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Associated Press Handgun Prediction Premature?

Thursday, April 19, 2001

On April 14, an AP headline claimed, "Handgun industry dying in the U.S. - Sales are down and are not expected to improve". As evidence, AP noted, "Combined production for domestic and overseas handgun sales tumbled 52 percent from 1993 to 1999," according to "the latest data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms." (AP assumed that handgun production tracks precisely and concurrently with new handgun sales figures.)

AP`s article is misleading because it compares the number of handguns produced today for the civilian market (handguns manufactured and not exported, plus those imported) to the number in 1993, when handgun production reached what was, at that point, an all-time high. After averaging 2 million annually for the previous 10 years, handgun production spiked to 3.7 million in 1993, a figure more than 80% higher than the previous 10-yr. average.

The reason for the sharp increase in handgun production was public concern over the Brady Act, which in the 1992-1993 time frame was debated fiercely in Congress and covered heavily by the media. To put it simply, people turned out in record numbers to buy handguns, as a hedge against "gun control." The Act took effect on Feb. 28, 1994. Production was even higher in 1994 (3.75 million) as the rush to buy handguns continued. Since that time, however, annual production numbers have been slightly lower than those in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This is not the first time that handgun production has increased and decreased because of changes in the political climate. Beginning in 1979, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.) introduced legislation seeking, among many things, to require prospective handgun buyers to first obtain photo-ID permits-to-purchase from the police, to limit handgun purchases by a person to two per year, and to impose a 21-day waiting period on individual handgun purchases. And after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, new restrictions on handguns appeared more likely. In the five years before the Kennedy-Rodino legislation was introduced, handgun production had averaged 2 million per year, while between 1979-1982 production averaged 2.5 million per year, and in the following five years averaged only 1.8 million annually.

If AP erred in failing to explain fully handgun production statistics, it was somewhat more successful in identifying factors responsible for the trend, citing "market saturation" (discussed above) and the recent decrease in crime, noting that self-defense is the primary reason that people buy handguns.

However, AP suggested that handgun purchases have decreased because of restrictions imposed by the Brady Act. In fact, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only a small percentage of attempts to purchase firearms are rejected because of criminal record checks mandated by the Brady Act (See www.ojp.usdoj.gov./bjs/abstract/phc98.htm). And the number of privately owned firearms increased by 37 million between 1993-1999 (BATF, Crime Gun Trace Reports, 1999, National Report, 11/00). AP also cited a decrease in the number of small firearm dealers without noting that such dealers accounted for only a small share of gun sales.  Without basis, AP suggested that handgun sales may be down because of disgust over "shooting rampages." In fact, public reaction to such crimes has not been anti-gun, but instead has favored better enforcement of laws, better parenting, and less violence in the entertainment industry.

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