After just attending the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Orlando, it's nigh on to impossible not to comment on the experience. Others have already given their views, and here are some of mine. First of all, I have to admit that it is the first SHOT Show I have been able to attend. Usually it is on the other side of the country or at the wrong time for me, but Orlando is pretty close, so off I went. Well, this show was HUGE! The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) statistics showed 656,100 square feet of exhibitor space and 1,870 exhibitors. There was a total attendance of just over 42,000 people. Access is restricted to dealers, the media and a few "friends" of the industry, but it would be hard to imagine what would happen if it were open to the general public. It would have to last for weeks, just to accommodate the crowds. It was crowded enough as it was. It's hard to say exactly how much of the total show is actually dedicated to law enforcement products and services. There was a separate area for LE vendors, but many companies, especially those with firearms and knives, had exhibit space in the "General" area. So there was a lot more territory to cover than just the LE section. Suffice it to say, you can easily stay busy for all four days.
One of the things that struck me, being an old guy, is the incredible variety that can be found nowadays in any one segment of the market. For example, the AR-style rifle must be doing pretty well, despite reports to the contrary. Booth after booth had every variation on the platform that you can imagine, and every gadget that could possibly be affixed thereto. Well, at least every one that's been designed so far. In fact, you can get the basic AR so tricked out that you'd need a cart to lug all the accessories. While I like choices and variety, sometimes enough is enough. If you get the gun too loaded down, you lose the lightweight maneuverability that was the original purpose of Eugene Stoner's design. One thing is for sure, there are enough slings, lights, optics, lasers, stock modifications and sources of goodies to satisfy every AR-lover in the land. Now, if we could just get folks to spend some time on serious training with them, we'd be in a better position to weed out the essential accessories from the gadgets that just look cool.
Clothing and wearable gear is another area where diversity abounds. I admit to being extremely jealous. In the early days of SWAT, we had to cobble together whatever military surplus stuff we could find, adapt it, dye it black (remember RIT dye?) and dream of the day when someone would actually make what we needed. Now there are aisles full of tactical gear and clothing. BlackHawk, for example, had a huge display area in the LE section. Many other companies, large and small, had their latest designs for everything from a busy day at the office to high-risk entry outfits. By the way, it's nice to see the cops getting some decent HAZMAT gear. Sometimes we forget that we are increasingly exposed to all sorts of hazardous materials (besides bullets, knives, clubs, etc.), often with little time to get suited up. Please take these risks seriously. You never know what you're walking into next. Ever been to a meth lab? 'Nuff said!
And flashlights! Holy illuminations, Batman. When I started out, we had the old three-cell Ray-O-Vac Sportsman flashlights. They usually lasted a month or two, if you had plenty of spare bulbs and replacement lenses. If you wanted anything brighter, you had to go with the 6 volt "hand lantern" size. Well, now you can find blindingly bright light in very small packages. LEDs (and battery life) are getting better by the minute and many of the lights are nearly indestructible. One huge improvement, as far as I'm concerned, is that the manufacturers have discovered ways to vary the light intensity. For a while there, lights were getting too bright for some uses, such as reading and report writing. Now, there are literally hundreds of choices and you can carry more than one light, without being weighed down in the process. Unfortunately, such utility and durability does come with some pretty hefty price tags. The old Ray-O-Vacs were only a couple of dollars each, thank goodness. And now, pretty much every gun company is making guns that can accommodate rail mounted lights. On some ARs you can hang several, if you're into that sort of thing. Holster manufacturers are starting to make some nice rigs for guns with attached lights. But please, don't be like an officer I heard about just recently. I have some friends who are heavy into K-9 training. They meet one night every week. This time of year, it is usually dark for most of the sessions. One night when they were huddled around in the dark, admiring their pooches, someone suddenly noticed that the officer who was lighting up the dogs to check them out was using his gun-mounted light! If you carry a gun-mounted light, please have another light source for "no-shoot" work.
Knives have come a long way, also. Now there are all shapes and sizes. A lot of them are not very practical for street work, but some people are getting very creative with their designs. Judging by the number of cutlery exhibitors, a lot of people are still looking for that perfect knife. Once upon a time, we were happy when Buck made their Folding Hunter with a locking blade. It was the one I carried on my duty belt for a long time, so I have a great appreciation for the one-handed and auto openers that are in abundance today. Again, with so many great designs, the good news is that you can carry more than one, without weighing down more than your wallet.
While there were so many different products that impressed me that it is impossible to list them here, I am supposed to write about firearms, so here's one to keep any eye on. In the past, Smith & Wesson has made several attempts at competing in the polymer framed pistol market, all of which have been less than successful. But the new M&P auto-loading pistols should get S&W back in the game. I've had a chance to shoot both the .40 and .45 caliber models and I think they have a winner. Time will tell about durability, but some folks are working hard at testing them and so far they are making the grade. An early one I shot had an inconsistent, gritty feel to the trigger, but newer ones and those that have been shot a bit are smooth and very manageable at about 6.5 lbs.. The interchangeable grip panels (small, medium and large) allow adjusting for different hand sizes, which has often been an issue with the granddaddy of the polymers, Glock. The ergonomic grip angle and low bore axis make for very mild felt recoil. I shot the new .45 ACP model at the show and I think it will be a must-have for me. The new M&P is now available in 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG and .45 ACP. Features include a reversible magazine release, ambidextrous slide release, optional internal lock, and, for military and LE use, an optional magazine safety. It also looks like the .45 version will have an optional manual safety. One gun design that can accommodate different shooters and requirements. What a concept. Just to sweeten the deal, Crimson Trace is making a laser sight for it that has everything but the laser module incorporated into a medium size grip insert. That will make a nice, all-lighting-conditions package that may help put S&W back into a lot of LE holsters over the next few years. They are also making some M&P designated AR style rifles as well. Keep an eye on S&W. Just as the original M&P model revolvers were the mainstay of the LE market a half century ago, Smith seems to be gearing up for a return to a serious share of today's LE market.
It may seem funny to you youngsters how attending a trade exposition that is supposed to showcase all the new and exciting things in the industry can lead to nostalgia. Just wait. Someday you'll walk through aisles and aisles of the latest gear and your mind will drift back to when life was simpler, choices were fewer and you'll understand that the real excitement is yet to come.