The Why and Who of Gun Manufacturers


I grew up on a farm in upstate New York.  It was beautiful country, and there was great hunting for cottontails, grouse, squirrels, and whitetails. When my dad wanted a new shotgun, it was an Ithica 16 gauge made just down the road in Ithaca. You could also get a nice Remington, also made just a few miles away in Ilion, NY. The other big brand was Winchester. If you wanted a handgun, it would most likely be a Smith & Wesson, Ruger, or Colt. There were a few other manufacturers, but those were the big ones that most people went for.
Fast forward to 2024, and things look a lot different. The shooting community in America has grown, and the emphasis on guns has shifted from hunting to self-defense, tactical, and competition in that order. In 2022, only 32% of gun owners listed hunting as their main reason for owning guns. With the shift in gun preferences and the huge increase in people going for gun ownership, scores of new manufacturers have sprung up offering an incredible variety of firearms.

Factors Affecting Firearms Manufacturing Trends

Like any other industry, firearms manufacturing is affected by trends driven by societal changes and what the consumer wants. In the 1980s, the industry was dominated by old names like Remington, Winchester, and Colt. Hunting rifles and shotguns were the mainstay of the firearms market. Some companies were branching out, like Ruger with the Mini-14, and there were a few companies making AR15s for the civilian market, but hunting was a major market factor in the demand for long guns.

Revolvers like the S&W Model 19, Ruger Security Six, and the various Colt ‘snake guns’ like the Cobra and Python were still at the top of their game. Full-size pistols like the 1911, Beretta 92, SIG P220, and Browning Hi-Power dominated the semiauto handgun world. If you wanted something small to carry on your person, you went for a small revolver, the ever-popular Walther PPK/S, or one of the cheap mouse guns on the market like a Raven .25ACP.

The introduction of the Glock 17 to the U.S. market in 1986 created a major stir. Manufacturers began changing their lines to meet new demands for handguns and long guns based on the AR15. People also wanted higher-quality compact handguns they could easily carry for self-defense, and the police department shift from revolvers to pistols began in earnest. And in America, more than any other place on Earth, when the consumer wants something new, there will always be plenty of new and established manufacturers anxious to deliver it.

Concealed Carry and Home Defense

The biggest driver of change in the firearms industry is the massive increase in demand for handguns. Concerns about crime, inadequate numbers of police, and the tendency for courts to release violent criminals back onto the streets have driven more Americans than ever to buy handguns for home defense and concealed carry. Few people realize that, before 1980, most states highly restricted permits for concealed handgun carry to a ‘may issue’, or even not permitted status. Today, 26 states allow permitless carry.

According to Pew Research, 72% of all gun owners own at least one handgun, and among households where there is only one gun, 62% of those single-gun households own a handgun. Manufacturers have responded by offering an incredible selection of handguns, with an emphasis on home defense and concealed carry.

Modern Sporting Rifles

Another big factor driving changes in the firearms industry is the interest in Modern Sporting Rifles. It has grown astonishingly, and along with that interest, the number of manufacturers offering Modern Sporting Rifles has become a deluge. What originally was a demand for AR-15s has grown into an enthusiasm for all sorts of firearms based on ARs, AKs, AR pistols, PDWs, and a wide range of other tacticool guns. There are so many variations on the market that it’s gotten to the point that it’s difficult for a manufacturer to introduce something that really stands out in the crowd, but the demand continues with no sign of letting up.

What is Happening in the Firearms Industry

America’s Rifle

Companies claiming the best and most innovative AR seem to come and go on a regular basis. Some back up their claims by building ARs that become standards that other manufacturers are compared to, while others are little more than a flash in the pan (if you don’t know that saying, here’s a hint…it has to do with muzzleloaders). Some produce expensive boutique rifles, while others offer ARs for under $400. Some companies manufacture nothing but Modern Sporting Rifles. On the list at the end of this article, almost 30 of the 109 companies listed manufacture nothing else. What began as a relatively small number of AR manufacturers such as Colt, DPMS, and Bushmaster has grown to scores of names. Modern Sporting Rifles continue to be incredibly popular despite, or perhaps because of, being targeted by politicians and the anti-gun crowd.


Handguns continue to be the most popular type of firearm sold in America, and semiautomatic pistols far outsell revolvers. People’s concern over violent crime and foolishness, like the defund the police movement, have made concealed carry much more common than ever before. Because of that, the handgun market has changed considerably over the years. Glocks brought everyone into the world of polymer-framed handguns, and today, except for a few companies that only produce 1911s, virtually every handgun manufacturer produces polymer-framed models. Another game-changer was KelTec’s P11, introduced in 1995. It was a reliable subcompact 9mm handgun people could stick in their pocket. A far cry from the cheap pot metal .25ACP handguns that used to be all that was available.

Gun owners have a huge variety of handguns to choose from. Everything from micro-compacts to full-size home defense guns is available in every configuration. We can choose from striker-fired, single-action (SA), Double Action Only (DAO), and my favorite, DA/SA.

The 1911

It’s fair to say that if the AR is America’s rifle, the 1911 is America’s pistol. A hundred and thirteen years after its introduction, the 1911 remains incredibly popular and has even evolved from its original .45ACP only chambering, to new 2011 versions that are frequently double stack 9mms. Just as some manufacturers specialize in Modern Sporting Rifles, some only make 1911s. Even companies not well-known for handguns, like Ithaca, known for great shotguns and Savage Arms, make 1911s.

Foreign Manufacturers and Importers

America makes great guns, and we would probably have everything we need if we only had American-made firearms to choose from, but where’s the fun in that? Fortunately, foreign firearms manufacturers have a big slice of the American market. We have access to their guns in three different ways.

Imported Guns

Imported guns have been around for a long time. My first 1911, purchased in a pawn shop in 1980, was a licensed Colt 1911 Government Model clone made for the Argentine Army and marked Ejército Argentino. Americans have been buying Beretta pistols, Sako rifles, and Benelli shotguns for years. However, imported guns have taken off in the past two decades. Along with Belgium, Italy, and the Czech Republic, there’s also a thriving import market from Turkey, Eastern Europe, and the Philippines.

Foreign Companies with American Manufacturing Operations

Just as many foreign car brands have opened manufacturing plants in the United States, so have numerous firearms manufacturers. Glock and Beretta are two of the best-known companies with full-scale American manufacturing and distribution plants. Other companies that can stamp ‘Made in America’ on at least some of their guns include Sig Saur, FN, and HK.

American Companies Whose Guns are Manufactured Outside the USA

Finally, several American manufacturers have some or all of their guns manufactured outside the USA. For example, while Browning manufactures some of their guns in the U.S., they also have models that are made in Japan, Portugal, and Belgium. Mossberg and Savage also have at least some of their guns manufactured outside the USA. Reasons for this may include reducing manufacturing costs and avoiding the cost of setting up a factory here. It can also be because an American company wants to license and sell a gun made by a foreign company without the cost of manufacturing it.

List of Gun Manufacturers and Importers

The following list of gun manufacturers is not exhaustive, and I am certain I have missed some companies, so no slight is intended if a company you like isn’t on the list. The list includes the company’s name, where their firearms are manufactured, and their primary product. I use “Modern Sporting Rifles” to indicate ARs, AKs, and other similar rifles, while the term ‘rifle’ refers to hunting and precision shooting rifles. The company’s primary product is what it specializes in, although other firearms may make up a smaller portion of its products.


This list is as complete as I could make it at the time the article was written. New manufacturers appear, and others disappear regularly. You can use the list to help you find manufacturers for a particular type of firearm or if you just want to be sure to buy American. Other than that, it’s just fun trivia.

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