Notes from the NRA Show – So Gossipy It’s Scary
There’s plenty of debate whether Trump’s election is good for our industry, or not. The Gun Salesmen of the Year is now giving million-dollar speeches, so everyone is back to relying on their own salesmen. Fear in the marketplace is no longer driving sales, especially for commodity level magazines and lowers whose bans had previously been coveted by the Democrats.
Speaking of which, I was having a quiet dinner at the bar of a restaurant on Friday after a day in the exhibit hall, and was seated next to a nice grandmother. She learned I was there for the NRA show, and revealed that although she was a Trump voter, she had some concerns about NRA policies. She first asked about the “gun-show loophole” and weren’t we concerned about unregulated sales putting guns in the hands of criminals. I was delighted to gently inform her that there is no such thing as a gun show loophole. All licensed firearm dealers must conduct background checks, whether in gun shops, on the Internet, or at gun shows. And everyone else is legally permitted (under federal law, in most states) to sell a gun without a background check, whether from their home, office, or a at a gun show. What impressed her was that the background-check system is not available to private citizens wishing to confirm a buyer’s legality. I hope I didn’t state it, but it’s essentially prohibited for an individual seller to conduct a background check. Some loophole!
The nice lady was also surprised when I told her how fear of bans drove sales in the industry. She didn’t believe me when I told her that Obama was often referred to as “Gun Salesman of the Year.” I went out on a limb and predicted that if I entered that phrase into Google on my phone, that pictures of Obama would pop up. She was shocked and amused when I showed her.
In the NRA exhibit hall, there was a wide range of opinions on the ‘Trump Slump.’ Some companies are clearly suffering. One client remarked that the only reason they were exhibiting was because the booth space was paid for. They said they are selling product, but there’s still uncertainty whether a young gunmaker can survive what feels like the lull after the storm.
Inside Trump’s Ear?
Visiting the Gemtech booth, I got quite a bit more optimism from Ron Martinez, one of their principals. Maybe he was enjoying the mood on Trump’s speech that day, the first time a sitting President visited the NRA show since the Reagan era. Ron was happy to share that Gemtech was not experiencing a downturn, but has been sustaining solid sales since the election. He also offered some political insider tidbits. Ron’s a friend of Donald Trump Jr., who was all over the exhibit hall that day. Ron even showed me personal texts from Donald Jr., and shared his inauguration stories.
The most interesting point to report was on the Hearing Protection Act, which we hope will make it much easier to buy suppressors. When Ron reports what Donald Jr. says, he’s presumably reporting what the President thinks. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good news. Ron said that there’s no way the Act is passed in the current Congress (meaning the bare majority GOP Senate). It sounds like Trump isn’t going to spend political capital on that fight and will wait for a filibuster proof GOP Senate majority. Ron also said that there’s no way the $200 transfer tax will go away. That would be odd because with no background check and extensive processing (compared to a handgun purchase with a NICS check) there is no rationale for the transfer tax. I certainly agree that no bill should be proposed that would require the rebating of past transfer taxes when the bill takes effect. That would simply point the bill by adding fiscal cost to an Act that is primarily intended to restore freedom, not provide “reparations.”
Some might speculate that an owner of a suppressor company would want to convince the market to be pessimistic of passage. Many consumers might put off buying now if they thought it would be $200 cheaper in the future, after all. But I don’t think Ron was trying to reach his prospective customers through this newsletter, and I’d be willing to wager that his predictions will be about right.
They say that anyone who agrees with oneself is a genius. Which makes Ron Martinez a genius for saying (unprompted) about the Trump Slump: “In a Down Market: INNOVATE!” That was the message of my photoshopped cover photo of the President a few months back. Maybe it’s my own subconscious marketing strategy, but I think our clients who keep innovating in the downturns are the ones who are the most successful in the end.
Can You Feel the Love?
Years ago, my lament was that I dined alone at the SHOT Show because my clients were all too busy taking their customers out to dinner to let me take them out. That hasn’t been true for a long time, but there’s truth in it. Maybe after all these years, after a big day at SHOT (four days!) I don’t mind the rare evening I can quietly recharge with a seat at the bar, a plate of oysters, and a nice steak.
But I’ve learned that at NRA and NASGW, no one is so busy they can’t accept a little hospitality. So I’ve started inviting my industry friends to happy hours at the nearest event hotel with a BIG bar space and a corner for us all to hang out at the end of the day before dinner.
Alert: If any reader of this newsletter didn’t receive an invite, email [email protected] to be sure we have you on our invite list for future shows.
So after everyone enjoyed the mild and moistening climate on the slight uphill walk four blocks from the “Congress Center” (incidentally, did it ever strike you that PROgress is the opposite of CONgress?) our guests arrived ready to restore.
What I enjoyed most was seeing the whole spectrum of our industry. From the employees who enjoy a glamorous business trip to an urban center with a good per-diem, to the long time industry figures who are just looking for something cold after an uphill Atlanta walk, to some of my oldest and newest friends.
Selfie Says it All
OK, so I doubted whether Chris could take a decent selfie worthy of this esteemed publication. But it turned out that Chris was Chris Cerino, firearms instructor, consultant, two-time runner up on Top Shot, and co-host of Guns & Gear, GunTalk Television, and First Person Defender. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this friendly and knowledgeable regular guy turns out to be a media star my sheltered life left me clueless about.
And he took a decent selfie – what do you think?
So, at our little Happy Hour, you get one of my oldest (not his age – our relationship) clients, Gene DeSantis. In the encyclopedia, I think his picture is next to the entry for “Inventor of the Holster” but guys were stuffing guns in leather receptacles and pouches before Gene was born so I can’t be sure.
Why I Now Call Him “Uncle Lew”
The other gentleman in the picture is another of my oldest clients. I bumped into Lew (or he into me) earlier that day when I was just sitting down to a casual meeting with a prospective client with an impeccable introduction. As we started our conversation, Lew saw me out of the corner of his eye and strolled over. I’m not sure whether I was merely smiling or maybe concealing a smirk as I thought what it must have been like for someone who had just met me to see one of our industry’s most respected and venerable figures approach, yank me from my chair, and give me a bear hug. When he met my prospective client, Lew apologized for interrupting our meeting and said some nice things about how I’ve helped his business over the years.
Of course, Lew is Lew Danielson, the founder of Crimson Trace Corporation. The guy who once said “What if we put a laser in a gun grip?” The rest is history, and I couldn’t be prouder that Lew’s company was one of my crown-jewel patent clients during my earliest years in this industry.
Everyone knows that Lew retired and sold to Smith and Wesson for something like a nine-figure payday. Truly, is there a better embodiment of the dream that so many in our community share? But Lew is a, well, sensitive guy, and he revealed something to me, and to another guest at our event that night. He asked us: “Do you know what’s the hardest part of retirement?”
We all guessed that it was deciding where to buy vacation condos, or how to find financial advisers you can trust. Or whether NetJets is really a better alternative to First Class.
But Lew brought us all back down to earth. He poignantly shared that the dream that so many of us share has a bittersweet truth. When you retire, you’ll miss the people you loved working with. For Lew, he can always return to CTC, walk around counseling young engineers, pointing out a tooling radius that might need modifying. But he reminded us all to appreciate the people we work with every day, and our professional relationships. We sometimes forget, perhaps with ugly commutes and long hours that we truly enjoy those we work with. Those we’d miss working on problems with, giving or getting advice, or sharing a creative breakthrough.
Twice that day I heard Lew telling friends and strangers the wisdom he had learned in his retirement. These weren’t inside secrets, but lessons he was driven to share. Sometimes, it takes someone who has it all – whose dream has come true beyond all imagination – to remind us of how blessed we are to work in an industry we love, with people we truly love and admire.
Thanks, Uncle Lew.