Getting to grips with handgun sales

In many countries, handguns play a key role in firearms sales, with some manufacturers being household names. Of course, other nations can only look on with envy, but even here there can be hope.


Few firearms sectors cause more debate and controversy than handguns. In some territories they are seen as a fundamental part of gun ownership, whether for target shooting, general sport or self-defence, where they can even be carried in public.

In others, following knee-jerk legislation after unsavoury incidents, they are banned outright and even those who use pistols for Olympic competition are barred from practising in their home nation.

Handguns have exercised more people and been the subject of more attempted legislation than perhaps any other sector of shooting.

Who should own them, how should they be used, where and when can they be carried (if at all) – these are all discussed at length by those in power in many, many states or countries.

As varied as the discussions about ownership and use are the actual types of handgun available and the discipline they can be put to.

These can cover everything from hunting to ISSF and IPSC competition, Cowboy Action to self-defence and the training that goes with each, silhouette and many more.

As a result, there is also a vast array of handgun types, including semi-autos, revolvers and single-shot guns, with calibres ranging from .22LR for target shooting and ‘plinking’ right up to .577 Boxer and .50 S & W that one can take to long-range silhouette competition or on a hunt for game.

With so much on offer – from shooting styles to calibres and gun types – it is no wonder it is such a popular sector in the market, with some incredibly well-known names manufacturing.

Smith & Wesson, Colt, Glock, Beretta, Sig, Walther, Ruger, Springfield and Browning are all key names in this field.


Selling up

By far the best-selling calibre in handguns is, rather unsurprisingly, the 9x9/9x21, with a host of other recognisable calibres bringing up the rear and still selling in acceptable numbers.

The humble .22LR is economical, making it ideal for everything from plinking to precision target shooting, as well as small game.

With this in mind, it will come as little surprise either that, in terms of handgun types sold, 60 per cent of retailers surveyed sold target shooting models, half of them sold competition guns and 44 per cent dealt in handguns for self-defence. Just a quarter sold handguns to buyers keen on hunting.

Interestingly, the best-selling type of handgun (in terms of volume according to each retailer) was for self-defence (38 per cent, down slightly on last year) with target and competition guns in second and third spot respectively (31 per cent and 25 per cent).

Just five per cent said their top-selling guns were hunting models and a tiny fraction (one per cent) sold predominantly to collectors.


Leading the way

Not surprisingly, the USA is a leader in firearms ownership, manufacture and use, all helped by its unique freedom to own handguns and the inalienable right to own and use them for self-defence.

That said, there are always threats from various administrations, self-proclaimed anti-gun groups and even wealthy individuals, both state and nationwide.

As a result, the last few years have seen an upsurge in Americans keen to assert their rights, resulting in a sales bonanza that only now appears to be slowing down.

Our survey this year shows that the market for handgun sales in 2014 had increased for exactly half of those who responded – which is slightly up on the 48 per cent detailed for 2013.

The number of retail outlets saying business was down year-on-year was a slight cause of concern; with 31 per cent saying business had dropped, compared with 25 per cent the previous year.

That left just one-fifth admitting that sales had stayed broadly the same (that compares to just over a quarter last year).

However, has the bubble burst for lady shots? Last year we revealed that 51 per cent of dealers said the market for ladies’ handgun sales was up for just over half of them. Now that figure has slipped to just 40 per cent, with 53 per cent reckoning it had stayed the same (34 per cent last year) but just seven per cent (15 per cent last year) felt that sales to women were down.

Of course, selling to ladies not only adds diversification to your footfall (and profit sources) but can also encourage the rest of the family – children – into the sport too.

Clearly, handguns are a favourite of the generally younger population, with almost three-quarters of our survey revealing that their main buyers were aged 26 to 40, with almost all of the remainder still being under 55 years of age.


Putting the squeeze on

Last year, GTW’s survey revealed that 60 per cent of those responding felt that laws in their country restricted or adversely affected handgun sales.

This year that number has risen alarmingly to 72 per cent. Looking at where our respondents came from, key areas where legislation is reported to have had some effect include the UK, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, France, Austria, Belgium and Curacao, among others.

In some, like the UK, conventional handguns are effectively banned; in others there are notable restrictions on licence acquisition or the reasons why users can own a handgun.


Good Business

Outside of the severely restricted areas, handguns can provide an important sector for good business – and even the UK has a handgun manufacturer – Wilson Custom Guns – albeit operating for export.

Most dealers seem to hold a good selection of makes, models and types, with some also specialising in a particular sector.

Where you are located and the opportunities nearby (clubs, ranges or hunting areas) will naturally influence those choices.

Reloading ammunition is also popular and can prove to be a worthwhile addition to your portfolio, offering potential add-on sales.



Handguns are used for competitions, recreating shooting and personal defence in many countries yet are subject to strict laws and even full-scale bans in others.

Nevertheless, the number of people worldwide who own handguns seems to continue growing, making this a key sector not to be ignored.



The majority of Americans are free to own handguns for all lawful purposes, including personal defence. Indeed, so key are handguns that their numbers seem to be increasing year on year. The latest estimates suggest that there are around 310 million firearms owned in the USA, of which about one-third are handguns or revolvers.

The GTW survey and other polls, including some by the trade association the National Shooting Sports Federation, clearly demonstrate the ongoing popularity of pistol ownership and sport.

Although self-defence is a strong incentive to own a gun, most sincerely hope it’s something that they are never called upon to use. However, most owners also take this aspect seriously and take training at clubs and ranges and also practice with their pistol regularly; there is little point owning a pistol if you don’t know how to use it!

There is no doubt that the majority of handguns are used on the range for recreation and competitive shooting, although hunting with a handgun is popular too.

With such a strong home market there are plenty of US handgun and revolver manufacturers, with a number of the most famous names in shooting still based in the USA.



No discussion about European handguns would be complete without mention of the UK, whose population lost its right to own these guns following the massacre at a school in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996.

There are very few exceptions to this law and it even affects the nation’s Olympic shooters, who have to travel overseas to practise.

Thankfully, most of the remaining European countries allow their citizens to own handguns, although there are restrictions, some quite strict.

In the main, neither hunting nor self-defence is considered adequate reason for grant of a licence to own a pistol.

Target shooting remains a good reason for owning pistols in the majority of Europe and all major (and some smaller) countries can field competitive shooters in disciplines ranging from the ISSF precision events right through IPSC ‘Practical’, Police Pistol and Service events and the popular ‘Action’ shooting, with countries like Italy, France and Germany all having world-class shooters in these areas.

Europe also has a number of excellent and respected pistol makers whose products sell worldwide.



This is another country where pistol shooters are fortunate to be able to own a handgun for hunting and a single handgun for self-defence.

Target shooting is popular, especially IPSC events, for which South Africa has a very successful international team, not to mention the more formal ISSF and recreational club shooting.

That said, handgun enthusiasts must belong to an accredited shooting organisation and complete a special course before registering.

A list of intended shooting activities is also required to retain ongoing status as a ‘dedicated shooter’ but, in return, this allows a variety of handguns to be owned.

A police check and proficiency test must be completed before applying for a certificate of competency.

The situation regarding handgun hunting, calibres/performance and so on remains under review. Pistol-shooting sport is growing, especially on the target side.



Pistol shooting is quite restrictive in New Zealand, although there are some very good ranges and some active participants, with regular competitions, Hunting with handguns is not permitted, nor is owning a handgun for self-defence.

In Australia, handgun ownership and shooting is very active, with more than 20,000 licensed participants. Rules covering gaining a licence are quite strict, with a lengthy approval process, but interest continues to grow, with some clubs having a waiting list for membership.

Target shooting with membership of a suitable club is the primary reason for being granted a licence, with few exceptions beyond special need for security and professional purposes.

High-level safe home storage is mandatory. However, once the full pistol licensing requirements are satisfied, there are no limits or restrictions on purchasing handguns that fit the target template, which is: a minimum of 100mm barrel length and calibre cannot exceed .38/.357/9mm.

All of the internationally sanctioned matches are shot. Hunting with handguns is not legal, although some farmers and graziers may obtain special permits to carry handguns for stock management.

Clubs have to be affiliated with either Pistol Australia or the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia.

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