As we head into the weekend before the shooting industry congregates in Las Vegas for the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show, there has never been the level of concern over the political landscape that is obvious throughout the industry.
After yesterday's meeting with Vice President Biden and his White House task force studying the issue of "gun violence" the National Rifle Association emerged with a direct, and depressing report on the meeting. "We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment. While claiming that no policy proposals would be 'prejudged,' this Task Force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners -- honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans."
Somehow, I believe both groups' negative-sounding responses were prepared well in advance of this meeting. No one I spoke with seemed surprised, and I talked to Washington political observers, media members and a variety of average people I encountered while wandering the nearly-empty aisles of Hoover, Alabama's two largest sporting stores, Mark's Outdoor Sports and Hoover Tactical Firearms.
Most of them seemed to agree that both sides of a the gun violence debate were simply going through the motions of talking. As one lady told me as she examined three pocket sized pistols, "guns aren't something to talk about now, they're something to buy while you still can." Her first gun purchase -ever, FYI, was a .380 caliber pocket pistol already equipped with a laser sight. Her second was a compact 9mm pistol for her home.
It was a scene we've all seen repeated hundreds of times in these frantic past three weeks: gun stores mobbed with buyers snatching up - almost anything. Her purchase did have one first for me: never before had I ever seen anyone ask a sales clerk to show her how the gun locks worked. A safe just wasn't in her budget, she told me, but "there's no way I'm ever leaving a loaded gun lying around. If it's not on me, I'm going to be certain it can't be used against me."
Interesting times, indeed. And with Mr. Biden's recommendations promised to the White House by next Tuesday (the opening day of SHOT Show), it seems Washington will be on the minds of buyers in attendance almost as much as the product they're hoping manufacturers are capable of delivering -quickly- to retailers looking at bare shelves and rising demand.
n 1993 (top) Jim Scoutten was described as a professional broadcaster using his years of journalism experience to bring television the "only weekly show dedicated exclusively to gun issues." Today (below) Scoutten is one of the most-recognized faces in a television universe that includes any number of shows covering shooting and firearms. It's a tradition Scoutten is continuing with son John's two-decade long process of moving from grip and "go-fer" to recognized host and probable successor. Photos courtesy of ShootingUSA.
As all this swirls around SHOT Show, it will be a new experience for many of the seemingly endless number of media in attendance. After all, the past four-plus years have been characterized by strong sales and a growing pro-gun sentiment.
One TV host, however, has been there in some of the most interesting times. In fact, it's safe to say that no TV host in attendance has spent as much time on camera talking about guns as Shooting USA's Jim Scoutten. When SHOT Show opens Tuesday, Scoutten will begin his third decade of covering the shooting sports and firearms industry.
"When I got into covering shooting on television," Scoutten told me, "I was a freelancer working on American Shooter. I hosted and produced the show and we were pleased with how it went."
In the years since then, Scoutten's progressed from television gun-for-hire to owner of his own production company, Tier 1 Media, with nearly a dozen people working full-time on ShootingUSA and ShootingUSA's Impossible Shots. Production has also evolved, with today's shows in the now-requisite high definition with complicated post-production editing far beyond the capabilities of 1993.
And the show moved across a changing TV network landscape. But for the past five years, Scoutten and his shows have been part of Outdoor Channel's highly-successful Wednesday-night shooting block.
Today, only two originals are still around. Both named Scoutten. Jim's son, John, joined the show as a grip right out of high school. Since then, he's learned the business to the point that he's on camera almost as much as his nearly-ubiquitous father.
And he's making his daddy proud. "The young guys," Scoutten the elder observes, "don't do things the way you and I would, and that's not all bad. Instead of sitting around signing autographs at shows like I would, John and Mike Irvine came up with a way to produce podcasts that let people participate. They make shows entertaining and five or six thousand people download them as well."
So what's he think about all the "new media". Actually, it's not all that new to Scoutten. He put up a "message board" in the early days of his show, enabling him to have online discussions with the internet's earliest adopters.
Today, his shows are integrated with Facebook, Twitter and the web to engage shooters and viewers almost anywhere they're looking for information.
Trevor Baucom, Team Smith & Wesson. Shooting USA Photo.
And Scoutten has not only become a known "voice" in the industry, he's used that voice in some unique ways. Last year, The Outdoor and Shooting Wires were fortunate enough to participate in telling of Scoutten's quiet efforts to get a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot confined to a wheelchair after a crash in Afghanistan involved in competition shooting. Today, Trevor Baucom's not just a competition shooter who happens to be confined to a wheelchair, he's the first pro member of Team Smith & Wesson who shoots from a wheelchair.
He's also reunited the Army past with the Army- present by telling the story of a very-elderly World War II sniper given through Scoutten's behind-the-scenes efforts) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet today's best snipers, see their equipment, shoot a restored version of his now classic sniper rifle; then use their equipment to make a 1,000 yard shot- an impossible distance during his military service. "Old Sniper" remains one of Scoutten's favorite episodes.
Both were entertaining TV, but pointed to the willing nature of shooters to share their sports with others. Something Scoutten sees as essential for growing and protecting shooting sports.
Today, Scoutten's using his voice in the pitched battle over gun rights. In particular, Scoutten's telling merchants their decision to go "gun-free" is one that may be noble in its intent, but it comes with a financial consequence.
He encourages his audiences not to patronize those businesses, and to tell them-plainly- that "no guns means no money."
He even has small cards available on his websites visitors can print out and share (Editor's Note: You can get one yourself by clicking the linked images below).
On Monday, Scoutten will be in Las Vegas, prowling the SHOT Show floor and shooting stories for an annual SHOT Show special report. Unlike many other reporters, he'll also spend time in several booths as a recognized industry celebrity, talking with fans, signing autographs and taking a good-natured ribbing from other reporters.
Like the rest of us, Jim Scoutten doesn't mind. "After all," he says, "we're working and hanging out with friends. That's not bad work."
Next week, we'll be at SHOT Show and as always, we'll keep you posted.