Federal records show Oklahoma ranked among the Top 10 in the nation in gun sales last year, and with the permitless-carry law effective Nov. 1 it’s only natural to wonder what it is that all these Oklahomans are buying and carrying.
The Tulsa World informally polled local gun shops on what they would say are their top 10 sellers over the past 10 years and what they observe in sales trends. Five local shops shared their information, but major box store outlets, Bass Pro Shops and Academy Sports declined to participate.
The security methods and systems company Security.org compiled figures from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System as part of its study “Gun Country: Where in the U.S. Are Guns Most Popular” and Oklahoma ranked No. 9 among all states for sales per 1,000 adults at 97.4.
Sales here are similar to those in states like Tennessee and North Dakota. Top-ranked states were Montana at 141.9 and Alaska with 140.1. New Jersey and the District of Columbia sat near the bottom with 13.5 and 5.8 sales per 1,000 adults, respectively.
To a person, local gun dealers said permitless carry certainly is fodder for gun shop talk these days, but none could put a finger on it as a clear reason for increased sales.
“People that are going to buy guns are already going to buy guns,” said Jason Perryman, manager at 2A Shooting Center. “We get, maybe, two or three a week lately who’ve said something about looking for something a little smaller to carry after Nov. 1.”
Security.org reports that Oklahoma’s annual sales per 1,000 people grew 24.2% between 2008 and 2018. While background-check numbers include gun sales of all kinds, the word from local gun counters is the higher volume sales do go to the concealed-carry firearms, especially in the most recent years.
A variety of concealed-carry pistols top the list, along with semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and AK-47 that dominated panic sales during the presidency of Barack Obama, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, and just prior to Hillary Clinton’s loss to President Donald Trump in 2016.
Longtime Sports World manager Chris Floyd said it’s obvious newer styles of rifles and pistols are taking the place of what longtime Oklahomans might consider “standard.”
Joe Wanenmacher, who has owned and operated the world’s largest gun show for most of his 85 years, reflected on the obvious change in firearms sales he’s seen in the past few decades, although he added that collectors always will seek out a wide variety of firearms.
“Certainly it’s settled on the AR-15 lookalikes and you could name several of those, then concealable weapons have been really the big sellers, certainly since Oklahoma went to concealed and open carry (in 2012),” he said.
Fading but never going away are the trusty old .357 magnum revolver, the .44 magnum revolvers made popular by the “Dirty Harry” movies and the old lever-action or bolt-action rifle that was standard equipment in just about every ranch hand’s pickup truck. A trusty pump shotgun will always be part of the sales picture, it just doesn’t dominate the scene like it did a few decades back.
“It’s the AR-15 now. That’s become the workhorse,” Floyd said. “Most of my buddies in their ranch trucks are carrying ARs. If they run across a group of 15 or 20 (feral) hogs they want to kill more than one. It’s the modern style of rifle now.”
Never-ending improvements in technology and models continue to drive sales of concealable firearms. And with the personal nature of a firearm that is carried on a daily or near-daily basis, those alterations in weight, comfort and performance make a difference.
Josh White, manager at Dong’s Guns and Ammo, said the Glock 19, which replaced the Glock 17 as a smaller version with equal firepower, was the handgun to have for years and still likely is the gun carried by thousands of people, but there is always a newer, smaller model.
“Plenty are still carrying it, it’s probably the top seller in the past 10 years. But at this point it’s not, it’s the Glock 43, which is slimmer, smaller,” he said.
Competing directly with that Glock is a new model from Sig Sauer which is smaller, yet has the room in its magazine to hold more rounds.
“It’s twice the capacity, so that’s something that’s really attractive to people,” Floyd said.
Shotguns for home defense and for hunting still make the list, as do bolt-action rifles, but don’t expect to see as many that look like your father’s pretty, wood-grained hunting guns. Many are in a combat black or camouflage with tough composite stocks.
Favored calibers are changing, also. Where the Oklahoma standards may have been, debatably, the .30-30, .30-06 and .270 calibers, now it’s the 6.5mm Creedmoor and .300 Blackout — very likely on an AR-10 rifle frame and sporting a suppressor on the end of the barrel and a night-vision scope on top.
“A lot of the firearms now come with options like threaded barrels,” said Robert Vavrinak, salesman at Woodland Sports, the state’s largest seller of suppressors.
People are discovering the value of suppressors (often incorrectly called “silencers”) used on guns for home protection because firing a gun inside a home deafens everyone, especially the person firing the weapon. Also, when hunting hogs the suppressor adds to success because “one shot doesn’t scare all the game away,” he said.
The U.S. military and law enforcement often indicate trends with firearms, and recently the trend is to move back to 9mm after years using .40 caliber pistols, according to Perryman.
The large public contracts with police and military units are reported and gun enthusiasts take note and follow suit — or at least go shopping. The design of the guns makes a difference but it’s actually the ammunition that makes those designs possible, and ignite yet another shift in firearms technology and new customer demands, Perryman said.
“That’s been happening through about the past 10 years,” he said. “Because of bullet technology you get more capacity, the ammo is cheaper, and the guns are lighter and smaller in size. There are all kinds of pluses there.”