Latest Trends in the Firearm Industry
President Joe Biden’s nominee for Head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Chipman, was out of consideration earlier this month. Chipman, who once served as an ATF agent before becoming a noted gun control advocate, likely would not have managed to run the gauntlet of Congressional hearings. The problem, say gun rights advocates, was, ironically, Chipman’s allegiance to Biden’s extremist views on gun control: Despite being a gun owner, Chipman advocates a blanket ban on assault weapons and restrictions on high-capacity magazines. There is nothing new about these topics of conversation – all of the Democratic presidents in office since Clinton wanted to impose such bans.
But America’s tone on firearms is changing. And the scope of the message – that Americans suddenly see the need to arm and otherwise exercise their Amendment 2 rights – is being exposed by groups who previously would likely have advocated the type of gun control endorsed by Biden, Chipman becomes, and the federal democratic camp. Women make up almost half of new gun owners. Gun ownership among black men and women is also increasing rapidly. First-time buyers outnumber returned gun owners at the checkout by a factor of two to one. Sales soared to another record high in 2021 after the show stole nearly 40 million firearms in 2020. Importantly, none of this is due to the coronavirus pandemic – the mechanism largely attributed to yesterday’s gun sales boom.
No, these dates reflect a wider shift in the narrative of gun culture in America. And it goes exactly against the narrative of this president and his administration that in any other political setting would otherwise have likely been loaded with guns by the people – many of whom were Biden voters. And contrary to the anti-gun narrative put forward by officials, many buyers get their hands on the very guns whose existence is demonized by gun control advocates: tactical rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, and modern semi-automatic handguns.
Most worrying for the current government’s agenda is the burgeoning online sector of the firearms market: large ammunition dealers are reporting an unprecedented surge in demand, with some outlets seeing sales grow 590%. The bulk of these ammunition sales are attributed to just a few firearms derived from the calibers in their chamber: the AK-47 (which fires the 7.62x39mm cartridge), the AR-15 (which fires the 5.56 NATO – and .223 Remington cartridges) and 9 mm Parabellum, the most popular handgun charge. Much of these sales also go to historically hostile regions such as New Jersey and California. The demand for guns and ammunition remains so high that law enforcement agencies have reported problems with supplies to their departments.
It is guns like the AK-47 and AR-15 and the online guns industry that the Biden government targeted in the election campaign. The government’s nomination of Chipman showed they were serious. But avid gun owners and even first-time buyers have found it difficult to get their hands on guns. So much so that they don’t just buy firearms from Federal Firearms Licensed Dealers (FFLs). You build it from the ground up. And it’s completely legal, as the Gun Control Act of 1968 allows. This way, gun owners have a relatively simple process in acquiring firearms, as the ATF can only define a certain part of a firearm as “the weapon” itself. All other parts – barrels, pistons, trigger assemblies and the like – are logically not regulated. For example, instead of chasing an AR-15 with a high premium on its sticker, new gun owners are instead buying individual components – an AR15 sub-kit and an AR15 sub-divider – and pairing it with a barrel and the other parts needed to make a working rifle. But in this case the gun part of the thing isn’t fabricated. So it does not correspond to the definition of the ATF for a weapon. To get the thing done it takes tools and machines that avid gun owners have acquired. Yes, the arms market is so short of stocks and there is so great demand among constitutionally minded people (and the previously shy sections of the population who are tired of the unrest) for more flexibility in gun rights.
But unlike his predecessors, President Biden has taken his advocacy of gun control one step further. He wants to reintroduce the national ban on assault weapons and, as stated on his campaign page, effectively stop the online sale of firearms and ammunition. In his nomination for Chipman, Biden stood in step with the withdrawn nominee’s intention to redefine non-firearm parts as firearms and require those who manufacture guns privately to undergo the background review process by FFLs.
But Chipman’s nomination wasn’t withdrawn just because the Republicans got in the way. In an evenly divided Congress, Chipman needed every Democratic vote to pass the hearing glove. This could not be guaranteed either. This revelation represents a surprising, if subtle, change in gun control: the leaders of the moderate Democrats, influenced by their grassroots and barely adhering to the Senate, shy away from these topics of conversation that were once perfectly safe and increased their numbers in polls.
With the continuation of a leaching pandemic and a shift in policy directives distracting Washington from the issue of weapons, one thing is certain: this administration is losing base support on an issue that once guaranteed to boost voter turnout on election day. It remains to be seen whether Biden’s plan – or even whether he can occupy the chair of the ATF boss – will be implemented by 2024.