38th SHOT Show Sees The Industry Reaching Its Stride

Each year the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trades Show is a good barometer to judge what the coming year is going to be like in the shooting sports industry.

Over a period of four days in January, 60,000 industry professionals gather in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the SHOT Show, owned and sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. It is the largest trade show of its kind in the world.

SHOT Show attracts buyers from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. It includes more than 1,600 exhibiting companies. So much for the stats — let’s just say it’s big.

This year’s SHOT Show was different from other recent ones. It wasn’t simply that political and other things nationally and around the world have triggered heightened buying habits by the public at large. That would merely make it a “good” show.

I’ll declare it to have been a “great” show, because there was a feeling permeating the air that cried out “success.” But that success goes way beyond just business.

The industry finally is catching up with itself. The confluence of the AR and tactical revolution and the Obamanomics of the industry as a result of political attacks nationally and the mishandling of the terrorist evolution globally resulted in buying frenzies over the past number of years unlike anything the industry ever experienced before.

Concurrently, the high-tech manufacturing capacities coupled with modular designs took a few years to solidify, but once in place began to deliver — not only the base products like guns, but also everything peripherally connected to them.

As much as these factors contributed to something akin to controlled chaos for a while, this is the year when all of the disparate parts and pieces are coming together in the form of an industry that is bigger and stronger than ever – and getting more so by the day.

Ammunition, or its supply, has been an issue for some time in the industry. So, it is not surprising to see companies that traditionally were not in the ammo business put their brands on ammo. To wit, there now is Browning ammo, Ruger ammo and Swift ammo (only made component bullets before). And, of course, Sig Sauer entered the ammo business a year ago or so.

Think of it this way: the operative metaphor for 2016 is the .22 long rifle. That cartridge symbolizes both the state of the industry and the essence of the SHOT Show. It was the first cartridge to experience shortages when the frenzied buying began some years ago, and likely will be the last one to see anything that approaches normal supply whenever things do get back to normal.

Mark DeYoung, head of the huge Vista Outdoor family of brands, which include Federal ammo and CCI (we’re talking the world’s largest makers of .22 rimfire ammo), explained that, going into this year, he figured the supply situation would improve significantly by the last months of the year.

But when the Obama administration and some of the presidential candidates came out with their attacks on guns in recent weeks (coupled with the concurrent rise in terrorist activities), DeYoung noted that such a catch-up likely will be postponed. He explained that they’re expanding their production capacity, but the combination of a larger base market and enhanced buying appetite of consumers simply are outstripping their ability to keep up with demand. And this phenomenon can be seen elsewhere throughout the industry.

NSSF president and CEO Steve Sanetti in his “State of the Industry” address echoed these realities during the SHOT Show.

“The road ahead will be arduous and costly,” Sanetti predicted. “But the people are never fooled for long. They, and we, will prevail.

“In that sense, our future has never been brighter,” he added. “Public opinion surveys show an unmistakable and dramatic shift towards us, and away from the prophets of doom.”

“And you have seen those eager new faces in your stores and on the ranges – more newcomers, more women, more diverse participants in the recreational shooting sports, and more of the next generations carrying on that great, time honored tradition of personal safety and responsibility that is the hallmark of our firearms industry, of which you should be so proud that you are all a part,” he said.

So how big is the shooting sports industry? In December the NSSF adjusted total of more than 2.2 million background checks represented an increase of 37.6 percent over the same month a year ago. For all of 2015, background checks were up 8.8 percent over 2014.

The $6.6 billion industry is seeing more people going target shooting and purchasing firearms for personal and home protection. The multi-year trend of more women purchasing firearms for protection and recreational shooting shows no sign of easing up.

Yet violent crime continues to decline.

“Despite the political challenges being mounted against our industry, it is gratifying to see the American people supportive of firearms ownership and to see new and diverse customers taking their first shots and enjoying our sports,” said Sanetti.

What all of this seems to mean is that the market itself is growing in both size and strength. Bluntly put, this well may become known as the Year of the Gun.

I’ve been to almost all of the 38 SHOT Shows, and can report that this one was something special – something more than just business. Literally, there now is a cultural component that ties the shooting sports industry to the citizenry in ways that have not been seen in decades — if ever.

Never before have there been more good reasons for folks to own and shoot guns. The public understands it. And the industry is delivering the goods. Yes, this year’s SHOT Show truly was one of the best ever. It was a brief few days in which social realities jelled with those who supply the items needed for recreation and defense.

The national culture and the gun culture finally have become one. And that is good.