The first Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show I attended was in Dallas in 1989. It was a big show then and has only gotten bigger. Frankly it verges on being too big. It has gone from three days to four, and even so I have to plan carefully and do a lot of walking to cover what I need to see.
The firearms industry is an interesting one. It is affected by the same factors as affect other consumer goods such as cameras and skis--the state of the economy, employment levels, consumer confidence and the availability of credit.
It is also affected by unique factors such as firearms legislation. The computer revolution has affected the firearms industry only indirectly. There has not been anything like the effect on (for example) the photographic industry where one type of technology (chemical, as in film) has been overwhelmed by an entirely new technology (digital).
Certainly there has been an impact, notably in manufacturing. Computer assisted design (CAD) and computer numeric controlled (CNC) production means components can be fabricated to extremely close tolerances and marketed at relatively low cost. But the firearm's technology is the same. It still involves using an explosive to ignite a combustible solid and using the expanding gases to accelerate a bullet down a tube. Ray guns still seem a long ways away.
Black rifles. The AR has indeed become America's Rifle. There are more AR manufacturers, more calibers, options and accessories than I can keep track of with new ones appearing regularly.
The .223 Rem is still the most popular cartridge, but there are also .204 Ruger, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 Rem and .50 Beowulf on regular ARs, and .308-based cartridges right up to .338 Federal from DPMS. Stag Arms even has a true mirror image AR for left handed shooters.
Part of the demand is no doubt fueled by fear of more "assault rifle" legislation, but there is another factor at work--pure performance. These rifles are reliable, durable and the accuracy can be astonishing. With good free-floated barrels, an AR will outshoot all but the best bolt rifles, and competition has brought prices down. And custom triggers are available to make the best of the accuracy potential.
Good triggers are hot. For years it seemed we weren't going to get crisp, light triggers on most factory rifles, maybe due to fear of lawsuits, maybe because fear of lawsuits was a handy excuse.
I give Savage a lot of credit for...