ATF collected the data and publishes it on their web site. The tables now exclude some data (military production, maybe), so the data is not perfect, but it's the best we have. Before I begin, I’m not a statistician and if anyone else wants to crunch these numbers, please give it a whirl.
Let’s compare the last year for which ATF has figures, 2004, and the first year that’s available, 1998. Data for 2004 is incomplete because a number of gun makers didn’t report. The data includes any company or licensed manufacturer who makes guns. A few made only one gun in 2004, so it’s probably a good assumption that most of these non-reporting makers are small fry.
With that caveat here are a couple of comparisons:
1998 Total Guns Made: 3,691,680 (excluding machine guns and “Any Other Weapon” that no longer appear in the statistics).Just to make sure the figures aren’t a fluke, here’s another comparison:
2004 Total Guns Made: 3,099,025.
1999 Total Guns Made: 4,047,747.In both comparisons, the numbers differ by more than 600,000 firearms. In both cases, gun makers are making fewer guns. Looking deeper into the data, handguns and shotguns were down while rifles were more or less the same over the comparison years.
2003 Total Guns Made: 3,308,404 (no mention of non-reportees).
Looking still deeper, the earlier years posted decent production numbers for companies that gun banners have run out of business; Lorcin, and Davis for instance. However, even manufacturing by “quality” makers trended down.
Here’s a chart:
Here’s a table that shows totals for all years and how ATF breaks down the numbers:
*First year in which machine guns and other NFA weapons were not counted.
To me, there are two explanations for this data: Gun makers are not making as many guns or military guns are not included in firearm counts after 2002. It’s probably a little of both.
So what did I come away with from my little exercise in arithmetic? Makers are making fewer guns although “quality” makers are barely holding their own. We’ve often read about people buying guns after 9/11 or Katrina. The figure for 2002 (first year in which a 9/11 sales increase would register) shows a surge that has now abated. Sales of used guns would, of course, not appear in these figures.
The gun industry has problems. Sales of new guns are tending downward and the market is probably saturated because guns are durable objects. Makers are trying to find new ways to compete: bigger, smaller, more powerful, etc. I think the trend will continue. Maybe gunnies ought to think about adding a new feature to Buy A Gun Day—Buy A NEW Gun Day.