In the wake of the shooting in Aurora, it’s unsurprising that the demands have grown louder for restrictions to be placed on the purchase of the types of assault weapons that James Holmes allegedly used. But one thing that commentators have failed to note is just how much the pro-gun lobby’s resistance to such restrictions isn’t just a matter of ideology or cultural attachment, but a calculation of dollars and cents. Assault weapons are practically the only segment of the gun market that is still growing at a healthy rate.
Since gun sellers are not required by law to break down their sales by types of gun, it is impossible to determine just how prevalent assault weapons—generally defined as guns designed for use on a battlefield with high velocity magazines—are in the United States. But, according to Kristin Rand, the legislative director at the Violence Policy Center, assault weapons represent one of the healthiest parts of the shrinking gun industry. “The whole industry as a whole is on decline and the bright spot has been concealed carry weapons and assault rifles,” Rand said. “[These weapons] are certainly not designed as hunting weapons." A 2011 study from the Violence Policy Center, “A Shrinking Minority,” found that the percentage of American households that reported having any guns in their homes dropped more than 40 percent from 1977 to 2010.
Financial records of Freedom Group—the country’s largest manufacturer of firearms and ammunition—support Rand’s claim. (Freedom Group owns well-known gun companies like Remington and Bushmaster.) According to the company’s 2011 annual report, “demand for firearms, especially modern sporting rifles and handguns and ammunition has continued an upward trend in the industry.” (Gun manufacturers and others within the gun industry refer to assault rifles—the kind that Holmes used to shoot-up the movie theatre—as modern sporting rifles, a term that gun-control advocates say is a grossly misleading euphemism.)
Who’s purchasing these weapons and for what purpose? There’s a hint in the Freedom Group report, which states that that the company expects an uptick in sales as members of the military returning from war purchase firearms for “recreational use and to maintain training.” Indeed, a 2010 study of Modern Sporting Rifles (assault rifles), “Modern Sporting Rifles: A Comprehensive Consumer Report,” by the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that almost half of all modern sporting rifle owners are current or former members of the military or law enforcement. Furthermore, 60 percent of assault weapon owners report that they own multiple such rifles and primarily use them for recreational purposes.
A federal law banned assault weapons in 1994, but the law expired in 2004 and has not been renewed. Under the 1994 law, Holmes’ assault rifle and the magazines he used in the other guns would have been banned, The Los Angeles Times reported.
The NRA would not comment for the article, saying that “now is the time for families to grieve and for the community to heal.”