SHOT Show Report:

I returned last night from the SHOT Show (Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trades), in Orlando. SHOT is the annual trade show for the firearms industry, and it also attracts lots of exhibitors for hunting clothing, archery, law enforcement gear, knives, and so on. The mood is not unlike the mood at the 1993 SHOT Show, when the Clinton administration was taking power. Retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers were happy that they had been making lots of money (because of concerns about the administration) but there was also great trepidation about the future.

One important difference is that the firearms industry is much better-organized and politically-informed than in 1993. The 1994 ban on so-called "assault weapons," plus the wave of anti-manufacturer lawsuits filed by mayors in 1998-99, has made the industry much more aware of its need to defend itself politically. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is a much, much more effective organization than it used to be.

Because the Show is held in January or February, and because it has such enormous needs for space, the Show tends to be held in one of the fairly small number of southerly cities which has a massive convention center. The people of Orlando were very, and the convention center was well-run. But the conventional wisdom is that the favorite for most people is Las Vegas, to which the Show will return in 2010.

The SHOT Show has a sort of Brigadoon feel to it. For several days, you're living in a small city (population 50,000+) where almost all your time is spent on a convention floor, or in receptions where you're talking with other gun people. One thing I like about Las Vegas is that whenever you step outside the convention, you're on (or near) the Strip, which is another zone of non-standard reality. If the Orlando Convention Center were next to Magic Kingdom, there would be a similar effect.

No-one knows for sure in exactly what way and how quickly the Obama administration will start its assault on Second Amendment rights, although there is little doubt that the assault is inevitable. (I mean "Second Amendment rights" in the normal sense of the word, not in the Obamaspeak by which banning handguns, banning lots of other guns, outlawing self-defense with a gun, outlawing concealed carry, and banning all guns stores within five miles of a school or park is consistent with the Second Amendment.)

There are some reports, from reliable journalists like as Michael Bane, that the effort to ban so-called "assault weapons" (that is, guns which differ cosmetically from other guns) may come very soon--partly as a tactic to appease hard-left activists who have been disappointed by some of Obama's appointments or what may be a relatively moderate approach to foreign policy. I'm not so sure that this would make political sense, since although gun control is popular with much of the MSM and the celebrity elite (e.g., Huffington Post), it doesn't strike me as a very important issue from the point of view of Daily Kos readers or under-35 activists.

Back in 1989-94, when there was the first federal push for an "assault weapon" ban, the ban advocates had to exempt the Ruger Mini-14 rifle, because it was so widely owned that a ban which encompassed it was politically impossible. Making things worse, from the pro-bna viewpoint, the AR-15 rifle and its many variants is probably the most popular rifle in the country today, with about five million owned, and new guns being purchased as fast as the factories can make them.

Accordingly, my guess is that any serious campaign for a new ban will not outlaw guns by name (unlike the 1994 ban), but will give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) administrative authority to ban guns. This approach allows the Mini-14 and the AR-15 to be banned eventually, but saves Congress from having to take an explicit vote on outlawing those particular guns. The "assault weapon" bans which have been introduced in the last several Congresses have taken this approach.

Unless you're in the industry, or in media that covers the industry, you can't attend the SHOT Show. But if you're interested in what's going on there, outdoor writer Jim Shepherd has some good video of interviews with exhibitors of some of the interesting new products.