I went to my first SHOT show in 1981, and I can tell you that the only thing about the show that hasn’t changed from then until now is the name, which stands for Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade show, but has about as much to do with outdoor sports like hunting and old-fashioned shooting as a man in the moon. I’m not saying that the old stalwarts like Browning or Leupold or Mossy Oak clothing aren’t there. Outdoor sporting goods manufacturers are at SHOT in abundance, because it’s the only time all year that gun industry manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and customers get to mingle under one roof, check out new products, place orders and spend time doing what is always done at trade shows – schmoozing, eating, and after the show closes down, drinking.
But don’t for one minute imagine that the crowd at SHOT just can’t wait to run out of the Sands Convention Center and paint the town. Actually, a majority of the attendees are Ma and Pa types from smaller towns, fairly conservative, older, hard-working White folks who form the backbone of the gun industry because that’s who still owns a majority of the guns. And since the gun business may be the last consumer product category which still relies on small, independent shopkeepers for the great majority of retail sales, the show attendance tends to reflect this traditional demographic both in terms of attitudes and tastes. It goes without saying, of course, that you can’t walk very far without seeing some kind of anti-Obama poster, and Sarah Palin drew a crowd when she appeared at the Outdoor Channel booth to plug yet another onscreen effort to make people forget that she’s really faded from the political scene. Next year’s SHOT will no doubt attract all the Republicans who are hoping to succeed the gun industry’s most successful salesman, and talking about sales, the mood at the show was definitely upbeat.
Now I never met a salesman who didn’t believe that things were always going to be better tomorrow than they were yesterday or are today. And the takeaway from this year’s show was that innovation and new products were back in the forefront because the industry needed to flex its “creative muscles” after spending the last several years filling all those backorders that piled up thanks to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his stance on guns. The good news for the gun industry is that, practically speaking, there’s little that Obama can do to hurt gun owners now that both chambers of Congress are painted bright red. But this didn’t stop Steve Sanetti, President of the NSSF which owns the SHOT show, from getting up at the big SHOT dinner to report that the “state” of the gun industry was “determined.” And what was the industry determined to do? According to Sanetti, the industry is going to expand its efforts to counter the “mis-information” about gun violence spread by the “anti-gun lobby, close-minded legislators and sensationalist-seeking media.”
And how did Sanetti demonstrate that the anti-gun folks were refusing to accept the value of guns? By trotting out the same, old, incorrect statistics on how violent crimes have gone down while gun sales have gone up. If you’re interested, take a look at the NSSF’s own website and you’ll see that since 2001, as gun sales have soared, gun homicides have not declined one bit, and have actually moved slightly back up.
I don’t really blame Sanetti for getting up in front of the faithful and promoting the gun industry in glowing, albeit fanciful terms. He’s a salesman, gun sales have slumped dramatically, and his job is to promote the product in good times and in bad. But one of the exhibitor booths I found most interesting at SHOT contained products made by a company out of Troy, Michigan named BulletSafe Vests. Now what’s a bulletproof vest company doing hawking its products at a shooting, hunting and outdoors show? If this is how the gun industry is flexing its innovative muscles, then shooting sure ain’t what it used to be.