Talking About the Essentials of Today's Gun Industry

A S&W M2.0 on a wooden plank

The American firearms industry employs over 300,000 and provides an economic impact that is felt in every community. (Photo: Chris Eger/

With so much afoot in the American gun industry in the past couple of months, we called up the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association, and spoke with Joseph Bartozzi, NSSF’s President and Chief Executive Officer, to get some information on how the industry has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. The American firearms industry ranges from the largest publicly-traded gunmakers to the smallest mom and pop local gun stores, which is something that a lot of people who are outside of gun culture just don’t get it. It’s a huge economic impact. Could you speak to that?

A: Well we know from recent studies that the economic impact of the industry itself is nearly $60 billion dollars and that includes, of course, the direct jobs in the industry itself. We’re looking at over 300,000 people that work directly in the industry. And again generating $60 billion dollars of economic activity for the country.

Not to be overlooked, the excise taxes paid by manufacturers of firearms and ammunition go directly towards wildlife restoration, habitat, the Pittman-Robertson Fund takes care of that. So it’s a huge part of the U.S. economy and benefits everybody. Whether you hunt or shoot or not the great outdoors is supported and in large part paid for by the excise tax that the firearms industry provides. Why is the gun industry essential? You see this list of essential businesses and you got grocers and gas stations and auto mechanics and stuff like that. How does the gun industry, down to your local gun shop, fit into that?

Bartozzi: Yeah, I think it’s important for people to recognize that the industry as large as it is and what you mentioned earlier about from the largest corporations to the small retailers, many of our members – the large manufacturers to be sure – they’re part of the defense industrial base. They’re providing the arms and ammunition that the military uses, that law enforcement uses to defend the nation, to defend our communities. So to somebody that’s an easy one, right? That’s a layup in that these manufacturing concerns of firearms and ammunition, they really are essential and they’re part of the infrastructure of our defense industrial base.

When you go out and look at people on a more local level, a lot of ranges, a lot of retailers, and a lot of distributors support directly or indirectly law enforcement, sheriff’s offices, and things like that around the county because in many cases the law enforcement folks do get their firearms, ammunition, and certain retaining and opportunities to train at ranges, retailers, and from distributors. So again you want to talk about protecting our community on a more local level, that certainly is something that would clearly be deemed essential.

We talk about food and water and shelter being essential to protect life and to support life but certainly the right to defend oneself is essential as well. People are uncertain, right? As there are concerns about what could happen if things get worse, if the economy breaks down further, and people are exercising their Second Amendment rights now to protect their families. And the way to do that is through a retailer. You’re going to have to get to a retailer in most cases to be able to get the guns and ammunition necessary to exercise your Second Amendment rights and to protect yourself.

So that argument we made concerning essential businesses was well taken and then I think people recognized that. And we’re seeing so many more new gun owners deciding to exercise the Second Amendment rights. It’s almost unprecedented. So people from all walks of life, all political spectrums, are recognizing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is important. And now more than ever is not the time to be infringing on that right. Speaking more onto the surge in new and first-time gun owners how do you think that’s going to carry onto the larger discussion on gun politics in the coming months? This is an election year after all and there’s a lot of crazy stuff that’s already been proposed out there so I’m sure that’ll just ramp up as we get closer to November.

Bartozzi: That’s absolutely correct. I think it’s interesting that there are so many new gun owners. So perhaps people that really weren’t so keen or weren’t so in tune with Second Amendment issues and perhaps some of the political issues we’re facing, they’re not getting now a sense of why people become so passionate about the Second Amendment and the rights and the ability to defend themselves, right? But we’re also seeing that the anti-gun folks are really going crazy over the determination. So that tells me in large part they felt like the momentum is shifting away from them.

They were providing misleading statistics and all of these doom and gloom scenarios but the fact is that in March there were more background checks performed than ever before in the history of that system. A single day in March, for example, was the highest background check day ever since the system began and something 80% or more than last March at this time.

So I think it’s a huge issue and it will shape the debate because people recognizing the Second Amendment is really important and it’s not about duck hunting. It’s about being able to defend yourself. So yeah, the debate is being changed and we can see it just by the reaction from the inside gun crowd, that they know this is a sea of change that they’ve got to be aware of. Let’s talk about hunting for a second. Right now people sometimes aren’t finding the protein they need in the store so you’ve got the old fallback of hunting. I know a lot of states are trying to put the kibosh on people even going out to public lands to go hunting but then again a lot of states aren’t. So could you maybe talk to how hunting in more important than ever right now?

Bartozzi: We’re seeing the Field-to Fork-movement, of course, has been gaining momentum in recent years, especially with the younger folks which we think is wonderful. We’ve also been in contact with the fish and wildlife agencies from around the various states and they are doing everything they can to keep open and operating because this is a way to return to normalcy for a lot of people, getting people back out into the field. And so they’re doing everything they can, too. And look, hunting is the ultimate social distancing, right? Unless you’re sitting in a crowded duck blind you can certainly take steps to protect yourself by staying at some distance apart so there’s no problem with that. But people supplementing the ability to go to a grocery store, people getting outdoors in the fresh air, the states’ agencies recognizing this is an important way to get people back to normal.

I think that out of every tragedy comes some greater good. I think people are starting to recognize that there is something good about being outdoors and gathering your own organic source of protein and such. So I think ultimately you’re going to see a rise in the people getting back out into the field and pretty quickly, too. Talking about industry practices and everything with the current outbreak situation, how has that kind of changed the industry? You see where the ATF has issued new guidance that you guys are of course largely responsible for on curbside services and tents in parking lots and stuff like that.

Bartozzi: In terms of the long term approach I think as soon as this thing passes and people can get back into the stores, I think the whole on-premises or curbside thing will fade away. I have to tell you that I give the ATF a tremendous amount of credit for responding to our request as quickly as they did. They’re a large agency. They’ve got a lot of things to consider but the fact is they really stepped up and responded to us very quickly and in a way that kept so many businesses open and operating and by the way being conscious of the social distancing and the personal hygiene issues that are so important to keep people healthy.

So this is a win-win I think in that people can go to a gun shop either by appointment or a curbside or parking lot type of arrangement, get what they need, and have minimum contacts with other people so that there’s that safety element there, right? And we’ve said from the get-go and I’ve been very, very clear on this, that just because ranges and retailers are open right now, which is wonderful, it doesn’t mean that they could avoid the social distancing or the other hygiene issues to avoid this virus. So we trust and we hope that these folks are practicing these safe practices here because we certainly want them to remain open. But I think it speaks to the industry and the regulators like the ATF coming together for the common cause and we give them a lot of credit for doing that. I know a lot of people in the industry throw rocks at the ATF from time to time but fundamentally they’re still operating and still trying to be an industry partner and still processing NFA applications and all that stuff, too, right?

Bartozzi: They are and we, the NSSF, have been trying to help them get more funding so they can process these things even quicker. I have to tell you I was on a call today with one of the directors from the ATF and he was very clear about this. He said, “Look, we view the industry as our partner. Yes, we have a role to do. We are a regulating organization. We have a job to do but we don’t see the industry as the enemy. We’ve got rules that we have to enforce.” And I have to respect that.

And as I said, when we reached out to them to say, “Look, we’ve got to do something about this because states are giving these folks a hard time,” they responded in a thoughtful, careful way, and in a way that will allow the states that had been somewhat against the opening of gun shops to really give them something to think about because there’s no good reason not to keep these constitutionally protected businesses open now. So we really respect and appreciate what the ATF did there. Is there anything else that you want to cover that we haven’t talked about yet?

Bartozzi: There’s just two things that’s kind of been on my mind that I would try to tell everybody.

One is to stay informed. We’ve got an election coming up this year. So even though people can’t go out and do the things they would normally, we’ve got a ton of information on our website about gun votes and making sure that people pay attention to what the candidates are saying. So now more than ever we’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on here. And I urge everybody to go to our site to see what the candidates are doing, especially in your local areas as well as the national level. It’s really important to stay informed at this moment in time.

And the other thing I would say to people is to get involved. There are so many communities in need of things like blood services for the Red Cross, things like food pantries, donating your time and effort to help the communities to kinda get back on their feet. I know this industry. I’ve been in this industry for almost 35 years. There are some great people in this industry and gun owners care. They really do care and I want to urge them to get out and help their community to recover and do what they can to get things right as quickly as possible.

The NSSF really stepped up and I’m really proud, including our member companies. If there are lapsed members or those considering membership, this is what NSSF does. We keep our industry in business, so join us. I am so proud of the work that our people did not only getting the critical infrastructure designation but also dealing with the ATF and getting that letter out to retailers and ranges.

It’s huge and I’m so proud of what our folks did. They really stepped up and I’m proud to be leading that team to be sure.

We thank Mr. Bartozzi for his time and attention. 

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