That didn’t take long. On Tuesday the word started going around that Jay Leno had been booked to appear at the 2015 SHOT Show, and by Wednesday afternoon, faced by a Tweet onslaught from Everytown and other gun-control groups, Leno pulled the plug and agreed not to show up. The SHOT show is the gun industry’s premier trade event, allegedly open only to people who are connected to the gun industry in some way. The truth is they’ll let you in even if your industry connection consists of the fact that you own guns, and if you wear a military uniform you don’t even have to own the gun yourself.
I started going to SHOT back in the early 1980s and the only thing that’s changed over the years is the products have become increasingly ‘tactical,’ with more emphasis on self-defense and much less interest in hunting and outdoor sports. Lasers have replaced glass optics, hunting camo has given way to the military-wannabe look, and of course the guns are small, polymer and advertised as giving you the “edge” over bad guys, be they foreign bad guys, domestic bad guys, or whatever bad guys. The show is a fraction of the size of a real, consumer-product show like COMDEX, but it’s the one place each year where dealers can see, touch and feel what they will be selling in their stores, and SHOT revenues make up a big chunk of the annual budget of the show’s sponsor, the NSSF.
I’m not sure when the State of the Industry dinner started to attract headliners like Jay Leno. But the truth is that since he left the Tonight Show earlier this year, he’s not such a headliner. The last time I went to the Industry Dinner the performer was a right-wing comedian named Dennis Miller, who gave a standard, and somewhat stale anti-Obama spiel that even a room full of gun nuts didn’t receive with any great degree of response. I used to occasionally watch Leno’s monologue and he always threw in a few wisecracks about whoever was sitting in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I suspect that his publicist lined up the SHOT gig knowing they could always dig up a few one-liners that would go over with a pro-gun crowd.
I’m not surprised that Leno caved so quickly once Shannon raised the red flag. Now that he’s off the tube, a guy like Leno depends on personal appearances to make ends meet, and the last thing he needs is an Everytown-led boycott a la what worked so well with Target stores. I also suspect that whoever booked Leno into SHOT never imagined that anyone would know or care where his client showed up. As they say in show business, a gig’s a gig, you take what you can get.
But what I did find interesting was the snarky and somewhat mealy-mouthed response of the NSSF. The public statement began by noting that Leno “unilaterally” cancelled his appearance, obviously implying that the NSSF didn’t want him to quit, and then went on to decry “the bullying political tactics of the gun control groups that seem to have as little respect for the First Amendment as they continually demonstrate with regard to the Second Amendment.” Gee, I had no idea the NSSF and the gun industry was so sensitive to 1st-Amendment issues, given their attempts to muzzle the free speech of physicians who might actually believe that a gun could possibly pose a health risk.
The statement concluded with the usual pat on the back the NSSF always gives itself for its phony safety program ChildSafe which allegedly distributes gun locks and gun safety literature hither and yon. Except there has never been a single attempt by the NSSF or anyone else to figure out whether this program has even had a minimal safety effect. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t care whether Leno or anyone else shows up at SHOT, entertains the dinner crowd and leaves town with a check. But Shannon and her Everytown continue to level the playing field when it comes to talk about guns. And that’s something the NSSF better not forget.