factors.”

Stegen of Sports Outfitters estimated sales at gun shows are down 80 percent.

“Ours isn’t that bad, but it’s pretty bad,” he said.

He said he’s been in a similar situation — almost four decades ago.

“When Reagan became president, he was poor for this business because he even got some pro-gun bills passed,” Stegen said.

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While the Iowa Legislature passed laws this year liberalizing handgun possession, Stegen wants to see suppressors — popularly known as silencers — legalized.

But legalization of suppressors wouldn’t help brick-and-mortar stores such as his, Traugh said.

“If it’s unregulated, like holsters and scopes, it’s like anything else,” he said. “It comes down to the internet.”

After an eight-year binge, most firearms enthusiasts are well-stocked on guns and ammo.

“You see people making $1,500 to $3,000 purchases on their credit card or debit card, and you know your customers well enough to know that’s a major expense for them,” Traugh said.

“They bought an abundance of ammunition and firearms and we’re seeing people walking through the doors selling guns now,” Gun Depot’s Freiburger said.

Freiburger expects “a little upswing, probably, starting in the first part of October” with the fall hunting season.

Traugh doesn’t count on business to improve significantly, however.

“We’d see an uptick, but there’s enough stores like that in this town” selling hunting gear, he said.

Traugh said his customers are “predominantly what I’d say are shooting sports enthusiasts, the defensive shooting people.”

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