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What Really Happened with Guns & Ammo in 2023?



NICS Checks as reported by NASGW.
NICS Checks as reported by NASGW.

After eight years of reviewing firearms I've found myself getting deeper insights into why companies make or don't make what they do, where prices come from, trends, and more of the truth behind what innevitably influences the firearms market. The National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers (NASGW), among other things, publishes reports on the volume of goods moved, measured by value. Some interesting things can be seen in these reports and below I have pulled selected pieces from the free version of the 2023 report along with my own commentary. All charts are from the free public report. Where applicable I have added current pricing at various online retailers.

The more-popular stuff will be up top, scroll down for some deeper-dive content. As you view the charts, rankings, etc please keep in mind the following:

  • This is based on value of good shipped, not necessairly good sold or final sale price. We also don't know if the dollar amount is based on MSRP, MAP, or Wholsesaler pricing. Some companies sell goods with very small margins at each tier, others allow for large markups.

  • 2020-2022 saw record numbers as the election, social unrest, and other factors inspired people to buy. The general consensus is that 2023 saw a return closer to the pre 2019 norm.

  • Inflation! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1 in January of 2020 had the same buying power as $1.78 in February 2023. That is an absurd loss of dollar value in the last three years. With that known, the year over year charts might look quite different if adjusted for inflation, we also don't know how quickly manufacturer's pricing has adjusted.

  • Just because they shipped, doesn't mean they sold at retail. Looking at the "top" lists, they are companies with massive distribution networks. We don't know how far along the chain (manufacturer -> wholsaler and/or distributor -> retailer -> consumer) these items have made it. This is part of why I wanted to list current pricing on these items. If a lot were shipped, but few sold, someone along the chain is going ot slash prices in the coming months. If you're reading this after February 2023 click the links to see current pricing.



Firearms Shipment Trends per NASGW
Firearms Shipment Trends per NASGW

TOP SEMI-AUTO HANDGUNS


Handgun Shipment Heat Map per NASGW for 2023
Handgun Shipment Heat Map per NASGW for 2023

#1 & #2 Glock 43X 10rd: This pistol has been of no interest to me personally, but with the industry might of Glock it's no surprise. 10-round capacity is also highly appealing to those living outside the Constitutional United States who are unable to move to a free state. 1st place was the optics-ready version, second place non-red dot ready.


#3 Glock 19 Gen 5: The ubiquitous Glock 19 with a 4" barrel and 15-round capacity. It's small enough to carry, big enough to be enjoyable on the range, and aftermarket parts are so plentiful you can build one from scratch without ever needing a Glock-made part. Like so many others I once bought a Glock 19 when I didn't know enough to have any particular taste and that choice was not wrong. The Glock 19 was a great place to start.


#4 Glock 19X Coyote Frame: With the rise of appendix carry many have found they can carry a longer-stocked handgun, but need to keep the barrel and slide shorter for comfort. Hence, the mullet gun! Jokes aside, I always encourage carrying a pistol you canget your entire hand on comfortably. The Glock 19X is simply a Glock 19 (compact) slide on a Glock 17 (full size) frame.


TOP MSRs

NASGW uses the term, "MSR"meaning Modern Sporting Rifle refering to AR-platforms.


MSR Shipment Heat Map per NASGW for 2023
MSR Shipment Heat Map per NASGW for 2023

#1 Ruger SFAR 16": The Ruger SFAR took Patriot Ordnance Factory's ground-breaking Revolution concept (borrowed, licensed, or stolen?) of fitting the .308 cartridge into receivers closer in size to a 5.56x45mm AR. This sheds weight and size for easier handling while still providing .308 whump. If you think .308 is a dying cartridge see the ammunition report later in this article.


#2 Ruger SFAR 20": The ballistic advantage of a 20" .308 over a 16" is up for debate and likely more dependent on the load chosen and intended application. I wonder if between these two options if there were consumers who either didn't know there was more than one option or simply didn't care.


#3 Radical Firearms FR-16 SOC: I learned of Radical Firearms and their budget-friendly pricing just before the panic buys of 2020 kicked off. They survived the crunch years and now that sales are cooling are still around. I've not reviewed one of their rifles so I can't speak to the quality.


#4 S&W M&P 22 Magnum: This is a handgun and does not belong in the MSR category. That said, when we reviewed the Walther WMP it was easy to see how enjoyable a 22 Magnum handgun can be and it helps that the ammunition price has come down considerably.


#5 Ruger MPR: Another basic AR-15 configuration that I am not personally familiar with.


Now for the interesting data.

Again we have to remember that this is what shipped, not necessarily what sold at retail, but in general I think a correlation is a safe assumption. Some of this may fit you and your spending habits, some of it may surprise you at how misleading some of the media has been.

Top 7 subcategories of 2023 per NASGW
Top 7 subcategories of 2023 per NASGW

It didn't shock me that semi-auto handguns dominated the year. Modern, affordable, usufel for range fun and self protection, easy to transport and store, semi-auto handguns simply make sense. What surprised me was to see more bolt action rifles sold than ARs. This could be due to more states permitting them, or a surge in hunting or precision rifle shooting. It may also simply be economics. With rifle ammunition remainging at higher prices it's less expensive to enjoy a box or two of premium range ammo punching groups at the range through a bolt gun than it is to conduct high-volume AR shooting in the woods or at a training course.


Top 7 Calibers of 2023 per NASGW
Top 7 Calibers of 2023 per NASGW

9mm Luger is the world's most popular handgun round, and with semi-auto handguns leading in the US it's logical that the ammunition for them would also dominate. .22lr is fun, inexpensive, and a prepper cartridge so in times of economic doubt it's logical to see high sales. What shocked me a bit (if we listen to the internet) is the caliber NOT listed here; 10mm really isn't as popular as 45 Auto or even .357 Magnum.


Diving deeper into handgun calibers we do see 10mm on the list, below .380 ACP that the internet tells us is a dead caliber. It is impressive to see a similar dollar amount of .22lr and 45 Auto as it requires a lot of .22lr to equal the same dollar value of 45 Auto.



Ammunition Shipping Trend to 2023 per NASGW
Ammunition Shipping Trend to 2023 per NASGW

We don't know if there's a specific reason ammunition dipped so deeply this last year, but it sure would make for an easy way to keep prices at the highs we saw int he previous three years. As a consumer I hope the spike in October means a surplus that can bring us lower prices. Although there are many ammunition brands, in reality few major companies which I feel have production capacity to shift the market. We don't know which companies were responsible for the sudden shipment jump of October and November, but we do know which loads were shipped most in the 12-month period.


TOP 5 Handgun Loads

To know if these loads are any good, and how they rank among 23 popular loads see our 9mm range ammo test HERE. Prices here reflect 9FEB24



#1 Fiocchi 9mm 115gr FMJ: This ranked 3rd softest in our test series. Soft ammo is great for high-volume shooting or when you want to work on your speed, but can be detrimental if you have a gun that needs more energy or poor shooting form.

Fiocchi "9AP" Test Video 



#2 Blazer Brass 9mm 115gr FMJ: This did not win any awards in our test, but proved to be all-around good ammunition.

Blazer Brass Ammunition Test Video 

#3 Magtech 9mm 115gr FMJ this was not in our test series because ironically it wasn't available and I hadn't seen any in a while.

#4 Blazer Brass 9mm 124gr FMJ: Was this a deliberate choice or simply bought because it was available? 124gr's extra oomph is great for folks with poor shooting form to increase reliability and also helps create a closer approximation to defensive ammunition recoil.

Out of stock at all of our regular sources.

#5 Blazer Brass Independence 9mm 115gr FMJ: Federal's typically budget bulk loading. This was not in our test series as it was unavailable just as it is at the time this was written. Odd that the 5th most-shipped offering hasn't been available for so long. Where did it all go?


I hope you enjoyed this shallow dive into what happened with guns and ammunition in 2023. For more information visit NASGW's site for the full report.


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