LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — Guns, porn, and concrete.
That’s what you can expect to find in the Nevada desert on the third week of most Januarys. But, it’s been a while since we’ve had a January like most.
Last year the firearms, adult, and concrete industries canceled their conventions. This year, SHOT Show and the World of Concrete pushed through omicron concerns while the AVN Show pulled out back in September.
There’s a lot to be said about the specifics of this year’s SHOT, and we’ll get to that, but it’s impossible to separate the event from the pandemic in which it occurred.
While not the first conference to reopen since March 2020, it is one of the first major gun gatherings as the NRA has been forced to cancel their own annual meeting two years in a row. How well SHOT plays out will surely be examined by those planning big indoor firearms events moving forward. With NSSF telling me they had over 40,000 attendees and no reports of a superspreader event (though it’s likely harder to notice something like that given how much community spread there is right now), it appears to have been a success.
That’s not to say things felt like normal.
There’s a euphemism for viral sicknesses that get passed around at the conference each year. It’s called “SHOT Show crud.” In years past that was probably the flu or the common cold. Obviously, the risk this year is it would be coronavirus.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation was not unprepared, though. They made all the mitigation efforts you’d expect. Masks were required by the state and surgical masks were provided all over the convention center alongside hand sanitizer. Part of the show was also outside.
As far as big events go, people at SHOT wore their masks as often as any other one I’ve been to since this all started. Most people wore them most of the time.
That helped alleviate some of my own concerns over the virus. But, obviously, even if you’re trying to take every added precaution, it’s not really possible to wear your mask 100 percent of the time or eliminate every risk. I’m triple vaccinated so my risk of serious illness is minimal even if I do catch the virus.
But, my contributing writer Jake Fogleman is also triple vaccinated and he had to cancel his trip to show after coming down with covid. He also happens to be younger and in better shape than I am. He’s doing much better now, but that certainly brought the virus back to the front of my mind as I boarded a five-hour flight to spend a week in a convention center with 40,000 strangers.
In the end, I figured my personal risk was probably lower than it might feel. I can’t just stay at home forever even if I get why Sig, Ruger, or Springfield felt the risk of even a moderate outbreak among employees they sent wasn’t worth it.
I’m back in Virginia and feeling just fine. So, I guess my calculation was correct. Who knows?
None of this is terribly unique to SHOT Show. It’s happened at lots of conferences and trade shows across industries and ideologies. The Consumer Electronics Show saw even more big companies pull out and even further depressed attendance just the week before SHOT. And attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference long joked about the prevalence of the “CPAC plague.” Well, at least they did before CPAC became the site of one of the first covid outbreaks in 2020.
Conference contagions are nothing new (oddly, I’ve still never caught one). And debates over whether trade shows are worth the risk or cost of attendance, especially for bigger brands, are practically a new normal at this point. I’m not sure I can provide much further insight there.
So, then, what did SHOT have to offer in the way of insight into where the gun industry is at right now?
Well, not really all that much. Attendance was down, but not to a level that’s below what you might expect given everything going on. And there wasn’t a whole lot in terms of obvious product trends either.
It seemed like most companies were just focused more on moving the guns they already make.
There was one very noticeable trend at Range Day, though. And that was the lack of ammo. Sure, there was still enough for everyone to try out each gun. But, what used to be a 15 or 30 round demo in the past was often paired down to five rounds this year.
There were new guns, of course. And even new calibers of ammunition. The .30 Super Carry made a bit of a splash as a smaller, but more modern competitor to the 9mm.
I didn’t get to shoot any of the .30 Super Carry’s at Range Day. But, I did get to handle a Smith & Wesson Shield and a Shield EZ in the caliber. The idea is the cartridge is nearly as effective as the popular 9mm, but it enables more rounds to be carried in the same package.
I recommend keeping your eye on some of the YouTube review channels or gun magazines for details on how the round performs in practice, but I’m a bit skeptical about how much of a splash it’ll make in the current market. After all, the latest carry guns can all fit 15 or more 9mm rounds into tiny packages. How much of an advantage is an extra round or two at this point?
But maybe it can gain some ground just by having actual stock available. Everybody wants 9mm right now. Maybe it’ll be easier to find .30 Super Carry at more reasonable prices? I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the ammo can make it to market before production of everything else has caught up to demand.
There was also some interesting “smart gun” tech at the show. I don’t just mean guns with integrated and personalized locks, though there was a non-functioning prototype of that sort there. I think the definition of “smart gun” has been far-too-limited.
For instance, Mantis X makes a computer that you strap to your gun which tracks your movements as you shoot or do dry-fire practice in order to give you tips on improving your technique. The pair that tech with an app that gives you drills and tracks where your shots are hitting. They even have a new system for an AR that allows you to dry fire multiple shots without resetting the trigger each time.
Magpul is also getting into the smart game with a new optic mounting system that’s straight out of a video game. It can display how many rounds are left in your magazine, how far away your target is, and calculate bullet drop.
There were some traditional guns that piqued my interest as well.
Rock Island Armory is also getting into the 9mm semi-automatic striker-fired handgun game with their own offering the STK 100. Instead of a polymer lower, they’re using an aluminum one. The handful of shots I put through it felt nice and the MSRP of $599 could be competitive. It seems like they may be moving from making 1911s to making their own handgun designs–something that Kimber pulled off at a higher price point.
Finally, I also got to actually shoot the Laugo Alien! I think the hype is real. The non-tilting barrel combined with the stationary top strap does appear to reduce barrel flip and increase accuracy.
I mean, I only got to fire a dozen shots or so through it. But, I was able to stay on target better with quick follow-up shots than with other handguns I’ve shot.
I’m not sure I’m going to drop $4,000 on one just from that limited experience, though. I don’t know if the difference is worth quite that much. Hopefully, the price will come down and we’ll see some of the features make their way into other guns too.
Overall, I think the show was a success. I didn’t get sick. I got to shoot some new and exciting guns, connect with people I haven’t seen in years, and try the delicious trash can nachos at Guy Fieri’s restaurant.
So, yea, not bad.