Why Mandates Don’t Matter, and Why You Definitely Should Attend

This newsletter about mask mandates at the SHOT Show was all written, and then something changed.  The firearms industry just had a trade show under a mask mandate, and guess what?  Nobody wore a mask.

Not a mask in sight at NASGW. Greater Columbus Convention Center, October 28, 2021

In that picture are at least 24 faces, all unmasked. Never mind that the venue required masks for all, and signs reminded attendees of the requirement.  It warms my heart to be part of an industry dominated by sensible free-thinkers who are confident enough to thumb their (exposed) noses at absurd regulations that have no real benefit to healthy people.

There were a few masks visible in hallways outside the show floor, but you had to look long and hard to find a mask inside.

This is a relief to me, and to many others who face essentially the same local venue requirement at our upcoming SHOT Show.  Maybe a few of us will be asked to mask up by the same jacketed show personnel who remind us to put on our badges as we enter approach the doors, but it looks like inside, it will be business as usual.

I’m not alone.  I know most of you hate masks too, and are less likely to attend trade shows that mandate them.  I’ve been talking to clients about it for a long time, and my poll last month asked: “How do mask mandates influence your decision to participate at an industry trade show?”  80% of respondents said they would be less likely to attend a show with mask mandates.  (60% said much less likely).

Here’s where I’m coming from: I presume that for me and most people, masks do not have a net benefit.  Others can debate the details and analyze the data, but when we consider the health effects (pro and con), the social isolation effects, the effect on the hard of hearing, and all the other factors like creating a false confidence among those who are sick, they’re probably harmful overall.  Primarily, I truly believe that mask mandates are symbolic of oppression, authoritarianism, and governmental abuse of the rights of free people.  They potentially serve to crush the spirit, and to transform society in a way that can lead to terrible consequences.  Whether your preferred analogy relates to boiling frogs or coal-mine canaries, this harmless piece of cloth or paper is a big deal.  And while not everyone might agree with all these points, the universal non-compliance says we’re almost all on the same page. BUT…I’m perfectly content to leave this as a matter for informed individual choice, and I’d never fault anyone who chose to wear a mask for any reason, and I don’t even need to know the reason.  I also know people whose immune systems need every possible precaution, and they are celebrating a new era in which trade show attendance is no longer a prerequisite to being a serious industry player.  (See you on Zoom!)

So all that follows is on the assumption that I’m not alone, and that there might be some benefit to our industry and to our nation to do something about it.

Why I Don’t Envy the NSSF

The NSSF leadership are caught in a tough place.  They have been taking their own surveys this year, and they know how we feel.  Yet they are faced with a local mandate in Las Vegas.  They can’t very well thumb their noses at local official with enforcement powers.  Nor do they want to lose credibility with members by seeming to support a very unpopular mandate.

On the surface, they take a tough position.  When I signed up for to attend my 20th SHOT show last week, the mandate was there is bold print:

  1. I understand, they need to say that, or otherwise the organization might be liable for encouraging mass(k) non-compliance.

I realized that this isn’t the battle of the NSSF any more than the NASGW leadership needed to go to bat for members attending the Columbus Ohio show.  We’ve got this one covered, just like at NASGW.  Simple widespread non-compliance does the trick, every time.

And this is an especially critical time for the NSSF and the SHOT Show.  Even as I’ve been writing enthusiastically about attending the can’t-miss show for decades, there’s a risk the NSSF faces.  We all considered missing the show to be unthinkable.  I’ve written that if you don’t see me at the show, either I’m retired, or worse.  But, in 2020, the unthinkable experiment was conducted:  We all learned what happens when you miss the SHOT Show.  Surprisingly, not much.  Life and business went on, and none of my clients have complained, except perhaps for one start-up inventor hoping to have a public launch.

We all hear the usual complaints about the long week away from home, travel costs, and viruses acquired.  That’s for attendees like me, and we have it easy compared to those who invest in booth costs and the team to staff them.  Not to mention the increasing per diem to feed and water the troops in modern Las Vegas.  Don’t get me wrong, Vegas has been my first choice for a long time, even with those $60 entrees and $20 cocktails.

So after this one-year experiment, if a return to SHOT isn’t a great experience, some folks might be crossing it off the list.  I hope not, but I’ve already heard a few whispers.

Which is why I’m relieved at the signal sent by our colleagues attending NASGW: “We ignore BS rules.”  That bodes well for a relaxed, enjoyable SHOT Show, if the local venue and our own leadership has a similarly light touch.

The first battle to be won is to overcome the resistance of those who (perhaps like me) are sitting on the fence, asking ourselves if we will ever voluntarily attend an event or patronize a business that requires a mask.  Seeing the non-compliance at NASGW nailed me solidly in the “I’m coming” camp.  I’m doing my part by sharing that optimistic image to encourage attendance even by the mask curmudgeons.  After all, having people stay home is just as bad as attending and deciding it’s not worth it.

“We’re Taking Them Back”

I wish I had an ancient Greek translator to come up with the equivalent of Molon Labe, but it’s been said that when they take away your rights, they never give them back.  No, they must be taken back.

Like NASGW attendees, the Southwest Airlines pilots show this beautifully.  (I note that the news reports that described airline pilots as the most politically conservative career group never met people who work in the gun industry!)  All it took was a collection of individuals, each motivated by their own personal values and interest, to freely take a simple, legal, and harmless step: call in sick or take some accrued vacation time.  There must have been some leadership and networking, but all the action was individual, free, and legal.

The result is that a vaccine mandate that threatened loss of a job was stopped in its tracks.  Oops.  And not only did the pilots “take back” their right to make their own medical decisions for themselves, but they also set a powerful lesson for the nation, the world, and for you and me right now.  I’d want to salute their courage, but the beauty is that they didn’t need courage because the risk was virtually non-existence.  Instead, I salute their principles, and their wisdom in how they pursed them so effectively.

Perhaps even more apt is the move by In-N-Out Burger to ignore a San Francisco vaccine mandate, and continue to do business making yummy burgers (I prefer “Animal Style” from the off menu secret orders).  “We refuse to be the vaccine police” is the perfect take.  A private entity telling government over-reachers to enforce their own stupid laws.  (Hold onto that thought).

“No Ask, No Mask”

That’s the simple plan to take back your right to breathe as you see fit at trade shows, and at any location in society.  It works for governments, and it works on private property.

Don’t wear a mask – until you’re asked to.  By an actual person.

Ignore the signs, whether they “request” or “require.”

Ignore the orders by officials who have no legal authority to require you to cover your face, or to publish you for failing to do so.

Ignore the laws (have any actually been passed, anywhere?) that make it a crime or violation to fail to wear a mask.

I read once that the best response to authoritarianism is to play dumb.  “Huh?  What?  Oh, yeah, really?  OK, just a sec – here it is.  Sorry.”

“Let’s Go Brandon!”  That meme arose from the voices of multitudes of free individuals, expressing their contempt for a political figure, and ended up as exhibit one for the case that the mainstream media will offer any lie to advance their agenda, no matter how obviously ridiculous.

How To Do It

It’s this simple:  Have a mask in your pocket, and then forget to put it on.  When the badge-checker as the doorway asks you to, put it on.  With a smile and a little apology for the oversight.

Next time you have reason to take off the mask (eating, drinking) put the mask in your pocket, and… forget to put it on.  When someone with authority asks you to put on a mask, smile, apologize, and comply.  This might well apply outside of the show floor.  In restaurants, or passing the hotel key checker by the elevators.  Uber driver.  Everywhere.  “Oops, sorry.  Here ya go.”

That’s what happened almost universally in Columbus.

I do this, and I take it to the next level.  It’s rare in Texas, but when asked, I cheerfully reply “I don’t need to.”  I’m prepared if they say that it’s required to cheerfully reply: “Really? Could I talk to the owner and explain?”  And so on.  It’s cheerful political activism in support of liberty of the most vulnerable and oppressed minority class there is:  The Individual.  But you don’t need to take it that far.  Get asked, get masked.  That minimal “friction” is all it takes to stop pointless mandates that the elite ignore.

Caveat: Don’t try this in the air.  Maybe you get one “oops” before you’re on the no-fly list.  Maybe two if you’re good at playing dumb or in first class.  But if everyone took one “oops” in the air – maybe not remasking after drinking, that would be over in no time.

How the NSSF Can Help

  1. Be like the NASGW leadership, and use a light touch. Let your members manage this delicate issue.  Trust us to do the right thing, both for ourselves as individuals, and for our industry collectively.
  2. Signal support for individual choice in your company’s own booth. Perhaps tell employees that they alone are responsible for their own health choices, and for issues relating to compliance with local regulations – you aren’t responsible for their choices.  Consider whether a stictly masked booth will get the same traffic as a mostly unmasked booth.  And of course, the ultimate signal comes from the boss – are you masked?
  3. Behind the scenes, lean on the locals. The Las Vegas Convention interests earn a fortune from us.  Have your lawyers talk to their lawyers whether an unwanted mask mandate is cause to break future contracts.  Tell them to tell the politicians they “own” to lighten up on the masks if they want liberty-oriented groups to keep bringing our bucks.  Your members will back you up by showing how widespread non-compliance reveals the absurdity of the mandates.
  4. Consider other friendlier jurisdictions. Float this idea publicly.  Sure, there are a ton of reasons why Las Vegas is better than Little Rock, but Texas and Florida have some capacity.  This includes my idea shared last month of making the big Vegas event every other year, and having traveling small-booth mini shows in off years.

Incidentally, some of the above relate to my trial balloon floated last month that the SHOT Show be only every other year, with a traveling smaller scale mini-show in alternative years.  Make Las Vegas pay for their choice to be unfriendly to pro-liberty business interests.

In the end, even if as an individual you’re not sure about strictly implementing a “No Mask, No Ask” policy, I ask you one small thing.  Try it.  Once.  It was uncomfortable at first (so was being one of the first to wear masks when there was so much uncertainty).  But you’ll find that nothing happens, and next time you try it’s pretty easy.  Soon you’ll genuinely be forgetting your mask every time, and the cheerful response when asked will be natural.  If it also makes you feel good to be doing your part to restore our liberties, so much the better.

And thanks to the NASGW attendees, I can say sincerely:  See you at SHOT!

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About the Author: Ben Langlotz

Ben Langlotz is the nation’s leading firearms patent and trademark attorney, and the author of Bulletproof Firearms Business: The Legal Guide to Success Under Fire. He is trusted by more firearms industry companies than any other lawyer or law firm in the nation, and is consistently ranked at the top of all attorneys in securing gun patents and gun trademarks.