Gun sales appear to be slipping yet again after the Obama surge, with federal gun background checks dropping more than 20 percent last month — the biggest monthly percentage decline in more than three years.
With President Trump now firmly in office, the fear of new federal controls that could restrict ownership has faded, said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
“Gun owners no longer feel highly threatened by the Obama administration or by a future Hillary Clinton administration,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “As a result, the rush to buy guns is no longer there.”
The number of purchases run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, dropped from about 2.2 million in July 2016 to 1.7 million last month, marking the seventh time in the eight full months since Mr. Trump’s election that there’s been a month-to-month drop. Mr. Obama oversaw 19 straight months of increases toward the tail end of his time in office.
Mr. Trump had run in part on his support for gun rights, securing the National Rifle Association’s earliest-ever presidential endorsement. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, had advocated stricter controls on the campaign trail.
Storm Ruger CEO Christopher Killoy said on a recent conference call with analysts that summers are also traditionally a tougher time for sales and that the industry is returning to a more normalized, seasonal pattern.
He did acknowledge, though, that demand had slowed “considerably” in the second quarter compared to the same period last year, in the midst of the presidential election, and that some of the election-related sales boom could have enticed buyers to speed up their purchases last year, rather than wait.
“I think there was a big hangover coming off the election cycle, for sure, that had to be worked off,” Mr. Killoy said on the call, according to Fox Business Network.
Other gun-rights supporters acknowledge the July drop, but say the checks are still near the recent historically high levels. The 1.7 million federal checks in July were the second-highest total ever for the month.
“One would think the demand for purchasing guns is waning if you only compare this year’s totals to last year’s all-time highs,” said Erich Pratt, executive director for Gun Owners of America. “But during every month this year, gun sales have either set a new record — as seen in May — or they have come in second or third place.”
The records run through NICS aren’t a one-to-one correlation to gun sales, but are often used as a general approximation for the market.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation does its own monthly calculations that subtract out some permit checks to provide a better sense of the market, and calculated an even bigger percentage drop — 25 percent — in July from the previous year.
“While down from the 2016 all-time record, this past July was the third highest on record and 2017 is still on track to be a strong year on a historic basis,” NSSF spokesman Michael Bazinet said in an email.
But gun control advocacy groups say firearms companies and gun-rights advocates are grappling with the loss of their “bogeyman” in the White House in Mr. Obama.
“The gun manufacturers’ lobby and the NRA leadership spent $30 million to elect Donald Trump as president and, in the process, lost their best selling point: fear,” said Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.