Tough Times For The Firearms World

Dec. 8, 2008
To say that things in the gun business lately have been volatile would be an understatement.

To say that things in the gun business lately have been volatile would be an understatement. The market forces that are affecting the overall supply of firearms, ammunition and related gear are also having a profound effect on police agency purchasing and training. Although law enforcement and even military purchasing is usually a steady source of income, the real money for most of the manufacturers is in the commercial market. That market, of course, includes a lot of private purchases by police officers and their families. In my opinion, the term Perfect Storm has been overused a lot lately, but something akin to that is occurring in the gun world, and it is going to get worse.

There have been a number of factors influencing the firearms trade for several years that have been felt by agencies for quite a while now. Probably the most obvious one is the cost and availability of ammunition. Supply has been tight in that arena because of two major factors, the military conflicts in the Middle East and the cost of raw materials.

The military side of it should be obvious. There is a lot of military consumption going on and they have been using up a good bit of the production capability of several ammo manufacturers. That is a good thing for the bottom line of those companies, but it doesn't leave a lot left for other segments of the market. This is simply supply and demand. The other factor that often gets overlooked is the supply, and therefore cost, of the materials to make the ammunition. Those costs have been skyrocketing for some components, and at least steadily increasing for others. Any of you who have been investigating the thefts of copper and other metals are certainly aware of the volatility in the metals markets. Those same metals are needed to make the ammunition in your guns.

So, the combination of high demand and high materials costs has meant a short and expensive supply. Police agencies have been told for some time now to plan their annual ammunition purchases carefully, order well in advance, and be prepared to wait as much as eight to twelve months to receive their orders. Those who were not prepared or did not heed the advice are scrounging for ammo at this point. Normally, ammo prices through the law enforcement distribution systems are much cheaper than on the open market. If agencies have to go to commercial sources, their already shrinking budgets are stressed even more. In our area, and I think we are typical; police agencies at all levels, from state to local, are getting hit hard by budget reductions. We're seeing staffing cuts as well as the reduction in money for expendable supplies. When you combine these things, there is nothing good that is going to come out of it for officers on the street. There will be less manpower, less training and less turnover of your carry ammo. At least one agency that I know of was able to hire some new officers, but didn't have enough ammo on hand to supply their basic duty ammo allotment. Shrinking budgets, high costs and unpredictable supplies can, and will, hurt you folks who go in harms way. Unfortunately, however, there never seems to be a shortage of people who need to be shot.

On the firearms side of things, some guns, especially tactical rifles, have been fairly scarce for a while. Any rifle types used in the combat theaters, whether by the military or private contractors, have been hard to get. Until recently there has been a reliable supply as long as you were willing to wait a month or two. Some companies that didn't have military commitments have been keeping the supply flowing steadily, even if a bit slowly. One large state agency recently authorized their officers to carry tactical rifles in their cars, but only at the officer's expense. As the officers began to search the market for the approved models of guns, they ran headlong into the reality of the slow supply of both guns and ammo and increasing prices.

Frustrating? You bet! And the tactical rifle market just got worse. Now that the political elections are over, there is palpable concern, if not outright fear, that the country is in for a rerun of the 1994-2004 so-called assault weapons ban. There are signs that this time our politicians may try to not only make such a ban permanent, but include more types of guns on the prohibited or restricted list. Wherever you stand on the issue, it is having a dramatic effect on the availability and cost of any gun that might end up being included in such a law.

Although the new President-elect has said in political statements that he supports the individual right to own firearms, he certainly has not done so in the past. He is currently announcing his selections for his cabinet posts and advisors, and they are all players in the past gun-banning activities of our politicians. My point here is, everyone interested in guns and gun ownership, including cops, is watching all of this very carefully and there is no reason for them to be optimistic.

As a result, tactical rifles, magazines for tactical rifles and ammunition for tactical rifles are being bought up in a feeding-frenzy like atmosphere. Supply has gone from weeks to months to who knows on some guns. It will probably continue until people know for sure which way things will go. After it all settles down, there may actually be more guns available to the law enforcement market, as LE agencies may be the only ones allowed to purchase some of these guns. If there is another ban, however, it will probably create some other problems that will not make law enforcement any easier. There will be some very tough choices that cops will have to make, including some regarding their own personal firearms.

Handguns are not immune from the market forces either. Some guns have been readily available, at least until the elections, but there have been some problems there as well. Glocks, for example, seem to be available in waves. I've been told by several distributors that Glock makes their guns in batches and depending on which models are in the supply stream, they can be readily available or not available at all. Right at the moment, the .45ACP Glock models are once again available, after an extended dry spell. Glock 21s and 30s, including the short frame (SF) models, are being delivered. That's a good thing in our area, as the Glock 21 is the issue gun of choice for several local agencies and officers have been looking for Glock 30s for off duty carry.

Glock 17s, 19s, and 26s, on the other hand, have dried up. From an agency standpoint, this may not be a big deal, as departmental purchases are usually well planned and can be timed appropriately. Individual officer or private citizen purchases can be problematic. Glock still has the lion's share of the LE market, so such things are important to both officers and their employers. And, by the way, Glock magazine prices have gone up. It is the second price increase this year. The days of sub-twenty dollar Glock magazines are over. If you can find them for less than $30 and you need some, don't hesitate to stock up. Obviously, the political climate is at work here as well, as Glock magazines at any price are scarce in some areas.

Other handguns have been readily available, such as the Smith & Wesson M&P pistols (but not the M&P rifles) and the Springfield XDs. The classic SIG Sauer pistols have been available, but are getting scarce because SIG is reportedly concentrating their current production resources on their SIG 556 rifles. The SIG P250, one of the most interesting pistols to come along in a while, has been slow out of the gate, but is now available in both 9mm and .40 S&W calibers. The .45s are being mentioned, but not delivered yet. The problem with the P250, as I see it, is that the features that will make it ideal for law enforcement agencies, a quality gun, with interchangeable grip/frame sizes and an outstanding trigger mechanism, are just not available yet. It is a great pistol as is, but the modular concept is the heart of the gun and it will not reach its stride until all the pieces are available.

Ruger, on the other hand, has had its hands full. The SR9, which has some interesting potential for the LE market, has been stalled by a factory recall to correct a safety issue and the trigger mechanism. We're seeing them in the supply stream now, so they must have the situation under control. The other Ruger that attracted a lot of attention is the .380 caliber LCP. It now has a recall of its own, also to fix a safety issue and a couple of other design glitches. It may have a following in the LE market as a backup gun, but it will be a while before we will be able to really test out the final version. In the meantime, demand remains high and supply is non-existent.

To top it all off, the country is in a severe economic slump at the moment. That means disposable personal income for such things as guns and gear is as tight as the budgets of the tax supported agencies that all of you count on for your paychecks. Like I said, sort of a perfect storm. Like all storms, it will pass. But for those who count on firearms for their protection and to protect others, it is going to be a bumpy ride for some time to come.

We're going through a period of if you snooze, you lose, on the buying side, but we're carrying very thin wallets. Plan your purchases carefully, whether agency or personal, and don't plan on anything being immediately available. It's a shame when essential tools of the trade are not readily available to the people who need them, but that's exactly where the consumers of firearms and ammunition products are finding themselves at the moment. Departments and individuals will have to be alert to purchasing opportunities and creative in their training programs. Let's hope the storm passes quickly.

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