The decline in handgun sales since the mid-1990s has been attributed to many factors, from tougher gun-control laws to an increased feeling of safety as crime dropped throughout the decade. But to some, the roots go deeper, suggesting a subtle shift in attitudes, as America becomes ever more suburban - and more likely to connect guns to shooting sprees than to weekend duck hunts.
Laura Kennedy has seen the shift at her Bay Area sporting goods store, where almost no one says they've "got to get a gun to protect themselves" anymore. Federal data show that requests for background checks - a key indicator of sales - are now below last year's levels.
"The long-term trend in the US is ... going down," says William Vizzard, a gun-control expert at the University of California in Sacramento. Sales of handguns - like computers or armchairs - are cyclical, and most experts say they will likely rebound at some point.
Yet many add that the days of the 1980s and early '90s, when nearly one-third of American adults said they owned guns, might not return anytime soon.
"The culture of shooting," says Mr. Vizzard, "is slowly ebbing away."
Even with the post-Sept.-11 uptick, the news for handgun manufacturers has not been good. While tracing actual handgun sales is nearly impossible, a host of statistics reveal a dim picture:
* Although FBI background checks for handgun sales spiked after Sept. 11 - by 39 percent in October - the buying binge has ended. Despite the jump, the FBI did fewer background checks in 2001 than in 2000, and checks for the first two months of 2002 are already 10.5 percent below last year's pace. The checks don't necessarily mean that a sale occurred - nor do they record how many weapons might have...