Updated Oct. 12, 2017
The Georgia company that made some of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock’s assault rifles is reportedly laying off as many as one-third of its employees.
Daniel Defense, based in Bryan County, 25 miles northwest of Savannah, is reducing its work force because of declining sales, according to reports in Recoil, a firearms-related website, and the Bryan County News. Recoil said the company laid off 100 of the approximately 300 workers at its plants in Georgia and South Carolina. On Thursday, the Bryan County newspaper quoted a statement from the company saying a “significant number” of employees lost their jobs. But the company wouldn’t say exactly how many.
The downturn seems to be unrelated to the Oct. 1 shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, which left 58 people dead and about 500 injured. Authorities have said that when they searched the 32nd-floor hotel suite from which Paddock fired on concert-goers, they found about 20 weapons; at least four were semiautomatic rifles made by Daniel Defense. It is not known whether any of the Daniel Defense guns were among those Paddock had modified to fire in a manner similar to automatic weapons.
The company’s only public statement on the shooting was a Facebook post in which it expressed condolences to the victims.
The belt-tightening at Daniel Defense may be related more to the “Trump Slump” – an industry-wide decline in sales since President Donald Trump took office in January. Gun sales increased several times under President Barack Obama’s administration, especially after he called for firearms restrictions following mass shootings, notably the one that left 26 dead in a Connecticut elementary school. Sales also spiked before November’s presidential election after Trump claimed – falsely – that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wanted to revoke the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.
In the first half of 2017, the FBI performed 9 percent fewer firearms background checks compared to the same period a year earlier. In Georgia, the number of background checks declined by 11 percent.
Background checks don’t precisely correlate to the pace of gun sales. Some states periodically request new checks on people who bought guns in years past. Generally, though, the checks are a reliable indicator of the robustness of the gun market.
Daniel Defense, founded only about 15 years ago, produces some of the world’s highest-priced assault rifles, generally retailing for $2,000 to $3,000. Twice in the past four years, Gov. Nathan Deal announced expansions in the company’s work force.
Trade-industry publications suggest Daniel Defense may be consolidating its manufacturing in a single location, a new 300,000-square-foot facility in Bryan County.
Company executives did not respond to requests for an interview. Daniel Defense has not notified the Georgia Department of Economic Development of any layoffs.