Gun Conglomerate Pulls IPO, Latest Bad News for Firearms Industry

In the latest evidence that despite the gun industry's essentially unchallenged chest thumping that things are going great, really great for firearm manufacturers, a giant dose of reality reared its ugly head last Friday when America's largest gun conglomerate, Freedom Group, canceled a long-delayed IPO (Initial Public Offering).

And Freedom Group isn't just any gun company. In fact, as measured by its own market position and market share descriptions, the self-described "largest manufacturer of commercial firearms and ammunition" works to present itself as just about every gun company.

The companies that comprise Freedom Group run the gamut from manufacturers of traditional sporting arms to military-style assault weapons. Included are such mainline gun industry stalwarts as Remington, Marlin, Harrington & Richardson, and New England Firearms. At the other end of the spectrum, Freedom Group also includes leading AR15-type assault weapon manufacturers Bushmaster and DPMS. Freedom Group states that it has the number one U.S. market position in shotguns (31 percent), ammunition (33 percent), traditional rifles (37 percent), and "modern sporting rifles" (48 percent). ("Modern sporting rifle" is the latest nom de jour that the gun industry has dubbed assault weapons, a rebranding effort that's been about as successful as Freedom Group's IPO.)

For anyone who's been watching the gun industry as a whole, and Freedom Group in particular, the withdrawal of the IPO -- amidst a cratering gun market and ongoing leadership changes at the company that reek of panic -- is no big surprise.

According to Freedom Group's 2010 annual report:

Net sales for the year ended December 31, 2010 were $386.6 million, a decrease of $121.5 million, or 23.9%, as compared to the year ended December 31, 2009. Centerfire rifle sales decreased by $108.1 million, or 30.9%, as compared to the prior-year period, primarily due to reduced sales demand for modern sporting products as the 2009 surge ended and sales returned to more historical levels. Shotgun sales decreased by $6.7 million, or 5.7%, as compared to the prior-year period. Rimfire rifle sales decreased by $5.9 million, or 18.2%, as compared to the prior-year period.

Without doubt, gun industry apologists both official (the National Shooting Sports Foundation) and unofficial (the National Rifle Association) will find some rationale to explain how a planned gazillion dollar deal offered as validation of both the vitality of the gun industry and the proven, yes proven, demand for guns has frittered away into a financial footnote.

Maybe, like the ever-optimistic Spinal Tap, they can claim that they've chosen to become more selective in their appeal.

Or maybe freedom's just another word for nothing left to shoot.