OSD 118: Mail-order muzzleloaders

Halt, ruffian.

The details are presented in editorialized fashion, but NBC did a feature this week on Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s (which Bass Pro acquired back in 2017) discontinuing online sales of black powder firearms:

Black powder firearms — named for the loose gunpowder that needs to be loaded into the guns — are a niche product that owners often buy as an unusual way to hunt or as a historical throwback to an era such as the Revolutionary War.

The replicas are based on antique technology but made with modern materials, and in some circumstances, they can be as deadly as modern firearms.

And in some places, black powder guns are also one of the few ways a person with a felony conviction can purchase a firearm. A 1968 federal law that otherwise bars people who’ve committed serious crimes from having a gun has an exception that allows for antique-style guns. State laws vary, with some states allowing felons to buy them while others, like Ohio, do not, a situation that authorities said has sometimes led to unlawful sales.

Now, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s say they’re selling black powder guns only in stores, requiring buyers to physically pick them up as a way to improve legal compliance. Labels on the stores’ websites reflect the change.

“We take compliance very seriously and we are steadfast in our commitment to following all local, state and federal laws,” Cabela’s said in a statement.

From a practical standpoint, this isn’t much of a story. A multibillion dollar company — being a multibillion dollar lawsuit target — chooses to guarantee compliance with local laws at the cost of some customer convenience, rather than doing the work to make their offering maximally convenient for each individual customer. Not great, but not a surprise.

The reason this is a story is that it raises the question of whether this is the first sign of a trend.

Back in March 2019, when Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling guns in 125 of its stores, we wrote the following:

This is a predictable outcome of the culture war dynamics around this issue. Once a company takes a public stance on this, there isn’t really a stable equilibrium anywhere between all or nothing.

That’s because the decision is self-accelerating.

They kneecapped Field & Stream and the gun-related sections at Dick’s with their [decision to stop selling AR-15s] after Parkland. That burned a huge amount of customer goodwill, and several major manufacturers like Mossberg terminated their relationships with Dick’s. That led to declining sales in the gun sections. That led the company to cut those gun sections altogether from these 125 stores. Which will lead to further declining gun sales in the remaining gun stores. Which will in turn lead them to cut gun sales from most of the remaining stores within the next few years. All of this in the context of secular trends that will destroy most mid-tier retailers over the next decade anyway.

The stable equilibria for any retailer are: 1) zero gun-related merchandise, or 2) a relatively free selection. I expect that most retailers will pick one or the other over the next few years.

Sure enough, almost exactly one year later, Dick’s dropped guns from 440 more of its stores. So the theory had legs.

The case of Cabela’s and black powder guns, though, is a harder trajectory to predict. And it may end up not being a trajectory at all. It may just be a one-off case of a particular retailer trying to save money by not spinning up a multi-jurisdictional fulfillment logistics service dedicated to a niche product. It could, of course, be more than that.

It’s important not to read too deeply into news stories like this. It’s almost always better to focus your brain power on proactive mode, not reactive mode. If you get worked up every time a company or someone on the internet does something you dislike, you’ll never not be worked up. As always, the answer is to keep building the culture. Do that right, and the incumbents will either come along or be replaced by ones who do.


This week’s links

Travis Haley and Mike from Garand Thumb talk about gunfighting mindset

Mike and his dad reunite for this thoughtful, introspective discussion.

9-Hole reviews comparing the accuracy of ten different AK variants

Ok, actually nine different AK variants plus a vz 58.

CNN: “The fight against gun control has some surprising new allies”

It’s a start.

The Reload reporting on the ammo shortage

[Jason Hornady, vice president of Hornady Manufacturing Company] said the industry is already at max capacity, and increasing supply is difficult.

“I can promise you, even though they’re my competitors, every guy I know in the ammo business is trying to make as much as possible,” he said. “We don’t want to make 30 percent more. We want to make 50 or 100 percent more. And every one of us wishes right now we had an extra factory sitting around ready to go. But that’s not very practical.”

Spinning up a new factory involves buying dozens of specialty machines and custom installing them into a new space. It’s a process that costs a great deal of money and can take up to a year. Hornady Manufacturing Company had actually finished building a new factory in the lead up to 2020.

“We just built a new factory 18 months ago, which we moved into and more than doubled our space,” Hornady said. “We’re very rapidly filling the space we have. We were doing that whether there was an election, a pandemic, or a riot. We were already planning to grow.”

But the problem for manufacturers who are considering building new plants is uncertainty about where demand will ultimately settle out. If a company like Hornady, which has more than 500 employees, bets big on building another new factory and demand flattens back out before it’s finished, they could lose millions and be forced to lay people off. That’s why Hornady relies on long-term plans instead of trying to react to the peaks and valleys in demand.


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