Ramon Amoureux has been in the gun business for decades and through a lot of elections. And, as he knows well, his bottom line shifts with the political winds.
“Gun sales are based on politics in many ways,” Amoureux said. “And prices are based on politics, unfortunately.”
Firearms sales are sluggish these days and, strangely enough, you can probably blame one of the most pro-gun presidents America has seen.
Few businesses’ fortunes are as tied to elections and major news events like school shootings as the gun industry. And with the field for the 2020 presidential contest taking shape, those in the business are closely watching the race.
Amoureux is a longtime Idaho gun show promoter. He started working with his late father in the early 1980s and now puts on several shows a year with his wife and son. At one of his recent shows at a National Guard armory in Caldwell, Idaho, tables were filled with full of pistols, rifles and antique weapons.
In between questions, he chit-chatted with customers, answering even the most technical questions in arcane detail.
“It’s a Rocky Mountain made in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s the original, the company’s been sold three times,” he said, holding up a dainty, but functional, novelty pistol barely the length of an index finger. “Shoots .22 short rifles, it’s a five shot and you’ve to pull the hammer back each time.”
Amoureux knows what makes the firearms industry tick. He cheered on Donald Trump as he ran on a strongly pro-gun agenda and saw Republicans skeptical of gun control take both chambers of Congress in 2016.
But Amoureux says a firearms-friendly administration has been a bust for sales.
“Obama was a good salesman for the gun industry,” he said, laughing. “When he was in office my gun sales went through the roof. And I like President Trump, but he’s not a good gun salesman for us.”
According to numbers from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry group, gun sales spiked in 2009, after the election of Barack Obama.
They rose again in 2013 after his re-election and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
And the pattern continued in 2016, when most people assumed Hillary Clinton would beat Donald Trump and sales rose once more.
There is some evidence for high profile mass shootings boosting sales, though one recent study also showed dips after some shootings.
“I dare say that there are few other industries that have to deal with these volatile swings in demand for their products,” said Jurgen Brauer, founder of Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting, which tracks the gun industry.
Brauer says recent swings in sales have been driven by fear of increased gun control and led many in the industry to make costly business decisions.
“The fear of Mrs. Clinton possibly being elected stoked firearms demand,” he said. “But then as we know someone else took office and essentially suppliers oversupplied and buyers overbought.”
While for gun owners that just meant a few more firearms around the house, that miscalculation cost some small gunmakers their businesses.
“In the current downturn in the industry, companies have started to close down, particularly the smaller ones,” Brauer said. “Others, the larger ones, Sturm Ruger would be an example, simply retrench and layoff a large portion of their workforce in whom they may have invested a significant amount of capitol in training.
He said gun owners, too, often stockpile before elections, but not everyone has the money for that.
Andrew Wilson of Boise, Idaho, said he can’t afford to buy a few rifles every election cycle.
“It always makes me wish I had a few thousand bucks laying around just in case so I could make sure I have what I needed,” he said.
But with some Democratic politicians supporting restricting high-capacity magazines, he’s thinking of buying a few of those.
And after seeing stores get cleaned out of ammunition before and after past elections, he now keeps an ammo reserve at home.
“I have a minimum amount for every caliber of gun I own that I just never touch,” he said. “I’ve got a box that just sits there for each caliber that I won’t go into just in case there’s another scare like that then I’ll at least have something.”
Now, as an increasingly crowded field lines up for 2020, some Democratic hopefuls are proposing gun control measures such as universal background checks. That would mean only Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders could sell guns. No more so-called gun show loophole and a potential hit to the gun show business.
“Yeah, I think it would affect gun show business because it’d be nice if all the gun show dealers were FFL holders,” Amoureux said, “but you’re going to find more than 50% of them are private sellers.”
Heading into the election cycle, sellers like Amoureux are bracing for more potential volatility in the gun business. But he and other gun sellers will have to wait and see if his customers buying habits ebb and flow with the ever-changing polls.
Despite the short-term threat to sales from the election of gun-friendly candidates, though, he’s still rooting for Trump.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.