Firearms gunmakersNot a single executive from a major U.S. gunmaker was among representatives of firearm victims, law enforcement officials and gun rights advocates — including the National Rifle Association — when the Senate Judiciary Committee hosted its first major gun hearing last month. Nor will gunmakers be among the witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing, when the panel begins considering a new assault weapons ban.

While the NRA stands as the most powerful voice for gun rights in the United States, firearms makers have arguably the biggest financial stake in the outcome of a debate that has threatened to ban one of the industry’s biggest money-makers — known among gunmakers as the “modern sporting rifle” and to gun-control advocates as the “military-style assault weapon.”

The rifle’s popularity helped 465 U.S. gun and ammunition makers generate an estimated $12 billion in revenue last year, surging from about $9 billion in 2007, according to an industry analysis by IBISWorld, a market research firm.

“Despite the economic fallout generated by the global financial crisis, guns and ammunition have proved to be items that many people believe they cannot live without,” IBISWorld senior analyst Nima Samadi wrote in the firm’s October report.

The spike in revenue comes as a record 6.2 million firearms were produced in 2011, a nearly 20% increase from 2010.

Included in that number, according to data compiled by the firearms industry trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), was another record 2.3 million rifles of all kinds, part of thriving overall industry that employs nearly 100,000 people in the U.S., from assembly-line workers to sales people at local sporting goods stores.

Sturm, Ruger & Co., based in Southport, Conn., is ranked as the nation’s largest gunmaker; it accounted for 17% of total firearm production in the country with 903,968 total guns made in 2010, the foundation’s data show.

The enormous growth, analysts said, can be tracked in part to two major familiar themes running through the past decade: the government’s demand for firearms in the prosecution of two wars and the 2008 election of President Obama.

Concern that Obama would pursue new gun legislation helped ignite the market almost immediately with a sustained spike in gun and ammunition sales. Though guns were never part of Obama’s first term agenda, the next four years — post Newtown — promise something altogether different.

“This administration represents the most serious threat to the industry since the 1990s,” said Larry Keane, the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s general counsel, referring to Congress’ enactment of the decade-long assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. “The stakes are very high.”  Read more here.