The Reload Analysis Newsletter

Members’ Newsletter: The New Normal for Gun Sales, and Chipman’s Chances

This is a week where I’m confident The Reload has lived up to the mission I created it to fulfill: break gun news that other outlets either can’t or won’t.

Our reporting remained at the center of a D.C. firestorm over President Joe Biden’s ATF nominee David Chipman. The Reload was first with a new letter from some of Chipman’s former colleagues telling the Senate Judiciary Committee not to confirm him. And our report on allegations he made racist comments while a manager in the agency’s Detroit office was entered into the official record of the committee.

The negative stories continued to mount for Chipman as I confirmed a recent report that Senator Angus King (I., Maine) told the White House he won’t vote for the nominee. That leaves him short of the 50 votes needed for confirmation. But gun-control advocates have stressed King and other moderates haven’t said no in public yet. So, they’re hoping he can still be confirmed.

I looked at the whole picture to see where his nomination stands today. And I brought on National Review’s David Harsanyi to explore the possibilities in-depth on the podcast.

But, before I get to all of that, let’s take a look at the latest gun sales numbers and what they tell us about the near future for the biggest companies.

Guns for sale at a Virginia gun store
Guns for sale at a Virginia gun store / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: The New Normal for Gun Sales [Member Exclusive]

A trend has emerged.

July 2021 saw a decrease in FBI background checks on gun sales from July 2020, according to an industry analysis. The same was true for June. And May before that.

It’s also true that 2021 saw the second-highest level of checks for all those months. Thus, the trend. It seems we’ve settled into a new normal for gun sales.

2021 looks like it will see sales that don’t quite match the all-time records from last year, but not far off either.

Oddly, the biggest gun and ammo makers aren’t seeing the downturn–however modest it may be–at all. In fact, two of the biggest publicly-traded companies just reported incredible profit increases over 2020. Ruger saw gross profits jump 98 percent. Winchester’s parent company went from a $220 million loss to a $599 million profit over the same period.

Winchester’s success likely comes down to the fact that it mostly makes ammo. That part of the industry is still seeing huge demand it likely won’t catch up with for years. And its sales aren’t captured in background check data.

Ruger is a more interesting situation. They primarily sell guns, and all new sales are captured in background check data. So, why did their profits jump so much even as FBI checks decreased?

The company ventured three guesses that sound reasonable. CEO Christopher J. Killoy pointed to “strong consumer demand for the Company’s products,” “increases in production for each of the past seven quarters,” and the “introduction of new products that have been met with strong demand.”

When stock got light, many gun stores put whatever brands they could find on the shelf. Perhaps when big brands such as Ruger began catching back up with demand, people gravitated back towards their guns over the lesser-known brands. Ruger also reported its sales pipeline is still low on inventory even today.

So, it’s safe to say they probably aren’t going to see sales slide for a while.

Sales were always bound to regress from the all-time records of 2020. But the question was always where things would level out. Now, it looks like we’ve found the new normal, and it’s one the gun companies–especially the biggest ones–are going to be happy with.

Podcast: National Review’s David Harsanyi on Biden’s ATF Nominee David Chipman [Member Early Access]

On this episode, I talk to David Harsanyi of National Review about the many recent developments in David Chipman’s nomination to lead the ATF.

A firestorm has descended on D.C. and The Reload’s reporting on Chipman has been at the center of it. Things have moved quickly over the past week. So, I wanted to bring on Harsanyi to analyze what’s going on because he is one of the top gun columnists out there. And he knows how D.C. politics actually work in real life.

He gave some talked about how reactions from Democrats, the White House, and the media give insight into what direction Chipman’s nomination is headed. And it doesn’t look good for him.

I also give an update on where gun sales are at in 2021 versus the all-time highs of 2020. Are we reaching a new normal? If so, what does that look like?

You can listen to the full episode or download it by clicking here.

Or you can watch it on Youtube by clicking here.

A sign outside the headquarters of the ATF
A sign outside the headquarters of the ATF / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Where Does David Chipman’s Nomination Stand Now? [Member Exclusive]

A lot has happened with President Joe Biden’s ATF director nomination these last two weeks.

His pick, David Chipman, faced a torrent of new negative stories. First, The Reload published a report corroborating the existence of allegations he made racist remarks while at the agency. Then, a group of retired agents came out against his nomination over concerns about his temperament and gun-control advocacy. And another report found he did not disclose an appearance on Chinese state media to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

His confirmation is still in the committee because Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has yet to call him to the floor for a full vote.

After his confirmation hearing all the way back in May, I tried to answer the question of whether he’s likely to get 50 votes. At the time, I said the odds were likely in his favor. After all, Democrats just need to get their own Senators in line to vote for him.

But, as time dragged on and he remained in limbo, I said the odds were growing longer. In D.C., bills or confirmations that linger tend to atrophy and die.

Compare Chipman’s path to another controversial nominee: Tracy Stone-Manning. Like Chipman, The nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management is opposed by every Republican Senator. Unlike him, though, she got all 50 Democrats to vote to advance her nomination. She’s likely to be confirmed on Monday despite having her confirmation hearing after Chipman and facing equally intense opposition.

Chipman’s chances have only continued to wither since then. The influx of new questions about his character raised by former colleagues has not helped. His refusal or inability to respond probably isn’t helping things either.

And we’re starting to see signs the end may be near.

USA Today reported on Wednesday that gun-control advocates were making a new push to convince holdouts, including Senators Angus King (I., Maine), Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), and Jon Tester (D., Mont.), to come around on Chipman. They reportedly wanted a vote to be held before the Senate went into recess early next week.

But by Thursday, Durbin shot down that idea, and hopes seemed to have wained. Then gun-control advocates began airing their frustrations in public.

“The White House has really dropped the ball here and if Chipman is not confirmed that will be a significant letdown to survivors of gun violence across the country — and will have the effect of undermining their effort to reduce gun homicides,” Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, told Politico. “Biden told us during the campaign trail that this is a priority and the administration insists that he is in charge of driving this issue. He needs to step on the accelerator.”

Suffice to say, public recriminations likely mean this is over. The gun-control groups would not be out attacking Biden if they thought there was any real chance Chipman would be confirmed. It sounds like the Senate Democrats and the White House are now at odds with the gun-control groups over whether they can actually get him through.

Of course, it’s never really over until it’s over. Things look terrible for him, but Chipman’s nomination hasn’t actually been withdrawn yet. And, as I said back in May, things can change on a dime in Washington.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I’ll talk to you all again soon.

Stephen Gutowski
The Reload

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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