SHOT Show: The Big Business Of One Of America’s Biggest Gun Trade Shows

Jan 27, 2020
Originally published on January 22, 2020 9:27 pm

Over 60,000 people head to Las Vegas each year for a gun industry juggernaut: The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s “SHOT Show” a Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade show that is the main event for the $6 billion industry.

“This is to the firearms and ammunition world what the Detroit auto show is to the car world,” said Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

Congressmen and governors alike roll through to woo business to move lucrative production to their state and manufacturers of all sizes show off their wares. There’s even a years-long waiting list just to get a booth at the show, according to organizers.

“Some manufacturers, as I understand it, write a large proportion of all their orders for the year at the SHOT Show,” said David Yamane, a professor at Wake Forest University who writes the blog Gun Culture 2.0.

In recent years, the fastest-growing sector of the show has been law enforcement, which now has its own floor, according to Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the NSSF.

Who goes?

Buyers and sellers of shooting and hunting gear, “military law enforcement and tactical products and services.” Private security companies are there as are makers of body armor and, more recently, armored school supplies. There are even officials from foreign militaries looking to buy weapons for their troops. Pretty much everyone but the public.

Show attendees get treated to a day at the shooting range and numerous after-parties.

Devin Schweiss, who works for Smart Shooter, a company that develops optics for law enforcement and military, said SHOT Show is essential for him getting his technology in front of buyers he might not meet in person otherwise.

“It’s very important for promoting efforts as well as [having such] a vast group of different individuals from different backgrounds so it really gets the product name out there,” he said.

What’s the hot ticket this year?

According to Oliva, recently companies have been competing with each other to make more easily concealable weapons as more Americans carry concealed. Semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 continue to be very popular with SHOT Show attendees Oliva said.

While the crowd at SHOT Show was decidedly male-dominated, the fastest-growing group of gun owners is women and some manufacturers have started designing guns specifically for them.

The bigger economic picture

Despite having one of the most gun-friendly presidents in history — or, more likely because of it — gun sales have been stagnant since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. Before the election, sales spiked with many gun owners assuming Hilary Clinton would win and enact strict gun regulations.

It’s yet to be seen what the run-up to the 2020 presidential election will bring for the industry, but calls for new gun restrictions from Democratic candidates and some states enacting their own gun control measures worries many gun makers.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

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