It would be a waste of time for me to write some perfunctory monologue about how the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected the firearms industry, along with the rest of the world. We have debated back and forth over masks in our social circles, debated shutdowns, discussed the moral and political basis of various pandemic mandates, as well as the socio-economic effects thereof — ad nauseam. It would not be a waste of time to talk about how the cancellation of SHOT Show 2021 continues to affect the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the NSSF PAC, and why that should be a matter of interest (and concern) to all of us.
SNOT Show 2021
What it was, what it could have been, and its significance to the industry’s furniture.
The combination of a global pandemic, riots in numerous cities across the country, and a volatile election year, set off a panic-buying frenzy that has completely outstripped the industry’s production capacity in nearly every product category. But one of the biggest impacts on the industry which was seen (albeit not immediately felt) by all was the cancellation of the 2021 SHOT Show.
While the third week of January is annually understood to be when the industry at large shows off all their new products, the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade show brought to us by the National Shooting Sports Foundation serves a higher purpose. One that is likely not immediately apparent to the majority of gun enthusiasts that follow along with the media coverage thereof.
However, an enterprising few that do understand this higher purpose of the expo made it their mission to appear in Las Vegas during the week everything would have normally gone down. This small group of industry folk journeyed to the Las Vegas Strip not only to see what SHOT would have been like with pandemic protocols in place, but also to execute an objective in the spirit of SHOT, and to further the cause traditionally served by the expo.
This small cadre from the industry called their little endeavor “SNOT Show 2021,” as an homage to SHOT, with an acronym that stands for: “Seems No One’s There.”
Journey to SNOT
From January 14th to January 20th, Michael Goerlich (owner of Raven Concealment Systems), was joined in Las Vegas by Jerry Sarkody (of Threshold Strategic Consulting), Matt Jacques (of Victory First), and a few days later, Charles Anderson (of GAT Marketing). The purpose of their visit was to give back, and their mission was two-fold: Provide training to law enforcement, and provide financial support to the NSSF.
The first half of the trip involved Raven Concealment Systems sponsoring two Victory First classes (taught by Matt Jacques) for a group of police officers from multiple agencies at a law enforcement range facility in the area.
The first class was a Red Dot Pistol instructor’s course, which was then followed by Matt’s highly-regarded “Fighting from Concealment” class. 100% of the class tuition and range supplies fees were paid by Raven Concealment Systems; students only had to show up, and supply ammo.
Once the classes were complete, the guys unwound by exploring some of the familiar haunts throughout the strip, particularly within the Venetian tower and Sands Expo Center. Nearing the end of their trip (fittingly on Inauguration Day), they executed the second half of their mission with a charitable contribution to a higher cause.
Travel to Vegas
As I guide you through this, first I want to talk about what traveling to Vegas entailed. I’m going to explain this to you through the eyes of a would-be SHOT attendee. For a great many of us, this is a look at what we would have experienced on our voyage to Vegas.
To start things off, let’s begin with air travel. Goerlich explained that he grabbed a flight from Cleveland, while Jacques flew from Richmond. Both men arrived in Detroit for their connecting flight, where they linked up with Sarkody. This allowed all three to fly together on the same flight from Detroit to Vegas.
In accordance with pandemic response protocols, Michigan currently has closed indoor dining. Therefore, during their layover in Detroit, there was no-sit down dining permitted at any of the restaurants inside the terminal. However, as ridiculous as it sounds, the traveler with an appetite was welcome to order food “to-go” from restaurants in the terminal, walk a few feet, and sit at their departure gate to eat their food inside the very same building.
This was a pointless gesture, not unlike the “indoor dining is okay as long as it’s outside” setups seen at restaurants across the country, where patrons aren’t permitted to sit inside the actual restaurant but can sit and eat their food in the “outdoor” dining area in a hastily-constructed structure of plywood and 2x4s, or tents and gazebos, or little plastic playhouse sized structures that take up a number of parking spots.
Ultimately, we would have all gotten a free lesson in zoning laws that don’t make sense, but it is what it is.
Mask rules were consistently practiced and enforced in most places, as far as Goerlich could tell, so nothing outside of the “new normal” there. Wine and beer were served on the flight, but there was no hard liquor served, nor were passengers permitted to consume any liquor they brought on-board in their carry-on, for whatever reason.
All complimentary snacks were distributed in sealed plastic bags (like water, goldfish, and a Cliff bar,) which I personally experienced on a flight back in September. Hand sanitizer and wipes were also generously handed out during boarding and in-flight. Other than that, there was nothing unusual or noteworthy about the flight itself.
Boots on the Ground
Upon arrival in Las Vegas and at the Venetian hotel, one thing that stood out to Goerlich was how delighted the customer service personnel were to have received patronage that week, especially from SHOT-goers. Every bartender and server on the strip knew SHOT had been canceled, so seeing “SHOT regulars” was an unexpected treat for the service staff.
This highlighted how well-received the annual SHOT Show crowd is (compared to the attendees of other industry shows, apparently) and that gratitude was reflected in the uniformly high level of customer service at all establishments. Once the guys got to their rooms and dropped off their bags, they were eager to see “how bad” things were with regard to the pandemic protocols in spaces normally occupied by dense crowds that time of year — not only in the Venetian but also along the strip.
As it turned out, certain casinos (like Mirage) were only open a few nights out of the week versus their usual 24/7 operating schedule. For instance, while the Venetian itself was open 24/7, the Dorsey was only open on Thursday/Friday/Saturday nights. The Grand Canal Shoppes looked like a ghost town, with many of the stores closed.
Amidst all this, it was a relief to hear that our beloved Circle Bar (fun fact – its actual name is “Bellini Bar”) is still functioning as normal, albeit with limited seating capacity. However, there’s also now plexiglass all over the place between all gambler and bar seats. This serves to make an ever-cramped area even more so than it normally would be when the place is mobbed with industry personnel wheeling and dealing over drinks. In addition, there were high-tech temperature-reading checkpoints manned by hotel security at every entrance and exit throughout every casino on the strip.
To make matters worse, the Circle Bar was among all other places affected by a new and annoying rule. It’s just as empty a gesture as the aforementioned detail about eating in the airport terminal—reservations are currently required at every restaurant and bar in Nevada, for every outing, and parties of greater than four (4) are split into smaller groups and seated separately. Imagine having to make a reservation to go hang out at the Circle Bar?
But according to Goerlich, these weren’t strict reservations, but rather more of a loose guideline. The guys were able to walk up and make their “reservation” on the spot upon arrival before proceeding as normal. Looming over all of this were the new maximum occupancy limits set by the state of Nevada for the Sands Expo Center.
It’s worth noting that aside from the max of four heads per table at any restaurant, the limit was 1,856 people for the entire Venetian casino floor. So, the rumors we’d been hearing about one-way aisles and hand sanitizer availability throughout the SHOT expo itself would have fallen far short of the repressive requirements from the state of Nevada, had SHOT not been canceled.
As Matt Jacques put it, “The state of Nevada wasn’t going to let SHOT happen anyway.”
NSSF’s Call to Cancel
As it were, the NSSF would have likely had to restrict attendance in terms of both attendee registration as well as total headcount in any room of the show. I imagine that under those circumstances, most people that go to SHOT who are not press, industry participants, or customers thereof (i.e. a huge percentage) probably wouldn’t have been able to register, much less attend, this year, making it an “essential personnel only” affair.
Realistically, this could end up being a “thing” going forward if these pandemic restrictions persist. While there are undoubtedly many people who would fall under the “essential” classification who would celebrate such a decision, this would be a major set-back for the greater 2A community in terms of registration revenue lost.
I will circle back to this specific factor momentarily.
In light of the restrictions from the state of Nevada, the NSSF made the right call canceling the expo this year, because if they hadn’t, the experience would have sucked terribly. Admittedly, many in the industry have a love/hate relationship with SHOT, in that as much as we love it, we hate that we love it, and we love to hate it, but ultimately everyone has a good time seeing old friends and making new ones.
Either way, this year wouldn’t have borne any resemblance to the SHOT Show experiences of years past. Pre-pandemic, the NSSF had told everyone to expect a much larger expo in 2021, with increased floor space and a whole new building, and therefore a lot more walking. In the COVID era, the only show that NSSF could have put on would have been a tiny fraction of the size of the 2020 show.
It may come as a shock to many, but the purpose of SHOT Show is not to act as the annual “family reunion” for the industry. In truth, that’s merely a bonus.
The expo floor, the products on display, the industry celebrities, the swag, and whatever else you’d find on a SHOT Show Bingo card are like a firearms industry version of a Vegas show unto itself. It’s entertaining, but that’s not the point – it is to raise funds for the NSSF. But raise funds for what, exactly? Let me now take a moment to explain the larger purpose of the NSSF, and the role it serves beyond coordinating an annual trade show.
The NSSF is to the entire firearms industry what the NRA is to the individual gun owner.
Where the NRA lobbies on behalf of the individual gun owner’s rights, the NSSF lobbies on behalf of the firearms industry. Protecting the industry from government overreach protects tens of thousands of industry jobs. This, by extension, also protects the access of law-abiding citizens and law enforcement agencies across the country to the tools and gear they need to protect themselves and their communities.
The NSSF PAC
In order to fund such efforts, the NSSF relies heavily on dues, SHOT Show booth rental fees, and registration fees paid by exhibitors and attendees alike. It also benefits from the donations of benefactors.
Aside from typical expenses like paying the people that staff the show and the cost of renting the Sands Expo Center every year, a significant portion of the funds generated by SHOT Show cover the NSSF PAC & NSSF Government Relations team.
The NSSF PAC has, to date, supported (via campaign donations) 70 different pro-2A legislative candidates, the majority of whom were successful in their election bids. The NSSF Government Relations Team and the PAC are the people that do the heavy lifting on the legislative side of the battlefield.
I would wager that a great many of you reading this don’t hear too much about them or the effort that goes into their work or what they’ve been able to accomplish over the years in the 2A fight.
I recently spoke with a friend who works on the NSSF’s Government Relations team. He e provided a great deal of insight as to the goings-on inside the NSSF and the heavy lifting they’ve done for the industry’s sake. He’s part of a team of six (6) people that travel nationally and deal with affairs at the state level (rather than the things we hear about coming out of DC).
This friend, and each of his colleagues, have something to the tune of 60 bills in the legislature at the state level that they’re currently working on, in various states, for a combined total of approximately 360 bills across the country. This team alone regularly maintains contact with state-level decision-makers such as mayors, governors, and congressmen in order to facilitate their efforts on behalf of the industry (and, by proxy, all of the industry’s customers, both government and civilian).
Some examples of their accomplishments include Constitutional carry in Montana and industry protection via essential industry bills like the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The latter protects manufacturers and distributors from frivolous lawsuits, in nine states.
Another noteworthy achievement of the NSSF was keeping the firearms industry open for business throughout the height of the pandemic shut-downs last year. By ensuring that “essential” status was applied to the firearms industry, the industry was legally protected to remain operational throughout the lockdowns. This was possible because the NSSF Government Relations team was hard at work going to governors and ensuring the respective gubernatorial executive orders identified the firearms industry as essential in their respective states.
This was done in phases, and intelligently so, in accordance with the earliest emerging pandemic response protocols. When CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) released their “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” document on March 19, 2020, it referenced the firearms industry as critical in relation to national defense, which therefore granted “essential” status to the supply-chain side of the industry.
At the earliest opportunity, the NSSF reached out to state-level executives and made the case that if the supply chain was critical to enabling national defense, then the retail-side of the industry was likewise critical to state defense.
This was accomplished with an interest toward enabling state-level entities under the purview of the executive branch, like law enforcement agencies and the National Guard, as well as business- and home-owners, to carry out said defense.
As a result, where the federal-level guidance covered the supply chain side of the house, the state-level guidance included firearms retail businesses as part of the essential workforce. Eventually, the second CISA guidance that was published applied at the federal level, where the first was applied only at the state level.
Since so many governors had included the retail side of the firearms industry in their executive orders pertaining to essential workers (at the behest of the NSSF), the federal level guidance expanded the essential list by incorporating previous points introduced at the state level.
This meant that now, thanks to the efforts of NSSF and its Government Relations team, the entire firearms industry operational structure (both supply chain and retail) was covered under “essential” status at the federal level.
Take a minute to think of how many thousands of firearms industry businesses were kept afloat, and the tens of thousands of firearms industry employees that kept their jobs as a result, while scores of other local businesses were effectively being put out of business by government decree.
Take another minute to appreciate what the industry has therefore able to do for you, in turn.
This is what the NSSF does. They wage war in the legislative space in defense of the industry (and thus gun owners), fighting anti-gun bills and gun control legislation across the country, state to state; ever mindful of the tide and the direction it is turning.
Although most SHOT-goers may not be cognizant of the NSSF’s efforts, their work does manage to get some credit and recognition. For instance, in October 2020, the NSSF was presented with the NASGW’s (National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers) highest award: The Chairwoman’s Award.
It was presented “…in recognition of the extraordinary contributions the NSSF has made to all who work in the shooting sports industry.”
This brings us back to the purpose of the Goerlich, Sarkody, Jacques, and Anderson SNOT Show mission to Las Vegas: to give back.
While Jacques’s part of that mission was executed by teaching critical skills to dozens of law enforcement officers, Goerlich and Anderson’s portion related to matters of finance and public awareness.
SNOT Show 2021 – aptly named as a nod to the pandemic, the show that pandemic canceled, and of course the legendary SHOW Show crud – was conceived as an effort both to directly fund-raise for the NSSF PAC and to serve as a rallying cry for the rest of the industry to follow suit.
To this end, Goerlich and Anderson chose January 20th, 2021 – Inauguration Day – to each donate $5000 to the NSSF PAC, for a combined total of $10,000.
They are (or were, now, hopefully) among the few who understand that the funds generated by SHOT Show are what keep the NSSF machine fueled. The cancelation of 2021’s show was a staggering setback, with dire implications for the 2021 political fight.
They’re not the first to have stepped up to support the NSSF. Mossberg, Smith & Wesson, and SIG Sauer together donated over $1M to the NSSF after the cancellation was announced in October. Hopefully, they will not be the last.
No matter your political views, the fact remains that the firearms industry is always at the mercy of reactionary, frequently anti-gun, politicos in both the legislative and executive branches of government.
The NSSF is needed to counter those politicians.
GAT Marketing and Raven Concealment Systems staged the SNOT Show expedition to bring attention to the enormous efforts the NSSF makes on behalf of the firearms industry. They hope it encourages colleagues, counterparts, and peers in joining them to bolster the NSSF after this January’s staggering loss of revenue.
Their gesture is more than symbolic. It testifies not only to the caliber of men involved and their service to the collective good of the industry but to the significance and gravity of the cause.
It is a call to arms, and to your attention: We either stand together or hang separately.
The fight is on. All hands on deck.
Appendix: Validation, Verification, and Additional NSSF Activity
I’m going to piggyback on Frank’s article to address trust and validity.
You cannot believe everything you see or read. The NSSF is an organization I’m familiar with and trust, though unlike the FPC I was not — until I read this article — a current, dues-paying active member. Obviously, Frank is aware of and has confidence in the NSSF.
That doesn’t mean you should, no matter how pro-gun you are. Due diligence and healthy skepticism are important.
The following information is provided to provide additional surety to those interested in supporting the NSSF.
So does the NSSF PAC actually do what Frank has described above? Are they fiscally responsible, or they similar to those groups ( the likes of which you’ll find in virtually any industry) who are wastrels that piss your money away while paying themselves exorbitant salaries and asking for more money?
Let’s take a look.
These charts come via OpenSecrets.org, a searchable database of campaign contributions and other financial transactions as they relate to politics, elections, and public policy. Given the degradation of media reliability over the last few years, I’ve necessarily become skeptical of any organization, whether it describes itself as “non-partisan” or not.
I trust The Weather Channel and Reuters. Mostly.
The sad truth is, you have to fact check your fact-checkers before citing them. This is difficult, but due diligence is a must.
So can you trust this information about the NSSF PAC?
The Center for Responsive Politics, which runs OpenSecrets.org, has been rated with 4 out of 4 stars by Charity Navigator. Their financial score is (as of this writing) 88.46 (out of a possible 100), their accountability and transparency rating a 100 for an average rating of 91.83.
How does the NSSF itself hold up?
Ironically, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) helps establish the NSSF’s bonafides in an article published back in 2016. CREW is a left-leaning “non-partisan watchdog” group lauded in the past by such organizations as the Democracy Alliance. I have not fact-checked this so-called fact check, but even at face value, it is telling. The links in this excerpt are theirs.
Since its inception in April 2010, the NSSF PAC has grown exponentially. In the final six months of the 2010 cycle, the PAC reported $10,600 in contributions and doled out a total of $7,900 to seven House and Senate candidates. In its Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings for the 2012 election cycle, the PAC reported raising $101,697 from 69 major contributors.
By 2014, the PAC had expanded from just congressional races to giving to gubernatorial races, joint fundraising committees, other PACs, and even a local county sheriff race. In the 2014 cycle, according to FEC filings, the PAC saw a massive jump in support, raising $398,606 from over 200 donors. It once again expanded the number of candidates to whom it contributed, donating to 110 congressional committees for a total of $195,500. It also donated $7,000 to three state and local elections and PACs. So far in 2016, the PAC has raised $335,029 and distributed $167,500 to federal candidates.
Lobbying records indicate that the NSSF has spent more than a million dollars each year since 2001 to ward off gun control legislation in Congress, and its lobbying spending has been roughly on par with that of the NRA in recent years. This year so far, the NSSF has reported spending $1.64 million on lobbying. Most recently the group has reported lobbying on a vast number of bills, including the Lawful Purpose and Self Defense Act (HR 2710), the Firearms Manufacturers and Dealers Protection Act (HR 1413/S 477), and many others.
A similar article, published in 2013 on TheAtlantic.com, offers similar information, albeit in an even greater handwringing style. The links from this excerpt are those included in the original by author Matt Valentine — whose disgust and/or derision is made very clear by his prose.
You’ve likely never heard of the NSSF—they’ve kept a lower public profile than the National Rifle Association, but they’ve been quietly shaping American gun culture for more than half a century. Now, they’ve begun to play a much more influential role in politics.
Every year from 1998 through 2010, the NRA spent at least ten times more than the NSSF on direct lobbying. Today those numbers are converging—the NRA has spent $1.7 million so far in 2013, compared to $1.1 million spent by the NSSF, mostly in efforts to loosen state requirements for concealed carry permits.
Valentine closes with,
But as the NRA battles itself and everyone else in public, the NSSF quietly continues—with increasing efficacy—to advance the industry’s political agenda.
Frank Woods is a ten year veteran of Gotham City PD1 and a devoted scholar of Hoplology. In addition to the experience gained during his tenure, he has amassed a considerable amount of training time beyond what his agency provides to its rank and file. This is as much a reflection of his enthusiasm for learning and honing techniques and mindset as it is a desire to enhance his ability to serve and protect. If you’re on Facebook much, check out his discussion group, Tactics & Applications.
1 His agency’s policy and procedures (and a desire for PERSEC) prevent the use of the real agency and name. GMW has vetted him, however.
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