USA Still the Biggest Consumer of Firearms, Imports Up

Commentary by Al Jones

Monthly Rifle Imports June 2011 - May 2012
Monthly Rifle Imports June 2011 – May 2012

Editors Note: NSSF recently released their USITC Firearms and Ammuntion Import & Export Data Reports for May 2012, please view the links below for complete data.

USA –-( It’s a booming time for gun sales in the USA, with significant growth since about 2005, but given the reduction in both military and military contractors, law enforcement agency budgets, compounded by lower consumer confidence/purchasing power it’s puzzling what the latest firearms importation figures show.

Recent NSSF reports comparing year to year numbers through May 2012 show 92,000 more pistols were imported to the U.S. for a 68% jump over the previous year, while revolver imports jumped 126% or about 17,000 more revolvers. Much of that is probably strong Springfield XD/XDM sales (Croatia-made), Glocks (Austria), SigSauers (Switzerland), Berettas (Italy), and FNH Browning 5.7’s.

While the Europeans make it difficult generally for civilian consumers to own pistols they certainly are enthusiastic about the jobs and tax revenues for manufacturing them for export.

The revolver jump is probably mostly attributable to Taurus Judge revolvers (Brazil) and perhaps the new Chiappa revolver with the barrel attached to the bottom chamber of the cylinder for superior ergonomics.

On a positive sign for exports, America’s handgun sales outside the U.S. jumped 115% or about 25,000 units (so we shipped out 44,000 and shipped in 257,000 which sounds like “free trade” to me.) Semi-auto pistols were most of that jump, most likely Smith & Wesson and Ruger as sales of their new models have been impressive, and don’t forget that no one makes as many variations of John Browning’s 1911 .45acp pistol as America does. On a disappointing note, only 2200 American revolvers shipped out of the U.S. which given the many models marketed by Ruger, S&W, Colt, USFA, and Freedom Arms, it is sad that many of the revolvers that sound like they’re U.S.-made are made in Italy, Germany, or Brazil.

Rifle imports jumped 143% from 40,000 to 97,000 compared to last year.
While fine traditional hunting rifles continue to be made across Europe, it’s likely much of this import number was CZ-USA and Tikka bolt action rifles or semi-automatic rifles like those from SigSauer (Swiss) FNH SCAR (Belgium), Heckler & Koch (Germany), Steyr-AUG (Austria) and Kalashnikovs.

Unless, it was all 1891 Moisin Nagants (Belgian designed, Soviet, Winchester, and Remington-made) which it could well have been for how well these cheap, accurate, reliable loss-leaders have been selling from Cabela’s to very small dealer’s racks. Not sure if the Moisins got counted in this or not. As the State Department was fretting over bringing back 90,000 American-made Garand rifles from South Korean military armories for civilian sales and that’s equivalent to ONE MONTH’s import of comparatively expensive rifles with comparable or superior performance,

Federal government thinking remains elusive since they handle the permits for all small arms going in and out, from shiploads of free machine guns for our “allies” in Pakistan to high end African big game rifles.

Rifle exports were up 27% but that’s just 6,700 more rifles than the 24,000 last May 2011. Given that most civilian rifle manufacturing of all types remains concentrated in the U.S., it suggests just how small and difficult to reach the rest of the world’s civilian rifle market is.  Overseas dealers tell me, the lack of hunting access and shooting ranges constrains the international recreational target shooting markets.

Shotgun imports continue to decline with 52,000 coming in and 15,000 going out. The basic consumer shotguns remain the cheapest long guns.  Turkey, Croatia, Russia, and China are making increasing numbers of American brands and their own brands of shotguns. Whether the adaptation of the Kalashnikov to shotgun shells, as seen by Saiga, or the Marlin lever-action rifle design to .410, as seen by Taurus, will revive this category, like home defense short-barrel/long-magazine shotguns have in the past 20 years, remains to be seen?

Ammunition Imports
Shotgun shells came in nearly 30% higher in imports and in exports so apparently either a lot more clay pigeons are dying out there or shooters are stocking up on shells beyond the occasional box or two. Shotgun ammunition or shotshells are little affected by the shortages in rifle and handgun ammunition since it’s made on different production lines.

With shotguns, heavily recommended for anti-zombie defense, sales could really pick up after “World War Z” comes out next year starring Brad Pitt and written by Mel Brooks’ son. Movies have more influence on which guns sell than politicians.

Cartridge imports were up 39% from 170 million units to 237 million units (I don’t know if that’s individual rounds or boxes of 20/50 rounds?) European ammunition manufacturers Sellier & Bellot, Fiocchi, Wolf, Tula, etc. really gained a lot of shelf space during the ammunition shortages the past few years while South Korean PMC has broadened from military rounds to many more civilian rounds and regained a lot of shelf space. We exported 63 million units, down a bit.

The U.S. is the biggest civilian ammunition market, so exporting isn’t that attractive or there weren’t many spare boxes to sell.

For a look at the raw data visit the links below:

About Al Jones

Al Jones has worked with many parts of Shooting Sports and other industries over 30 years as a management team member or advisor on buisness growth. He can be found on LinkedIn, email at  [email protected], or on his blog is