President Barack Obama is expected to use Tuesday's State of the Union address to make a big push for gun control legislation, but gun makers are far from worried, one prominent industry observer said on Monday.
If firearms manufacturers fear anything, it's the possibility that demand for weapons will plummet "if and when" the proposed legislation dies in the spring, said Richard Feldman, head of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.
"I think the gun industry is so focused on producing product, they're really not paying a tremendous amount of attention to what the president is going to say on this issue," Feldman said. "They know perfectly well he has very little authority in this country. He's the president, not the dictator. I don't see very much legislation making it out of the U.S. Senate, let alone the House."
Feldman was once the chief of the American Shooting Sports Council, a precursor to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), an industry-wide trade group that happens to be based in Newtown, Conn. In 1994, as President Bill Clinton was preparing to sign a ban on assault weapons that would stand until 2004, Feldman encouraged manufacturers to ramp up production of certain gun parts likely to fall under the ban.
"What I said was that they ought to put their company on three shifts, work weekends and manufacture as many of the receivers as they could," he recalled.
The threat of a ban was good for business then, and the same holds true today, said Feldman. "If the rest of the economy were doing a quarter as well as the firearms industry, we wouldn't be worried about our debt," he said.
In the weeks since the Dec. 14 Newtown shooting, gun retailers have reported booming sales and depleted shelves. Last month, record numbers of people showed up at an annual Las Vegas trade show sponsored by the NSSF.
Another former industry insider suggested that gun makers could be doing a better job of representing themselves to the public.
"What is the public hearing from gun companies? Is their perspective as employers, as contributors to the economy -- are those voices being heard loud enough in the high volume of all of the issues?" said Bill Wohl, a communications executive who handled media relations at Remington Arms between 1992 and 1996.
In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shooting, the NSSF declined to comment to the media. That has changed in recent weeks, but a spokesman did not return a request for comment on Monday.
Larry Keane, the senior vice president and general counsel of the NSSF, did offer some advice to Obama in a statement published on the group's website. But it didn't have anything to do with the State of the Union speech.
"We here at NSSF were somewhat bemused over the controversy that sprang from President Obama's assertion that he shot skeet on a regular basis, and the second wave of commentary that attended the White House release of a photo to prove it," Keane wrote.
"Mr. President, try leaning a little further forward into the shot to better manage recoil. Keep your feet about shoulder width apart, and put more weight on your leading foot."