Valuable Glimpses Into The Gun Market

Jun 25, 2013
A news release in this morning's edition has the announcement of the National Shooting Sports Foundation's report on 2012's first-time gun buyers. The news release talks about insight, but having spent time in the internals of the report, it's a very interesting insight into the "new gun culture".>
The NSSF's Report on First Time Gun Buyers. It will shake some misconceptions.
It's also confirmation of something I've said before but have only had anecdotal evidence to backup: today's new gun buyer definitely isn't the gun buyer of only a few years ago.

How so? There are several reasons laid out statistically in the new report (it's available free to NSSF members and can be purchased by non-members through the NSSF) and they point to what I believe is a key fact: today's first-time gun buyer isn't buying primarily because he or she is afraid guns won't be available later. It is a factor, but not the deciding one.

Today's first time buyer is purchasing a gun for a variety of reasons (more on that in a minute) but one of the primary drivers is their being convinced they need to be responsible for their own defense.

Doesn't read like much in a line by itself, but when you look at the ripple of that statistic, it doesn't give a resounding endorsement to the state of today's government. It does, however, point to the fact that many in our so-called soft society aren't prepared to go quietly if it ever comes down to the fight or flight scenario.

And the new research into what the first-time buyer is buying in that initial purchase might go a long way toward explaining-again- one reason some ammunition is difficult to find. Instead of the "old" first-time buyer who may or may not have bought a box or two of ammo to go along with their gun, the new buyer is spending nearly an equal amount on accessories. Meaning holsters, safe/responsible storage, and ammunition.

They're not buying them for the sock drawer -or "just in case" -today's first-timer is buying them to SHOOT, whether it be learning to shoot in a self-defense or mandated concealed carry training session, or participation in one of the many organized shooting sports.

That's big, and points out the fact that the industry has several things it must do to keep new shooters engaged in the sport.

First, they say they rely on store staff for initial information and buying assistance. That means stores have to teach counter staff to listen to the potential buyer, pay attention to their concerns and desires, and then be a helper, not a high-pressure salesman. Another thing we can't afford is the well-worn stereotype of a counter salesman who listens to the customer tell them what they want then looks them dead in the eye and says "that's absolutely wrong. You don't care about the way it fits your hand, how it operates or the recoil you're sensitive to- you're buying a gun to shoot someone when they break in your house, so you want all the power you can get in a handgun."

OK, you think I'm exaggerating, but I've heard a salesman say pretty much the same thing - in nearly identical terms to first-time buyers. Especially if they happened to be female. Thankfully, he's no longer working where he can interact with customers. Some very knowledgeable gun people really DO belong in the back of the store or in their basements writing their screeds for discussion boards for their "fave" gun.

Here's some bottom line information pulled from the NSSF report: When discussing a gun with today's potential first-time buyer, practicality is paramount -and value is a major driver in their purchasing decision. Brand, caliber, style, options and power are - get ready for this one- secondary conditions relative to fit, quality and value.

It's particularly true for women - and their primary motivations according to this report- are defense and self-sufficiency. They are buying for purely practical reasons and sticking to activities that support their goal. That means target practice and training for concealed carry licenses.

And that opens the door for an observation that once again points out our continued assertion that the industry- especially in competition shooting- must reach out to women in order to connect with them. Otherwise, they're not going to be interested in doing anything outside their primary purpose-self defense.

There is a wealth of information contained in this latest NSSF study. Far beyond what we could hope to cover in a single feature-length story. But there are some fascinating statistical observations we will be talking more about in the future. They include the fact that one-third or fewer of first-time gun buyers are active in hunting, practical pistol shooting and clay sports.

But the encouraging fact is that a significant number of them have tried those activities- and liked them. To the point that 60% of first-time buyers describe themselves as "active" in shooting, and one-in-five lists the activity level at once per week-or more.

Target shooting was more cited more than twice as often (84.3% versus 37.7%) as their favorite activity, but a significant number of participants in both say they're going to increase their participation. That means we have an opportunity to add new shooters and hunters going forward. It also drives a stake through the heart of anti-gun groups' statement that Americans are increasingly against firearms. In fact, the opposite of that is true.

Primary motivators are home defense (87.3%) self-defense (76.5%) and the desire to go shooting with family or friends (73.2%).
Selections for purchasing weren't motivated by caliber, brand, style, power and the things we normally focus on when talking guns. They were driven by fit, quality and value- a "military" or "cowboy" look, collectability, "a cool factor" or "having seen it on TV' didn't even show up as important in their selections. They may matter later, but they don't matter to the neophyte.

Average first-time expenditures were about $1,030. But only half of that went to guns. The rest went to accessories, including cleaning products/kits and eye/ear protection and gun locks. All those point toward a significant assumption we can make about first-time buyers: they intend to USE their new guns.

That's what should be encouraging all of us to welcome them into shooting.

There's much more there, but we'll be talking about this one for some time to come.

--Jim Shepherd