Some Pre-SHOT Show Musings

It is time once again, next week anyway, for the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show. Created by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), it is the premier trade show for all of the activities described in its title, with the Outdoor emphasis on the shooting sports. This year it will be back in Las Vegas, from January 19-22, with a change in venue to the new Sands Expo Center. It is open only to people in the trade and is THE place for manufacturers and distributors to introduce new products, showcase their catalog of goods and services and, hopefully, sell them to dealers.

Because the media plays a key role in telling the world about all of the goodies that are available, and thus helps create consumer demand, we are also allowed to roam the aisles, check out the products and spread the (hopefully) good word. I've reported on the SHOT Show in the past and will be there again this year. It is probably just as well that the general public isn’t invited, as the throngs of people suffering from kid-in-a-candy-store syndrome, roaming zombie-like through the booths and exhibits trying to devour everything in sight, would probably create a chaotic gridlock that would take weeks to clear out. Fortunately, some of us from are willing to throw ourselves into the briar patch and try to sort out the offerings that have something to do with our purported areas of expertise. It's a tough job, but, well, you know.

With thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of attendees, it is a busy place. Even at that, there are additional media events outside the regular SHOT Show format and schedule, designed particularly to help media folks learn about new products. As you might suspect, an important and growing segment of the SHOT Show activities is the law enforcement market. Preliminary reports say that there will be law enforcement products and services on display in at least four different areas of the Show's new venue, as well as some products that will certainly be displayed in the general arena. Trying to anticipate how to efficiently peruse all of the products is a challenge. You could literally spend three days just going aisle by aisle and not retrace your steps, so experience and an action plan can really help save time and foot aches. Factoring out the safari and outfitter vendors, outdoor clothing companies, purveyors of various critter scents, lures and decoys, creative camouflage treatments and all manner of vehicles and contraptions for moving about or hiding in the wilds, what sort of goodies should we find for those who earn a living on the mean streets, trying to keep people safe so that they can enjoy their trips to the woods and waters?

One thing for sure, there will be firearms. And there will be every imaginable gun accessory and gadget, and probably a few unimaginable gizmos as well. There will be, for example, so many tables of AR rifle accessories that you just get numb looking at them all. Do we need them? Probably not, actually, but we're Americans, after all, and thus apparently genetically incapable of keeping anything simple and functional. We simply MUST tinker, trying to create that one tool that does everything. We rarely succeed, but inventors and manufacturers will oblige that proclivity and make sure we have the latest and greatest rails, optics and sights, slings that require a contortionist to use, lights, lasers, stocks, and attachment devices for virtually anything you can possibly use in connection with your patrol rifle. Hey, they'll even have a Pic rail mounted holder for your PDA/Handheld Computer/Cell Phone/GPS/Satellite downlink stay-connected-to-the-collective communicator. There are sniper apps for your iPhone. Really. There will also be flashlights. Ok, sorry, illumination devices, of all kinds, shapes, brightness levels and colors. There will even be devices that combine devices, so you can illuminate, disorient, shock, strike or simply baste someone with hot pepper sauce, all with one expensive, clumsy futuristic looking, um, thing. There will even be someone who makes a holster to carry it around in. What they probably won't have is a way to make more room on your duty belt. There will be knives of all sizes and shapes, including knives that don't look like knives and will probably be called stealth multi-tools. There will be breaching tools, body armor, simulated ammunition systems of all kinds, training dummies, video training systems, less-lethal force option tools, and so much stuff to wear that you could equip your department and just throw the dirty items away and never do laundry again. I think you get the picture.

So what is on the top of my priority list for checking out at this year's SHOT Show? Simple. I want to know one thing more than anything else: Where the hell is all the ammo? Everywhere I go, everyone I talk to, in departments large and small all over the country, there is the same problem. Cops can't get ammo! They can't get what they need for training and some can't even get what they need for their duty guns. I regularly get calls at our store from police officers and agencies that are desperate for ammo, and our shop isn't even a law enforcement ammunition supplier. Those that are have been telling departments that they cannot supply ammo with less than a three month wait and many are being told three times that figure. When I have had the opportunity to ask ammunition company representatives about this in the past, they have all said that they are making it as fast as they can. Really? Then where is it all going?

The consumption of ammunition by police agencies should be very easy to calculate, both for training and street use. Most agencies only buy what they need for a year, as their budgets are already stretched to the breaking point and they just don't have the money to stockpile a warehouse full of ammo for use several years down the line. You all know that I fully support the right of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, which includes owning a reasonable amount of ammo for training and self defense. But I also feel that the cops on the street should have first dibs and there certainly should be enough being produced to satisfy that predictable need. I'm not sure I'll get any sensible answers, but I plan on visiting every ammunition maker and asking that question. Look for a report and further comments down the road.

Other than ammo, what else am I curious about? Glock has announced a new Generation 4 frame that promises adjustability of the grip size. They are still the major supplier of police handguns, so this is welcome news to agencies that like Glocks but have trouble fitting out all the different hand sizes in their department. It should also be good news for individual officers. I'm told that the full size G17 and G22 models will be available first, soon after the Show, with the G19 and G23 models to follow later in the year. The SHOT Show will be my first hands-on opportunity with the new frames.

I'm also anxious to see if Smith & Wesson has anything new. Their M&P pistols are excellent guns and the more I work with them, the more I like them. Many of my colleagues also have been using them for competition and everyday carry, and we continue to be impressed with their versatility and quality.

Another gun that has a great deal of potential in the police market is the SIG Sauer polymer framed P250. Its modular design is innovative and flexible enough to satisfy even large department requirements. The main problem, so far, has been that the modular components have been slow to reach the user level. Maybe the folks at the SIG booth can tell me if that is expected to improve.

It will also be interesting to see how Beretta is making out with their polymer framed PX4 pistols. Both Beretta and SIG have a long and distinguished history with their all metal guns, but polymer frames seem to be winning out, for economic reasons if nothing else. In the long gun department, patrol rifles are a hot item, so I expect a lot of activity at those booths, as well as with the old reliable shotgun manufacturers.

When its all said and done, however, I believe that despite all the excitement about the newest and coolest gear, what the law enforcement world really needs right now is reasonably priced, effective and readily available guns, ammunition and gear that helps the men and women on the street right now. With all the glitter and hype of an event like the SHOT Show it is easy to get mesmerized with all the gee-whiz tools and toys. But the real world is where we make our living every day and the real world is getting tougher by the minute. What's hot at SHOT is only relevant if it translates into effective, useful tools for the thin blue line.