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ATF Facts and Trends

There were some interesting tidbits of information in “Firearms Commerce in the United States 2011” published recently by the ATF.

Manufacturing – There are 5400 licensed firearms manufacturers in the United States.  Going through my web browser’s bookmarks, I clearly have only a small fraction of that number on my radar.

ATF logo

It stands to reason that if the USA is built on small business, so is the firearms industry.  While not everyone is a Remington, Ruger or Smith & Wesson, a manufacturer doesn’t need to be massive to be profitable.  There are a lot of small manufacturers that are building custom rifles, race guns and other niche firearms.  Thousands of them, actually.

Dealers – The number of licensed dealers is at a near historic low with only 47,664 FFLs issued.  In the ATF stats covering 1975 – 2010, only one year had fewer licensed dealers: 2009 with 47,509.

By way of comparison, there were 63,845 dealers in 2001.  This makes for a more than 25% decrease.

Collectors – The number of licensed collectors is significantly up as compared to years past.  In fact almost half (48%) of all FFLs are collectors.  Dealers and pawnbrokers (combined!) only make up 45% of all of the FFls.

By the end of 2010, there were more than 56,000 licensed collectors in the US – the most of any year on record.  In 2001, there were only 25,145.

Licensed collectors are able to have “antiques and curios” shipped directly to them instead of going through a local dealer and paying a transfer fee.  So, the $79 Mosin-Nagant 91/44 doesn’t get the $25-50 paperwork surcharge for the privilege of having a dealer do a NICS check.  It’s easy to see why enthusiasts would want a collector’s license.

AR: “America’s Rifle” – Taking a gander at the manufacturing numbers from 1986 – 2009 shows 2009 as the year with the largest number of firearms sold, beating out the famous 1994 pre-ban sales frenzy.  In 2009, there were more than 5.5 million firearms produced domestically.

In 2009 the number of pistols, revolvers and shotguns were all up significantly.  To beat the numbers produced in 2009, for pistols you had to go back to 1994 and to 1995 for revolvers.  But the clear “winner” was the rifle.

More than 2.2 million rifles rolled off the line in 2009, the biggest year in the 1986 – 2009 statistics provided.  What was also interesting was the “Misc. Firearms” category was also up significantly, and it was also the largest year in the numbers provided.  The Misc Firearms category includes receivers such as those stripped AR lowers.

The ATF stats do not break down the exact numbers of what kind of rifles were produced.  However, talk to any dealer who was doing business in 2009, and they will tell you that traditional hunting rifles collected dust on the shelves, while anything AR sold as quickly as they came off the UPS truck.

None of these stats include firearms manufactured under contract for the US military.

Other Facts

  • Virginia has the largest number of registered machine guns:  28,760.
  • Texas has the most suppressors (36,204) and short-barreled rifles (6,958).
  • Pennsylvania has more short-barreled shotguns (11,057) registered than any other state.
  • Oddly, California had the largest number of registered destructive devices:  195,423.  That was almost 50,000 more than the next closest state (Virginia).
  • Texas has the most number of FFLs:  8,383.

By Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson is a gun writer, amateur historian and - most importantly - a dad. He's done a lot of silly things in his life, but quitting police work to follow his passion of writing about guns was one of the smartest things he ever did. He founded this site and continues to manage its operation.

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