A Few Minutes With....Joe Bartozzi, NSSF

Apr 16, 2020

It’s tough these days not to take issue with some of the ridiculous “truths” we’ve seen pushed out via the media.

One of the toughest for me to ignore has been the idea that the federal government’s classification of the firearms industry as “essential” has somehow enabled “drive through gun sales”.

With even an elementary understanding of how buying a gun works, it’s ludicrous. But it’s an untruth the Brady organization has pushed out via “the usual suspects” in the mainstream.

Fortunately, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the organization that played a key role in that governmental determination, resisted the temptation to wade in and blast this latest ridiculous idea.

Historically, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has avoided the back-and-forth sniping. Admittedly, their silence has occasionally frustrated me, but it’s hard to argue with their results, especially today.

They’ve been instrumental in keeping the industry open when political forces have worked to shut it down and initiate more regulations.

Today, the NSSF’s headed by Joe Bartozzi, an industry veteran who came to the NSSF from Mossberg. He joined NSSF in 2018 as President, and added the CEO title this year, taking over after Steve Sanett’s retirement on December 31, 2019.

Like Sanetti, Bartozzi’s not one who seeks the spotlight, so I’m happy to have the opportunity today to share “A Few Minutes With….Joe Bartozzi.”

Joe Bartozzi, President and CEO, NSSF. Photo courtesy National Shooting Sports Foundation.

JS: Joe, we see and hear all sorts of ridiculous things about guns, gun owners and the gun industry these days. Of all the organizations involved in the gun business, NSSF seems less inclined to get involved in these arguments. How - and why- do you do it?

BARTOZZI: Sometimes it’s hard to bite your tongue, but you have to ask “is this something where we want to get involved?” Sometimes, responding gives these things more credibility than they deserve. So we prefer to work quietly.

JS: What do you mean?

BARTOZZI: We want people on both sides of issues to respect and trust us. That means we have to be a source of reliability.

JS: Lately, NSSF has - quietly - done some big things. For example, convincing the administration to declare the firearms industry a critical piece of the nation’s infrastructure. That was a big deal.

BARTOZZI: It was certainly a big deal, and from more than one perspective.

JS: How so?

BARTOZZI: First, we reminded the administration that many of our companies are significant contributors to the national defense effort. They manufacture the essential tools the military and law enforcement use to keep us safe.

JS: I hadn’t considered that. We’ve primarily focused on the business impact on retailers around the country.

BARTOZZI: That’s also a key element - but for a couple of reasons. First, local law enforcement is frequently supplied by local gun shops. They’re where they get their essential tools. And, the ability to defend yourself is an individual right under the Second Amendment. But it’s tough to defend your essential individual rights if you can’t get the tools to defend yourself. So the critical infrastructure designation was something we knew was Important for everyone.

JS: That brings the recent influx of first-time gun buyers into the conversation. What do you know about them? To me, many seem to be young people who realize they can’t depend on someone else when it comes to self-defense. Is that what you’re seeing driving first-time buyers?

BARTOZZI: We’re seeing several different reasons. If you’re talking hunting guns, we’re seeing a lot of them from the field-to-fork movement. They’re concerned about what they’re eating and attracted to the organic idea of hunting. We’re seeing recreational shooters who have bought guns to shoot them, not to store away for emergencies.

But we’re also seeing they want more than just to buy a gun. They want to know about guns. They care about gun safety. It’s a concern today, because our quarantines make it tough to buy a gun and go to a range, or to get quality instruction.

NSSF’s addressing that in a new initiative. We’re working to bring more good information to them remotely- to use the computer, smartphones and tablets. We’re lucky, because those are tools they already know how to use. They use them to find out about nearly everything.

JS: Gun safety’s always a big issue, isn’t it?

BARTOZZI: Yes, but another big concern where NSSF’s been quietly working for some time, is suicide prevention. One of the last trips I took was to San Francisco for to a conference on suicide prevention among veterans. I was nervous at first, but the conference attendees were glad to see gun owners were concerned about suicide prevention. They were receptive of our perspective - and pleased to see how involved the industry is in responsible gun ownership- and suicide prevention.

JS: Let’s talk about another recent win- the ATF’s issuance of guidance regarding FFL operations during the quarantines. I know one business owner who had shut down his operation because he didn’t have room in his store to responsibly be open with social distancing. He told me, directly, that the ATF’s guidance allowing him to service customers in front of his store let him reopen - and put his people back to work.

BARTOZZI: Keeping the infrastructure open was important. We worked with the ATF, and they considered it, and quickly did the right thing. They issued guidance to give retailers some flexibility in their business operation. It was the right thing to do from a business and social responsibility viewpoint. We were very pleased with their willingness to look at the issue and allow some infrastructure flexibility.

JS: It’s important to restate that the ATF guidance still didn’t enable drive-through gun sales, right?

BARTOZZI: (Laughing) No, it did not. There are no drive through gun sales, no matter what anyone says.

JS: Not everything the NSSF’s gotten done recently has just been because of recent work, has it? Didn’t export control reforms take a while?

BARTOZZI: I remember going to Washington as part of an NSSF members’ initiative ten years ago to talk with people about export control reform. We talked, and continued to talk with them, and now, ten years later, we’ve gotten the export reform that we needed. And it makes it easier for our members to conduct their business.

JS: OK, with export reform win, the critical infrastructure designation and the ATF guidance, the NSSF has accomplished a lot - for the whole industry. But isn’t it true a lot of companies and businesses still aren’t NSSF members?

BARTOZZI: No, they’re not. Only a percentage of the retailers around the country are members, but we work for everyone. They benefit, but we hope they see the benefit and join us.

JS: Will NSSF be involved going into the election?

BARTOZZI: Yes, and that’s another reason we’d like to see more small to mid-sized retailers join us.

Politics, unfortunately, is a numbers game. Legislators need to know that we represent jobs, tax revenues, and voters in their districts. But we will advocate as we can. We will support other organizations in their areas. We will work to represent our industry, and be involved in issues that align with our mission.

JS: If I’m a business owner reading this and I realize I need to be an NSSF member, or need to learn more about membership, can I just go to www.nssf.org and learn more?

BARTOZZI: You certainly can. And there’s another reason they should go there. When they get to our home page, the first thing they’ll see is “COVID-19 Resources for FFLs” - it’s a collection of resources where FFLs can see the national and state information they need to know what’s allowed as a firearms retailer.

JS: Thanks, Joe. We appreciate the time.

—Jim Shepherd