Despite calls for reform, guns are still a growth industry in Arizona

Sinema, Kelly in bipartisan agreement on gun control

By Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News

The number of gun manufacturers in Arizona grew by 218% from 2010 to 2020, from 128 such businesses to 407. That was the third-highest in the nation trailing only Texas and Florida, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data. /File photo by Rebekah Zemansky/Cronkite News

 Eight years in the Marine Corps did not make Patrick Baughman a gun enthusiast. Arizona did.

After moving to Lake Havasu in 2014 and cycling through what he calls a series of “bum jobs,” Baughman realized that people in the local gun-owner community would pay him to clean their weapons, a skill he learned in the military.

That turned into a storefront business and, in 2018, Baughman opened US Arms, a manufacturing business that he said 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 get started.”

RELATED: Sinema, Kelly in bipartisan agreement on gun control

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When it opened in 2018, US Arms was one of 356 gun manufacturers in Arizona, a number that had grown to 407 by 2020. That trailed only Texas and Florida that year, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “Firearms Commerce in the United States” report for 2021.

At a time when headline-grabbing mass shootings are driving calls for gun reform, gun manufacturing in Arizona appears to still be a growth 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 the consumer demand.”

Oliva credited the state’s history of pro-gun business climate as well as a skilled, readily available labor force for its robust gun-manufacturing industry, which grew 218% between 2010 and 2020.

The overall industry, including retail and services, employed 11,933 workers in Arizona who were paid $778.6 million in wages in 2021, according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation report released in March. NSSF, also known as the Firearms Industry Trade Association, estimated 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-strict gun laws and those manufacturers, in turn, instigate more gun-friendly regulations. It’s a symbiotic relationship that makes Arizona a tough sell for gun-reform advocates.

“I think the majority opinion here is very pro-Second Amendment, very lax gun regulations,” said Brooke Zanon, a lead organizer for March for Our Lives Arizona. “My guess is that we’re third to manufacturing because we really don’t have a lot of hard-set laws that prohibit people who shouldn’t have guns from getting guns.”

But what Zanon calls “very lax,” Baughman sees as “commonsense and smart firearm laws,” part of the reason he opened his business in the state. Michael Infanzon, a lobbyist for the Arizona Firearms Industry Trade Association, said that’s good for business generally, not just the firearms business.

“We have a really, really robust economy in Arizona. And the firearms industry is flourishing here,” Infanzon said.

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