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According to preliminary sales numbers collected by the ATF and crunched by the National Shooting Sports Federation, 2011 was a record-breaking year for gun sales. Americans bought 17.2% more guns in 2011 than the did in 2010, which was itself a record-breaking year. When you’re done cheering, make the jump for the full statistics.

Here’s the breakdown of revolvers, pistols, rifles and shotguns. The handgun sales are categorized by caliber and type, and they show some interesting trends about Americans’ changing and ever-increasing appetite for all things ballistic. Categories showing a year-on-year sales increase are highlighted in bold.





Pistols to .22




Pistols to .25




Pistols to .32




Pistols to .380




Pistols to 9mm




Pistols to .50 (incl .40, .45)




Revolvers to .22




Revolvers to .32




Revolvers to .38 Spl




Revolvers to .357 Mag




Revolvers to .44 Mag




Revolvers to .50 (incl .45)




Rifles (not by caliber)




Shotguns (not by caliber)




Misc. Firearms








For a host of economic, political and sociological reasons, Americans bought even more guns last year than they did the year before. Gun sales simply rocked, although some rocked more than others. I’ll spare you the bad recoil-related puns and similes; you can thank me later.

Total handgun sales are up by about 7%, while shotguns are booming with a 16% increase and rifles sales shot up by 25%. (I only said I’d spare you the bad recoil puns.) Breaking the handgun numbers down by caliber, we can see some interesting trends evident here.

First off, we see a complete collapse in the mouse gun market, by which I mean anything bigger than a .22 but smaller and weaker than the 9mm or .38 Special. Excluding the slumping .380 (down by ‘only’ 19%) this market segment shrank by a shocking 45% last year.

This news is disastrous for manufacturers who specialize in these marginal calibers, but it’s good for us shooters because those calibers basically suck anyway. One exception being the excellent but unpopular .327 Federal. It’s a whole story in its own right, but I’ve been wondering why new Taurus .327 revolvers were being dumped for $239 recently and now I know why. In any case, the land of .25 and .32 caliber handguns is already a tiny market segment, and I expect it to shrink even more as the snubnose .38/.357 and subcompact 9mm continue to evolve.

The .38 Special and .357 Magnum sold slightly fewer guns in 2011, possibly because the full-size revolver market is mature and largely stagnant from a technological standpoint. I believe the snubnose revolver is being crowded out of the CCW market (and CCW holsters) by the boom in subcompact 9mms.

And this draws our attention to the booming market for automatic pistols in anything 9mm and larger. Americans bought a shitload of full-caliber autos in 2010, and they bought 1.33 shitloads of them in 2011. Many of these, I have reason to believe, were compact and subcompact models.

The ageless .22 rimfire continues to hold its own in the pistol market and carves out an impressive 16.8% gain in the revolver niche.. There aren’t too many new .22 revolver designs out there, so I’m currently puzzled as to which models are driving this solid uptick in sales.  They can’t all be Ruger SP-101s, can they? Stay tuned for further analysis as we get more numbers to crunch.

The revolver market is slightly down in general, although sales of the smallest (.22) and largest (.45, .454, .480, .475 and .500) revolvers are up. The collapse of the .32 market is no surprise, but I didn’t expect the 21% decline in .41 Magnum and .44 Special/Magnum sales. If people are so bored of big revolvers, why are they buying 29% more of the very biggest ones? (Maybe the simple answer is that Joe Matafome secretly bought himself several thousand more S&W .500s, but I doubt it.)

These sales figures are fantastic news for the shooting sports industry, and they also start to explain why manufacturers aren’t flooding us with test guns this year: they’re already selling anything that goes bang (with the exception of mouse guns) as quickly as they can manufacture them.

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  1. a recent trip to the range underscores the loss in mouse gun sales. i brought a 9 and my friend brought a 32 auto. the ammo for my 9 was quite a bit cheaper than the 32. in centerfire handguns the 9 is just about the cheapest to practice with. and i can buy 38 for just about the same as 32 auto and would much rather use the 38.

    • I think .380 sales were better before the advent of the small 9mm. Before the Clinton gun ban, there were big Wondernines and there were .380s. Now you can buy plenty of 9mms that are PPK sized, so why buy the .380?

      • Really. More power, cheaper ammo, size factors not significant. I haven’t looked in a while, but 380 ammo after the last presidential election was impossible to come by and at least a third more expensive than 9mm. And then when the mini 9s hit the market, it was all down hill. There are exceptions; Colt’s new mustang, very late to the show, was selling briskly after being introduced, and (last I checked) was still selling at a prmium over MSRP at a lot of vendors. [I’d still buy one if the price dropped ’cause they’re neat, but unfortunately live in the land of “no can have ’em.”]

        • mark n. there were times during the ammo draught when i was having trouble even finding 22 at the shops. but for some reason there always seemed to be a surplus of 40 s&w at reasonable prices. i nearly bought a 40 just for the ammo supply.

  2. If S&W started making more 8 shot .357 magnum revolvers they’d sell more. I lust after the 8-shot .357 mag Night Guard. Imagine one in steel with a 4 inch barrel? I’d buy that.

    • Revolvers are more expensive than autos, now that the polymer frame has become ubiquitous. A 686 is more than a Glock 19, and carries less than half the ammo. Same for a snubnose, unless you get into the EAA or Charter Arms stuff. Revolvers are more expensive to produce, I suppose.

  3. One other thing about ‘mouse’ guns – you only need one for backup or summer carry, while you can’t have enough ‘range/hunting/target practice’ guns… So I wouldn’t say they are not popular – it is just their limited scope when compared to bigger calibers.

    My 2c…

  4. Before we all start sucking each other’s dicks about all the increased gun sales, supreme court decisions, etc., let us remember that every single one of these guns is on the BATFE/FBI database and therefore subject to confiscation. It’s hard to defend liberty when big brother has your number.

  5. Does anyone more familiar with this type of data dump know which group would cover AR lower receivers: Rifles or Misc. Firearms?

    Also, I think there may be a transcription error on the .22 pistols. 2011 is listed at 337K but that would be a 10% decline… a 2011 figure of 377K would be needed for a 0.8% increase.

    • Judging from the way they are entered into the logs by the FFL I would imagine the lowers are considered Misc. Firearms. I remember when I purchased a couple from a new FFL last year there was some question about how he had to write them up and if I remember correctly they went with Other.

    • It’s my fault; my fingers got sloppy on the number pad. It’s actually 377k. And I’m looking for more specific numbers about shotguns and AR lowers.

      • That was exactly what my question / comment was going to be. There is still a ton of action in the AR market. It’ll be interesting to see how the AR market continues into the future.

        On a side note, I have zero interest in a .327 Federal…

        • This TTAG article showed AR rifles exceeding all other 2011 rifles in sales combined. I suspect most if not all of the 169% growth in Misc. Firearms was in the AR lower market.

  6. “If people are so bored of big revolvers, why are they buying 29% more of the very biggest ones? (Maybe the simple answer is that Joe Matafome secretly bought himself several thousand more S&W .500s, but I doubt it.)”

    IMO, the only reason to buy revolvers these days is to; 1) have a snub .38/.357 for easy conceal/carry/backup, or 2) to have the biggest/baddest caliber you can muster – for bragging rights 😉 , making huge flames in indoor ranges and for wildnerness protection. .41’s and .44’s don’t fit most of those scenario’s better than other options that are available.

    • yeppers. i only own 2 auto pistols. i’m an ofwg that grew up on revolvers. i have a bunch. with one exception, a 22, all the rest are 38’s. but i do think the younger crowd is going to be mostly auto’s. wouldn’t should one of those big thumpers, i’ve got nothing left to prove to anyone.

      • Cool. I love revolvers for the simplicity, history and nostalgia. I have a .38 j frame for carry, a 2″ snub model 66 (.357) and am looking forward to owning a snub .44 and perhaps a .500 myself someday. S&W only, since that’s what my gradpa had. 😉 I’d use the .500 while on hunts in grizzly country. I also think that under most circumstances, the j-frame .38 is one of the best options for concealed carry defense. Easiest for the wife too.

        • yeppers. j frame rocks. my wife is a great shot, but she’s not a “gun person”. for her and others like her the revolver is a valid choice. she doesn’t want to devote the time to get comfortable with tap and rack. she likes having her revolver and she encourages my firearms habit so i’m happy.

      • I’m part of the “younger crowd” and I like revolvers due to their simplicity, reliability, and ruggedness.

        I love .357 magnum and think that if S&W and Ruger started making revolvers with higher capacities and in more common autoloader calibers they might have something.

        If S&W made a 7 or 8-shot revolver in .45ACP I’d ditch my 1911.

        • I’m part of “that crowd” too. Why not a 7 or 8 shot .357? They have those…very nice ones too.

      • I never liked revolvers much because I couldn’t shoot them worth a damn. I now have three though, all .36s, and very sweet shooters. I need another .36 and a .44 before I move up to the .45 Long Colt.

        • i’m the reverse. i’m a much better shot with a revolver than an auto. a k frame smith makes me look like i know what i’m doing.

  7. “If people are so bored of big revolvers, why are they buying 29% more of the very biggest ones? (Maybe the simple answer is that Joe Matafome secretly bought himself several thousand more S&W .500s, but I doubt it.)”

    A few years back I found myself chatting with a hog hunter in a S. Florida gunshop. He was in to purchase another box of some gawd awful big slugs for his S&W revolver with a four or five inch barrel. He explained that it was a backup while hunting the pests. Maybe that’s a reason for the upswing?

    • I still only have three 500’s, but several of my friends recently purchased some new and used 500’s. These guns are a lot of fun, and they always amaze new and experienced shooters at the range. I’m waiting for the new 680 grain hollow points which are supposed to have more recoil than the 700 grain T-REX rounds.

  8. Well, I don’t know about the rest of you thumbsuckers, but I certainly increased my gun collection more than 17.2% in 2011–and it looks like I’ll do it again in 2012. So I want everyone to get off vacation and down to the gun stores–and take some new shooters with you!

    By the way, anyone wanting .22 revolver I suggest either a model 317 or 617, while anyone wanting a 7 or 8 shot .357 should consider either a 686 Plus or a model 627. The model 625 is a sweet 6-shot .45ACP. (All are S&W, since I live in MA, the
    home of S&W.) 😉 Wheelguns rock!

    • Yeah, my increase was more like 35% ;). That includes the stuff I moved out…

      No thumbsucking here, I have too much bullet/powder/dirt residue left over from the range.

  9. I’m doing my part to make 2012 an even better year 🙂

    Also did the ATF subtract the 2,000+ guns that they sent to Mexico in 2011?

  10. Well it was a long time coming, but my Spike Tactical lower is sitting at the dealer. I can get it at the end of the month! It is the jolly roger with white fill on the stamp. I wanted to get it before SB 249 gets passed.
    I am sure as we get closer to November the numbers will increase. If the current administration stays in power I am sure it might explode. You figure if it is in your closet then it is yours. If they start doing mass confiscations there will be a shift in thought and ideals, some will stand up to Tyranny.

  11. If Barry gets re-elected all my guns bought via background checks will have been sold to private people and I don’t remember thier names. There will be many that are bought from private people that I own that will be dispersed. If he gets re-elected we are done as a free country. We may be done already. He has alreday wiped his axe with the Constitution and nobody has doone a thing. Get ready for hell to pay.

  12. The revolver is still very much a part of long time gun owners lives. Reliability is the primary reason. No increase in sales just means that most have what they want. It’s the newbies that have finally ” heard” our call , “buy a gun now or never” that are buying all the pistols! I “carry revolvers 90% of the time, I don’t need all those extra rounds. That’s not the case with most handgun owners. If they would learn to shoot, the stats would be different. That’s what I believe.


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