"Sporting Purposes", economics, and the shooting sports

My friend and part-time nemesis Joe Huffman has a post where some guy trots out the old “no sporting purpose for handguns” line; the same line that’s been heard over and over again.  Joe does an excellent job of feeding the guy his lunch, so if that’s what you’re interested in, click the link to head over to Joe’s place.  What I wanted to focus on was the actual sporting use of handguns – Joe correctly mentions IDPA, USPSA, Steel Challenge, and a whole whack of shooting games as “sporting” uses of handguns, which are in addition to handgun hunting and casual plinking.  People always talk about banning handguns or “assault weapons” because it will help the children, but rarely do they think about the economic impact such a foolish thing would do.  Say for example that next Monday, it suddenly became illegal in the US to own or posses a handgun.  Never mind the political ramifications for a moment, but think solely about the economics.  USPSA and IDPA, the major “action shooting” sports in the US both claim about 15,000 members, and it’s fair bet that there’s a decent amount of crossover between their memberships.  The NRA has 4 million members, of which there are probably 2,000 regular participants in the various NRA Action Pistol events held nationwide.  I won’t even look at the Camp Perry, ICORE, or the other shooting sports for now, but for the sake of keeping the math simple, we’ll assume that between all of the pistol games you have approximately 25,000 regular members.  This number also doesn’t count non-members that shoot at club level matches.

Now you’re thinking to yourself, “gee, 25k doesn’t seem like a lot of people in a country of 300 million, what kind of economic impact can they have”.  I’m so glad you asked that.  To really determine the economic impact, we have to divide that 25k in to two categories, casual users and super users.  Casual users make up about 80% of any given consumer demographic, and the “super users” make up about 20% of said demographic.  Additionally, those 20% of users will usually generate about 80% of your revenues in this case (check out the wikipedia article on the Pareto principle).  Before I continue, I should note that this is not exact – I’m using gross simplification here in an effort to avoid having to resort to complex statistical models and things that make this post really dry.

Back to the shooters for a moment – again, assuming that 80% of the 25,000 shooters are casual users, we need to establish a baseline for what defines casual usage.  Again, for the sake of mathematical ease, we’ll pick a nice round number.  We’ll say that the casual action pistol shooter burns up 250 rounds of ammo each month, which is enough for about two IDPA matches, or one very large USPSA match.  That would mean that in the course of a calendar year, the individual casual user consumes 3000 rounds of ammo.  Take that 3000 rounds of ammo across 20,000 shooters (80% of 25k) and you get a rough consumption of 60,000,000 rounds of ammo.  That’s not a typo, that’s 60 million rounds of ammo.  Some of these casual shooters may reload their own ammo, some may not, so we’ll pick an “average” cost per round to something around $0.25 per round (that’s probably low as well, considering the current cost of amm0).  So at $0.25 per round of ammo, those 60,000,000 rounds of pistol ammo work out to revenue of $15,000,000.  That’s 15 million dollars, and that’s from the casual shooters.

Now let’s look at the production numbers from the 20% of super users.  Using the simplified Pareto principle, it’s safe to assume that the number represented by your 20k users will account for roughly 20% of the overall revenues, and your 20% super user base will generate 80% of the gross revenue.  So if you scale 15 million dollars as 20% of your total revenue, then your total revenue works out to $75 million.  $60 million from your super users, and $15 million from your casual users, and that’s just from 25k shooters and doesn’t include buying holsters, guns, or any other gear.

That’s what the anti-gun people want to do – not make children safer, or “protect our streets”, but rather they want to take $75 million dollars out of the economy, they want to take jobs away from hard working Americans, and quite literally want to take food off your table if you’re working the firearms industry.  No other law-abiding industry faces the kind of persecution and attacks that the shooting sports do, despite the fact that shooting and outdoor sports generate over $3 billion dollars in total revenues each year; more than sales of golf equipment. Next time someone is trying to tell you how eeeeebiiillll the gun industry is, throw some numbers at them and ask them how they feeeeel about taking jobs away from their neighboors.


  1. Caleb, great post about the economics — but I disagree with the premise that says it matters whether or not handguns have a “sporting use.”


  2. It’s not that I don’t think that the sporting purposes argument isn’t important. In fact, I think that avoiding the use of sporting purposes and arguing terms of a fundamental right to self defense is a preferable approach. However, for the purposes of this post, it wasn’t germane, as I wanted to focus solely on the money side.

  3. Yes, when they say “sporting”, they mean hunting, of course. Anyone who has ever done any hunting, trapping or fishing can tell you that a .22 revolver comes in handy at times. State legislatures first barred handguns from being used to hunt, then later declared they have no legitimate purpose in hunting. And disarmers as well, the opponents who wish to win an argument by knowing absolutely nothing about the topic.

    I agree, though, that sport is in no way limited to the taking of game, but that’s what we get when we don’t hold legislators’ feet to the fire and demand a clear definition of “sporting”. Even if hunting with a handgun was illegal in all fifty states, a review of Elmer Keith’s writings, at the very least, reveals that handgun hunting has a long history, and fell out of favor due to government bullying of hunters.

  4. Somehow I get a vision of handguns being banned effective tomorrow morning, and handgun ammo then being on back order for the next four years.

  5. I’d say that if anything, your monetary estimates are low. Applying the Pareto rule to annual round count indicates that the top 20% shooters are going through, on average, ~12,000 rounds per year. That’s a lot for a benchrest or NRA Service Rifle shooter, but very little for an M- or GM- USPSA competitor. I’ve shot more than that since January.

    Shooting is expensive. I once added up all my shooting related expenditures at the end of the year, and I am NEVER doing that again.

  6. cjr, my goal was actually to create an intentionally low number. Inside that 20 of super users, you can apply the 80-20 principle a second time to account for the heavy usage by guys like us. I’m on track for about 50k rounds of pistol ammo alone.

  7. First off let me stipulate that I am a strong gun rights advocate and strongly oppose any attempt to abridge our rights under the second amendment. Proposals to ban or restrict the ownership of handguns and so-called assault weapons are completely unacceptable to me.

    However, that said, I don’t think the economic impact argument is a particularly compelling one. Here’s how I imagine a typical feelings-driven anti interpreting this argument:

    Given X defenseless children who aren’t killed and US$3 billion taken out of the economy when handguns are banned, US$3 billion is more valuable than the lives of X defenseless children, therefore handguns should not be banned.

    Obviously this is absurd, but I think that’s how it will play. Better to refute the underlying notion that banning handguns == kids don’t die.

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