SHOT Show, Now What?

May 13, 2013
Last Thursday, four months after Reed Exposition's decision forbidding modern sporting rifles at the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show ultimately killed that immensely-popular event, the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced they were ending their 30+ year affiliation with British-owned Reed.

Despite good service for more than three decades, the statement said "the company's decision to restrict the sale of certain kinds of firearms this year at its consumer hunting and fishing show- an event unrelated to NSSF - and Shot show - was in conflict with NSSF's mission to serve the shooting sports industry."

"As a result, both organizations decided it was in the best interest of SHOT Show to end the relationship."

Since that announcement, several industry leaders have told me they felt the decision was always a "no-brainer" for the NSSF. Others have said, pointedly, that decision was "four months too-long in coming".

And they're still not happy with the NSSF because of the organization's continued presence in Connecticut after Governor Daniel P. Molloy's ramrodding of anti-gun legislation into law in response to Sandy Hook.

The NSSF and Connecticut-based gun companies actively campaigned against those laws. And the gun companies have expressed a variety of responses, from total relocation to putting additional facilities in gun-friendly states. The NSSF has made no public statement and some NSSF members aren't happy about that.

"They're not talking about moving a manufacturing plant," one disgruntled exec told me, "it's computers, files and office furniture. Why would you stay where you're not wanted?"

That question points to a rhetorical question being argued through the industry: if a state passes legislation against your primary product, does a manufacturer stay and fight, or relocate to a gun-friendly state?

Staying behind gives the anti-gun state the benefit of the company's tax dollars, and its employees continue to bolster that economy.

Moving takes away significant revenues, but asks another question: if gun companies abandon longtime homes, are they ceding that state to anti-gun groups?

There's no easy answer for that one, so the NSSF finds itself (again) in a no-win position.

The decision to responsibly part company with Reed -hopefully avoiding space and accommodation conflicts in Las Vegas and Orlando - demonstrates the ability for the NSSF board and management to ultimately make a difficult decision. But the decision has reportedly caused a rift in the board that may lead to changes there, too.

For now, the process of finding a new show management company to manage and produce the SHOT Show - beginning next year - is "actively underway" and a top priority. That search, however, is complicated because some potential management groups are reluctant to consider the firearms-centered SHOT Show.

That might seem puzzling to those of us in the "gun culture" but despite its size, SHOT is a single event. No other events are associated with it.

That's a challenge the NSSF faces. Despite having extricated themselves from a longstanding relationship with Reed (which was extended just last year), they're finding some other companies hesitant because they're afraid that taking on SHOT could actually cost them other business.

With teachers' unions, pension plans and others dumping investments in gun companies (despite record results), expo companies are afraid that taking on SHOT could mean the loss of lots of smaller events associated with education, medicine and finance.

The British Medical Society put that ultimatum to Reed in the UK. Rather than risk the medical society business, Reed dumped a military-focused group entirely. I'm told that's one reason Reed execs were unwilling to reconsider allowing AR-style rifles in the Eastern Show.

Now, the immensely-popular Eastern Show has been reborn as the Great American Outdoor Show, managed by the National Rifle Association. Originally described as a great win for gun owners, even this show is facing criticism - from inside the gun industry.

The Eastern Show was a major selling event for local and regional gun dealers. But the NRA says the Great American will be like other NRA events: it won't allow gun sales.

Retailers and consumers are unhappy with that news -and they're making that displeasure clear to the NRA.

Will the NRA reverse that decision and make an exception for the Great American Outdoor Show? Can the NRA reverse the decision, or does their agreement with Pennsylvania prohibit gun sales?

Both open questions at this point.

As always, we'll keep you posted.

--Jim Shepherd