K A N S A S C I T Y, May 19, 2001 -- While the NRA is thriving, sales of handguns are falling.
This week the gun maker Smith & Wesson was bought for a fraction of its worth 10 years ago. Its decline is a sign of hard times for all American gun manufacturers.
At Adventure Outdoors, one of Georgia's biggest gun shops, these are not the best of times.
"This year, compared to last year, we've seen a drop of about 20 percent in sales," said Jay Wallace, the shop's owner.
Nationwide, sales have fallen dramatically. And the number of gun dealers is down two-thirds.
One reason for the decline may be a dramatic drop-off in crime.
"The nontraditional buyer who was buying for self-defense, for home protection, isn't there as much because violent crime has been going down so much," said Doug Painter of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The latest figures indicate that violent crime in the United States has declined to a 30-year low during the last decade. During that time, handgun manufacturing has fallen by more than 50 percent.
Another reason guns are in decline is the changing political landscape. Experts say when Democrats are in office, sales climb because gun buyers fear politicians will introduce legislation that will restrict the purchase of guns.
With the threat to American gun owners from the Congress or the White House substantially lowered, their immediate fear to buy more handguns, more long guns, has gone out the window," said Richard Feldman, a former gun industry lobbyist.
Lawsuits and Backlash
Making the situation even worse for gun makers, a flood of lawsuits against industry. More than two dozen lawsuits have been filed against the gun industry by counties and cities trying to recover damages they say are caused by gun violence.
One major gun manufacturer, Smith & Wesson, settled its lawsuits a year ago but has paid an unexpected price — rejection by gun buyers.
"We had a lot of people tell us they weren't happy with us," said Ken Jorgensen of Smith & Wesson. "It has had an effect. The whole industry has been off this year. But we've been off more than the average company."
Fourteen years ago, Smith & Wesson was purchased for $112 million. This past week, it sold for only $45 million.
The gun industry says it's working hard to attract a new generation of buyers. With Americans owning over two million guns, some believe the gun market has become saturated.