What Spithaler confirmed as a market collapse was entirely relative; sales of Olympic Arm rifles are down from the dizzying pace at the height of the rush, but sales are still higher than they were in the months leading up to the 2008 elections.Stag Arms, a manufacturer that builds ARs for both right- and left-handed shooters, states that “collapse” is too harsh a word. Like Olympic, Stag has seen sales return to pre-election levels. Arthur Steadman at ArmaLite says that their operation is also faring well.
Like the bigger names, niche-market AR builders have seen sales affected by the surge and decline of market forces, and each responds differently.
Richard Falen of Quality Arms of Idaho reports his sales increasing 30%-40% per month even now for his smaller shop which specializes in a handful of specific AR models. This is due in no small measure to having lower overhead and being able to charge lower prices than some of the larger and much better known brands. In Tennessee, Jim Ruiz of Predator Custom Shop was thankful for the rush on ARs in the past year while it lasted, but was even more thankful that he specializes in long range accurized bolt-action rifles that have been the bulk of his business since the lower and mid-range of the market become flooded with inexpensive rifles.
Patriot Ordnance Factory is a high-end manufacturer of an AR variant that uses a gas-piston system that enables their rifles to run cooler and longer than the traditional AR gas system. It has also developed a more robust .308 caliber weapons-system based on a forerunner of the AR-15, the AR-10. While still selling the AR-based P415 rifles, their P308 is in very high demand.
Indeed, it seems that while “bargain bin” M4 clones are presently in decline, there is a building market for AR variants, such as rifles in different calibers than the standard 5.56NATO/.223 Remington.
Ben Triplett of Bison Armory runs a specialized “semi-custom shop” dedicated to selling high-end AR barrels and upper receivers (the more expensive top half of the gun) in just one caliber, 6.8 SPC. That a builder can be successful building and selling half of a gun, in a non-standard caliber, suggests that something else may be at play in the market.
A conversation with Michael Curlett of Sabre Defence seemed to confirm what most manufacturers, builders, and custom shops were seeing from their own unique perspectives. In general, it seems to be the smaller builders who assemble “vanilla” M4 variants from parts they buy from others who are suffering from the deflation of the AR market bubble, but the “bubble” is far from burst.
In fact, gun buyers that purchased ARs for the first time in the past year seem to have fallen in love with the design. Instead of buying a second basic model, however, they are returning to the market in search of more refined and specialized variants, or variants in other calibers. The market, instead of collapsing, seems to be transforming.
Josh Sugarmann may be right in that we’re seeing a leveling off of sales of the more utilitarian AR designs, but considering the attention being lavished on high-end competition-focused carbines, tactical rifles, and hunting models, claiming that this evolving and growing market is in collapse is an exercise in self-deception.