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What’s selling—and why—with US gun owners?

A woman tries out a rifle at the 2016 National Shooting Sports Foundation's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show on Jan. 19, 2016, in Las Vegas.
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A woman tries out a rifle at the 2016 National Shooting Sports Foundation's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show on Jan. 19, 2016, in Las Vegas.

Gun sales have never been hotter in the United States.

In the past eight years, the number of people who own firearms has nearly doubled — with 2015 setting records, as 23.1 million people applied for background checks.

The surge in gun ownership has been fairly widely reported — especially after Black Friday 2015 set a single day record for applications. But what are people buying?

At the ongoing SHOT Show in Las Vegas, firearms manufacturers have a vast array of guns on display — from handguns to AR-15s to AK-47s. And while shooting enthusiasts and law enforcement personnel will likely buy some variation of most of the weapons on display, among the general public who's just getting interested in the field, small firearms seem to be the big seller.

"What you see as a trend is a lot of people are concerned about their personal security," says Bob Radecki, national sales manager for Glock.

Radecki says the company's G43, a single stack, 9mm pistol, has been especially popular since its introduction last year — in part because it's designed for people who have a concealed carry license.

Publicly traded gun companies Smith & Wesson and Ruger declined to comment on their top-selling models, noting they were in their quiet period, making them subject to SEC restrictions on public statements. But both booths had several smaller pistols on display as well. (Sig Sauer could not be reached for comment.)

While this surge in demand for guns is unprecedented, there are, so far, no known shortages in either firearms or ammunition. And while previous periods of increased firearms purchases have come when augmented government regulation was discussed, this time around the buyers seem less afraid that federal officials are coming for their guns, and more concerned about recent events.

"Executive action is not going to have a lot of effect, unless there's congressional action to back it up," says Radecki. "What our customers are telling us is they're concerned about personal security after the acts of terrorism we've seen over the past year [such as the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino]."

Guns are big business in America. The National Shooting Sports Foundation says the $6.6 billion firearms industry is benefiting from increased diversity, as minority populations in the U.S, particularly the Hispanic population, have shown an increased interest in the field.