Despite calls for reform, guns are still a growing industry in Arizona
Eight years in the Marine Corps didn’t make Patrick Baughman a firearms enthusiast. Arizona did.
After moving to Lake Havasu in 2014 and going through what he calls a series of “bum jobs,” Baughman realized that members of the local gun-owning community would pay him to clean their guns. , a skill he learned in the military.
It morphed into a showcase business and, in 2018, a manufacturing company that Baughman says assembles, builds and sells at least 1,000 AR-15 rifles and other firearms a year.
“It started to make sense,” Baughman said of the decision to open his business. “I needed to at least start.”
READ ALSO: What to Know About Arizona Gun Laws
When it opened in 2018, Baughman’s business was one of 356 gunmakers in Arizona, a number that had risen to 407 in 2020. That trailed only Texas and Florida that year. , according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ 2021 United States Firearms Trade Report.
At a time when headline-grabbing mass shootings are sparking calls for gun reform, gun manufacturing in Arizona still appears to be a growing industry.
“The business is doing very well,” Mark Oliva, managing director of public affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said of Arizona. “And again, it’s all in response to consumer demand.”
Oliva credited the state’s history of gun-friendly business climate as well as a skilled and readily available workforce for its robust gun manufacturing industry, which grew 218 percent between 2010 and 2020.
The industry as a whole, including retail and services, employed 11,933 workers in Arizona who received $778.6 million in wages in 2021, according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation report released in March. The NSSF, also known as the Firearms Industry Trade Association, estimated that the firearms industry generated $2.3 billion in economic impact for the state that year.
Gun manufacturers come to the state in part for its less stringent gun laws and those manufacturers, in turn, bring in more gun-friendly regulations. It’s a symbiotic relationship that makes Arizona a tough sell for proponents of gun reform.
“I think the majority opinion here is very pro-Second Amendment, very lax gun regulations,” said Brooke Zanon, one of the main organizers of March for Our Lives Arizona. “I guess we’re third in line behind manufacturing because we really don’t have a lot of strict laws that prohibit people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them.”
But what Zanon calls “very lax,” Baughman considers “sensible, smart gun laws,” part of the reason he opened his business in the state. Michael Infanzon, a lobbyist for the Arizona Firearms Industry Trade Association, said it’s good for business in general, not just the gun trade.
“We have a really, really robust economy in Arizona. And the gun industry is thriving here,” Infanzon said.
“There are a lot of reasons for that,” he said. “But it boils down to: we have people, we have representatives and senators, legislators who look at our Second Amendment and look at business practices and bring them together and say, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s a good thing.
Good business, bad politics, say gun reform proponents.
Arizona earned an F grade from Giffords, which ranked Arizona 42nd in the nation for its gun safety laws, while Everytown for Gun Safety deemed the state a “national failure.” ranking him 43rd for strength of gun law. Everytown noted that the state was one of the first to remove concealed carry permits and said state lawmakers continue to push for “dangerous legislation.”
But industry officials said the gun business can be difficult, even in a gun-friendly state.
Recent shootings at a Buffalo grocery store that killed 10 people and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers, have put the industry in the spotlight.
Like many of the country’s major gunmakers, Sturm Ruger, which has a 230,000 square foot factory in Prescott, received a letter in May from the House Oversight and Reform Committee as part of its investigation into the latest shootings. massive. The letter requested information on the sale and marketing of the firearms it sells, as “firearms have become the leading cause of death among children and adolescents”.
Zanon said the industry had only itself to blame.
“A lot of the responsibility lies with the gun industry to take protective measures and make sure they know who they’re selling these guns to,” she said.
Gun rights supporters argue that the livelihoods of many Arizonans are now under attack because their industry is being used as a scapegoat for the shooting.
“We don’t blame the shooters, we blame the instruments they use,” Infanzon said. “When you have a drunk driver, you blame the driver and not the booze, the bar or the car.”
Baughman is currently working with his sixth credit card processing company, after the others stopped dealing with gun manufacturers. Social media sites like Facebook don’t allow gun makers to advertise, and Bank of America stopped doing business with gun makers in 2018, a move others big banks followed.
“There are unique challenges because of what we decide to get involved in, which is the sale of guns,” Baughman said.
In response, the Arizona House earlier this year passed a bill to penalize any company that refuses to do business with gun companies. This bill, however, stalled in the Senate.
Infanzon said he is actively lobbying lawmakers on this bill, as well as other industry-backed laws.
“It’s not just a simple gun. These are economic policies, pro-business policies,” Infanzon said. “If a business or an industry grows… It helps the state as a whole.”
Zanon acknowledges that changing the dynamic in Arizona will be a challenge.
“If we get a meeting with a senator or a representative, it’s like we want them to listen to us, but sometimes it’s like they’re turning us down because we’re young,” said Zanon, 21. . “It’s like there’s really nothing we can do to influence their vote.
But with the gun control movement gaining momentum across the country, she hopes the tide will soon turn in Arizona.
“I think if we can just get out of our own way, we can actually do some big things,” she said. “We can pass important legislation to protect our children and protect our teachers and our schools.”
Oliva said the gun industry is ready to sit down, talk and work alongside others – even those who make “erroneous accusations” against it.
Neetish Basnet Story, Cronkite News