Estimated gun sales recovered somewhat in August after two straight months of double digit decreases, according to an analysis of federal background check data.
Dealers processed just under 1.9 million applications through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System last month, a 9.4 percent increase over July — this year’s weakest month for checks and by proxy, gun sales, so far. Guns.com removes permit applications and rechecks from the monthly total to more accurately pinpoint sales, though the measurement isn’t exact.
Estimated sales in August topped 950,000, a 17 percent decline from last year. Some 507,000 handguns comprised 53 percent of the firearms transferred, according to NICS. Dealers processed checks for just under 397,000 long guns, the third busiest month for the category so far in 2017.
The sales boost follows a “painful” season for gun makers and retailers, many of which reported depressed quarterly earnings, inventory backlogs and weak consumer demand compared to 2016 — the biggest on record for background checks and gun sales. Checks in June and July fell 12 percent and 26 percent, respectively, as the anniversaries of several mass shootings, legislative pushes for gun control and the ratcheting up of election season came and went. This year’s overall sales trail 2016 by 11 percent.
Top industry executives say firearms promotions make it difficult to determine what the “new normal” for sales will look under a gun-friendly presidential administration, though several predict a return to historical norms: a slow summer followed by a gradual uptick in fall as hunting seasons begin across the country. Sales typically peak in the winter months, beginning during the holiday shopping season and lasting through February.
“While these conditions may be challenging in the short-term they are not new to us,” said James Debney, CEO of American Outdoor Brands, the holding company for Smith & Wesson. “It’s a very dynamic environment right now. You do not know what a competitor is about to do next in terms of their promotional activity. You walk into an independent retailer or some of the bigger box stores right now and sometimes it’s tough to see the top-of-the-glass counter because of the so many promotion cards out there.”
Both Debney and AOBC’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Buchanan agree the worst is behind them as the promotional activity winds down. Debney cited August background check data as proof of his cautious optimism in a phone call with investors last week.
“Now there is always risk. I can’t predict the future,” he said. “I have got a crystal ball that’s not that great though sometimes. So as we think about September, October and November, those are three key data points for adjusted NICS checks that will really tell us the strength of the return of the shopper.”