Technically, the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference known as the SHOT Show is not a gun show at all. It is an annual trade show that is owned and operated by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, or NSSF, which describes itself on its website as “the trade association for America’s firearms industry.” The first SHOT Show was held in St. Louis, Missouri in 1979; there were approximately 5,600 attendees, 5,200 square feet of floor space, and 290 exhibitors. This year, the event was held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada; there were over 67,000 attendees, 630,000 square feet of floor space, and 1,600 exhibitors. According to the NSSF, firearms and ammunition are a $6 billion-a-year industry that supports nearly 250,000 jobs. The SHOT Show is only open to those who work in the shooting, hunting, and outdoor trades. It is not open to the public.
Ted Nugent pulls a knife
If you asked me before I interviewed Ted Nugent in a meeting room at this year’s SHOT Show in January if I thought during said interview he would pull out a knife and start waving it around in the air between us, I would have said, “No.” And certainly, if I thought he would, I wouldn’t have thought that he would do so within the first three to five minutes. I was sitting next to him, he was sitting next to me, and his wife, Shemane, a strikingly beautiful blonde, was sitting on the other side of the table and watching us with her big blue eyes as if she was the one who was truly in charge. Over the next half hour, after he put away his knife, Nugent ranted about guns (pro) and the Second Amendment (for), and compared the Obama administration to Nazi Germany many times. But when he pulled out the knife in those first few minutes to make some kind of a point to me, a journalist, I didn’t feel particularly threatened by him. This, I concluded, is how a 65-year-old fading rock star tries to stay relevant.
You shoot like a girl
Several days before I met Ted and his knife, I got on a bus that took me out to a shooting range in Boulder City, Nevada. The NSSF calls this event Media Day at the Range. It’s an opportunity for journalists covering the SHOT Show to shoot some of the firearms about which they may be writing. Out in the middle of nowhere, I was reminded me of that scene in “Casino” wherein Ace and Nicky meet in the desert, and Ace isn’t so sure he’s going to come back alive. I could tell you about the airgun I shot, or the shotgun I shot, or the rifles I shot, but the highlight of the day for me was shooting the Colt CRX-16. It is a big black gun. It does not come in pink. The guy who works for Colt who handed it to me said, “It’s very easy to shoot,” and he was not lying. It is hard to describe what it is like to shoot what some people call an “assault rifle,” but the word I wrote in my notebook after I gave the gun back to the man who had handed it to me was invincible.
How to kill your scent
Without a doubt, the most bizarre exchange I had during my week in Vegas was with a man at the Scent Killer booth at the show. Scent Killer is a line of products for hunters. I have never been hunting. I would like to go. I don’t have a problem with hunting animals in theory, and I would embrace the opportunity to find out how I would react were I given the opportunity to shoot an animal with a firearm and my finger on the trigger in reality. One challenge some hunters face, as I understand it, is their natural body odor. One cannot properly hunt — become invisible, conceal oneself — should one smell like a human/predator to animals/prey. Here are some products made by Scent Killer: Doe in Estrus, Elk Bugling Scent, Bull-Rage. Some of the products are made with synthetic urine (example: Coon Urine), and some are made with real urine (example: Select Doe Urine). I asked the Scent Killer representative how they get real animal urine. He said he couldn’t really speak to that, and that is how our conversation ended.
The mobile armory has arrived
One of the first things I noticed when I walked onto the lower floor of the show was the NEMO Battle Wagon, a murdered-out converted 1965 Grumman truck. It is the property of NEMO Arms, a Kalispell, Montana-based company that, per their site, “Designs and Manufactures custom AR Rifles for professionals and civilians,” among them, “men and women operating at the tip of the spear.” The truck’s metal dashboard features the full text of the Second Amendment (to wit: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”), and the inscription on the chrome scroll above the chrome skull with a bull’s-eye on its forehead on the front of the vehicle reads, “NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT” (in other words: “No one attacks me with impunity”). I walked around the vehicle, checking it out. I crouched down low on the passenger side, near the exhaust pipe. Over where the pipe protruded, someone had painted two words: “LIBERAL REPELLENT.” I was told the diesel engine spews a thick black exhaust — to which liberals are allergic, I imagined.
The lost art of manliness
As a woman, it is hard not to notice that, as such, one is a minority at the SHOT Show. In a way, the entire show is a salute to masculinity: outdoorsmanship, hunting, shooting. Rob Shaw, the CEO of Skull Hooker, a device that enables one to hang trophy animal heads on one’s walls in a more attractive fashion than one may have been able to do so previously, told me, “If it’s done professionally, maybe some more wives will let their husbands hang a few more heads.” At my home, there are no animal heads on the walls, but Shaw made me wonder if my husband harbors a secret desire to hang more heads on our walls, and if I, a woman, am the one standing in the way of him fulfilling his head-hanging destiny as a man.
I am woman, hear my firepower
Several hundred people showed up at the “Marketing to Women” panel discussion. The panelists included Julie Golob, a champion competitive shooter, Linda Powell, the director of media relations for firearms manufacturer O.F. Mossberg & Sons, and Suzi Huntington, a former police officer turned American COP Magazine editor. The session began with some helpful advice for retailers in the audience who wanted to make their gun stores more appealing to women. After all, women are the fastest growing demographic in the gun business. “Please clean your restroom,” one of the female panelists related. As far as product, “All women are not alike, and we do not all like pink,” the no-nonsense Powell informed anyone present who thought all women long for Barbie pink guns. “Women are the key,” proclaimed Kate Krueger, the host of “Talking Guns with Kate Krueger.” She explained, “They bring in the next generation. That’s our longevity.”
A not insignificant portion of the SHOT Show was devoted to all things law enforcement, military, and tactical. In those rooms, the crowd appeared to be composed mostly of police officers and military types but in casual clothes, not uniforms. There were not a lot of ponytails, and no one was flashing a peace sign. Near the back of one room, I discovered a very large man beating the leaving hell out of a giant rubber dummy. Every time the man hit the dummy in the chest, the dummy’s arms flailed wildly. A few feet away, a computer was busy crunching numbers that displayed on a screen. For a combatives training dummy, Hawk is pretty smart. He has a computer inside him. He is the brainchild of Virtic Industries and Sayoc Tactical Group, and the computer and sensors in him were communicating via WiFi with the computer at which we were staring, spilling forth data about that last strike, from its speed to its accuracy. Potentially, an army of Hawk clones could be employed to NFL training camps, to train boxers, to military training grounds, saving everyone the high cost of what happens when two human beings smash their heads into one another as hard as they can.
Come and take it
There are things other than guns at the SHOT Show — pink camo onesies, mannequins in ghillie suits, rails of handcuffs, automated shooting ranges, a mountain lion’s head nailed to a wall, Annie Oakley’s .22 with mother of pearl grips in a case at the NRA’s set up. But gun makers were the headliners, and nearly every major firearms manufacturer was present: Smith & Wesson, Glock, Remington, Beretta, Heckler & Koch, Ruger, Mossberg, and Colt, to name but a few. It appeared the most popular trend at this year’s show was concealed carry firearms. The new Glock 42, a .380, was quite possibly the most talked about firearm at the show. In the palm of my hand, at around 6″ x 4″, it was not all that much bigger than my iPhone. “It’s the baby Glock,” a Glock employee informed me as I admired it. The 42 retails for less than $500. “It’s awesome,” said the guy next to me. “I got to have it.” Interestingly, it doesn’t feel like a gun at all, really.
No country for liberals
At the State of the Industry Dinner at the end of the first day of the show, I stood in a massive ballroom as the American flag waved across five jumbo screens and 2,000 people recited the Pledge of Allegiance. “So, ladies and gentleman, as we gather tonight, the State of Our Industry is renewed,” declared Steve Sanetti, the NSSF’s president and CEO. Jim Liberatore, CEO of the Outdoor Channel, confessed that, when it comes to gun rights, he used to be “one of the middle people,” for which he was booed. We ate a mixed green salad, what I think was a Cornish game hen, and something that resembled a chocolate mousse. The evening’s festivities culminated with a performance by anti-gun control activists Penn & Teller, a magic bullet trick involving two mattresses, two panes of glass, two .357 Magnums, and Penn and Teller catching bullets in their teeth. Later, I read how they did it on Wikipedia, and it spoiled the trick.
This is not a gun show
The SHOT Show is not a gun show because it is a way-of-life show. It’s a throwback to a different time, or it’s a big red arrow pointing to a place where maybe you live or maybe you don’t, a world in which people arm themselves, and values are something that are valued, and there’s a kind of code upon which people agree, as opposed to something approaching cultural anarchy. You can place a dollar value on its industry, but that sort of misses the point. “It’s the gun, it’s always the gun,” Liberatore said during his speech, by which he meant that the gun is what people who don’t like guns point their finger at, as if to indicate that’s the problem, the gun is the problem, not the human being who is holding it. In Las Vegas, there was not a lot of screeching about the Second Amendment, and it was more than obvious that while the gun debate was raging outside of those convention halls, inside, it was — well, it was nothing but business.
Source: Forbes Business