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In the past, talk of any type of gun control would send gun sales soaring. But in recent months, the long-term outlook for the gun industry has become more ambiguous. Remington Arms, the American gun company that's been doing business since 1816, has announced that it is filing for bankruptcy. And other gun companies may be in trouble, as well. Alain Stephens is with member station KUT and part of NPR's criminal justice team, and he brings us this report.
MICHAEL CARGILL: This is your Ruger .308.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUN CLICKING)
CARGILL: And these were very difficult to get, you know, while President Obama was in office.
ALAIN STEPHENS, BYLINE: Michael Cargill owns and operates Central Texas Gun Works. It's a gun store in Austin. He shows me around some of his inventory, which is fully stocked - AR-15s, Glocks, shotguns. And that Ruger he mentioned - it's not hard to get anymore.
CARGILL: And now it's great. It - they're offering wonderful deals.
STEPHENS: Because for the first time in years, gun shops all across the country have more guns than buyers, and everything is priced to move.
CARGILL: If you buy six of these, you get one gun free.
STEPHENS: AR-15s with prices slashed by nearly 50 percent; buy one gun, get free magazines; ammo, flashlights - anything to draw in customers. Across the nation, gun sales are down. We'll get to the reasons why in a minute, but let's see how that looks for the gun industry. American Outdoors Brand (ph), formerly known as Smith & Wesson, saw its stock price plunge 70 percent since 2016. Sturm, Ruger - down by 40 percent. And, of course, Remington, a company in business for two centuries, has filed for bankruptcy protection. So what's going on here? Well, a couple of things. To start, there's a glut in the market, then new products that no one really wanted, and, of course, politics. Robert Farago is a gun enthusiast and runs the blog The Truth About Guns. He says in 2016, gun companies planned for another explosion in sales.
ROBERT FARAGO: The gun manufacturers ramped up production. They figured, this is it, the mother lode. We're going to get another one just like we did the Obama surge. We're going to get another Hillary surge.
STEPHENS: But that didn't happen. They got Donald Trump. To understand the significance of that, you have to look at the history of gun sales under the Obama administration. Gun manufacturers saw record profits stoked partly by gun rights groups claiming Obama wanted to take away their guns. Calls for gun control after several high-profile mass shootings fueled sales even more. To give you a picture, the FBI processed 8 million background checks for gun purchases in 2005. By 2017, that jumped to 25 million.
JURGEN BRAUER: That's a tripling of the market over the last 10, 12 years. That's a dramatic increase.
STEPHENS: Jurgen Brauer is an emeritus professor at Augusta University in Georgia. He says it's been the opposite with President Trump. Gun owners have been more confident about their gun rights. What happened in the presidential election shows how tricky it is when companies try to predict demand based on politics.
BRAUER: It really puts quite an enormous strain on you and makes long-term planning difficult.
STEPHENS: Brauer says that the industry is now going through a correction. But the politics that propelled gun sales haven't gone away. The recent shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., has mobilized students who are demanding action, vowing to not give up until lawmakers pass tangible gun control measures. For NPR News, I'm Alain Stephens in Austin.
(SOUNDBITE OF TSUNEO IMAHORI'S "BIG BLUFF")
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