Beyond SHOT: National Shooting Sports Foundation

January is the NSSF’s biggest month, but they’re hard at work all year long to support our industry.

Beyond SHOT: National Shooting Sports Foundation

SHOT University offers all sorts of learning and training opportunities for attendees to take advantage of.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation is famous for putting on the SHOT Show each January, but in reality, the organization does much more than that. We sat down with Joe Bartozzi, NSSF’s President and CEO, to talk about how the NSSF serves the firearm industry and what they expect for the future. 

Can you fill readers in on the NSSF’s history and its place in the industry today?

In 1961, the Board of Directors of SAAMI® (the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute®) founded the NSSF® to promote a better understanding of, and increase participation in, hunting and the shooting sports. As NSSF evolved, it became very active in getting people out hunting and target shooting. As years go by and things evolve politically and culturally, our tactics and strategies must necessarily shift to address the issues facing the industry. No matter what the political or social climate is, we keep the needs of the industry in full focus. The NSSF today is an organization that advocates, educates and communicates on behalf of the firearm industry. This is what motivates us every day. 

Readers know the NSSF from the SHOT Show in January, but you’re also working all year long on a variety of projects and promotions for our industry. What are your other big initiatives?

NSSF continues to create programs that support the businesses and jobs in the firearm industry. These include things like the Range-Retailer Business Expo™; National Hunting and Fishing Day®; First Shots®; the +ONE® initiative; National Shooting Sports Month®; our numerous compliance training and leadership events, to name a few, and of course, the SHOT Show®. 

NSSF, as the firearm industry trade association, delivers on its mission to promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports in a wide variety of ways. We continue to be passionate advocates for the businesses that make up the firearm industry. We are heavily involved in key initiatives such as working on Capitol Hill and at state capitols across the country to promote legislation that is good for hunting and our industry, and fighting against legislation that is harmful to the industry, hunters, and gun owners. 

Our SHOT Show brings in the media and buyers from all over the world to see the latest and greatest offerings from our industry. Our Real Solutions for Safer Communities® programs provide tangible and effective ways to promote genuine firearm safety — while not infringing on 2nd Amendment rights. We provide a wide variety of educational programs for our members, to help them to be successful, compliant to the various regulations, and growing.

What would you say is the NSSF’s top priority or number-one initiative right now?

NSSF always has several ongoing programs at any given time — all working concurrently in all aspects of promoting, protecting and preserving hunting and the shooting sports. If I had to pick one initiative that has huge and far-reaching implications for the entire industry, it would be our efforts in support of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (the “PLCAA”). This law, which passed with large bi-partisan support and which was signed into law in 2005, stands for the legally unremarkable premise that manufacturers and retailers of non-defective firearms cannot be liable for criminal acts committed by people over whom the manufacturers and retailers have no control. It is a logical law, designed to keep the firearm industry from being sued into bankruptcy when a criminal misuses a firearm. We are seeing recently that several states are passing laws that undermine or outright gut the protections of the PLCAA. NSSF has brought several lawsuits against states to push back against these types of unconstitutional laws. 

The significance of this fight cannot be understated. I recall how back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, cities across the country brought simultaneous lawsuits against the industry — with the clear and unmistakable goal of bankrupting the entire industry. To hold gunmakers liable for the acts of criminals is an existential threat to the ability of citizens to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights. This is a fight that we will never back down from.  

What’s the value of an NSSF membership for the mom-and-pop retailer?

Aside from the fact that NSSF fights 24/7/365 for the businesses and jobs that make up our industry, we also offer highly relevant and important educational training for businesses. Areas like ATF and OSHA compliance are particularly technical and nuanced, so getting trained in these areas through our SHOT University™ Online — which is free for members — could be the difference between passing or failing an inspection. Not to mention that in the era of “zero tolerance,” failing to understand and properly apply the numerous ATF regulations that impact retailers in our industry could get your license revoked. The tactics and techniques found in our anti-straw purchasing and store security programs (Don’t Lie for the Other Guy® and Operation Secure Store®) should be utilized by every retailer in this country. 

It’s important to remember that NSSF consultants are on call and available to assist retailers around the country. I understand that there are “mom-and-pop” retailers that think they are too small, or that the costs to join NSSF are too high. Nothing could be further from the truth. If a retailer of any size thinks about what it took to obtain a federal firearms license and what it costs to maintain it, not to mention the important role that retailers play in preventing firearms from getting into the wrong hands, they would understand the value in partnering with an organization that exists solely to help businesses just like theirs. Our programs are worth far more than the small cost of membership. Frankly, given the current political climate and what’s at stake, I need to ask non-member retailers who are thinking about joining the NSSF: If not now, then when? 

If a retailer has never attended the SHOT Show, why might they consider coming? And what should they know before they get there?

If a retailer is interested in seeing the best of what the industry has to offer so that retailer can then offer those products to their customers, then they need to be at SHOT Show. The show brings in exhibitors from all over the world, with the most innovative products to be found anywhere in the world, and all under one roof. If they have never been to a SHOT Show, they should be prepared to be amazed. Even after 25 SHOT Shows I still take great pleasure in just taking a step back from my business role at SHOT and take in the atmosphere, feel the energy, and to revel in the celebration of what’s great about our industry. 

When coming to SHOT, it’s important to have a strategy — a plan of what you need to see for your particular store(s). Otherwise, it’s not really possible to see the entire show (the show covers about 16 miles of aisles and is over 800,000+ square feet). Make a plan and try to stick with it! Also, comfortable shoes are a must. 

“Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” is the NSSF and ATF’s campaign to reduce straw purchases.
“Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” is the NSSF and ATF’s campaign to reduce straw purchases.

Do you have any predictions on what we can expect out of the shooting industry in general in the next year? The next five years?

We have traditionally seen that Presidential election years generally tend to stimulate firearm purchases, and I predict that the same will hold true for CY 2024, especially if one or more candidates stake out a particularly aggressive anti-gun position. Of course, the issue of crime and general lawlessness in certain areas of the country will continue to play a role in gun sales. When you have virtually open borders and see brazen criminal behavior that seemingly goes unchecked, people become rightfully concerned about personal protection and self-defense. We see from every survey taken in the past three years that self defense/home defense are overwhelmingly the biggest reasons people are buying guns lately. Unless politicians and prosecutors get serious about protecting law-abiding citizens and enforcing the law, I don’t see this trend abating. 

Where does the NSSF see potential for growth in our industry? How about non-growth? Is there part of the industry that’s shrinking?

The industry has seen remarkable and steady growth for more than a decade. It’s difficult to say what the next big thing is, but we know that since January 2020 up until now, there are about 15 to 16 million first-time gun buyers. This means that not only will firearms continue to be in demand, but we are seeing that these new buyers are eager students and want to get trained in all aspects of safely handling, accurately shooting, and securely storing their firearms. As such, I think retailers that can offer classes, or partner with ranges to offer hands-on or live-fire training, would do well. We also see indications that indoor ranges are becoming more popular than ever before with new and younger shooters. This could present business opportunities going forward. 

The surveys we have seen don’t seem to indicate any areas that are shrinking to any significant degree. However, what is considered a “slowdown” by today’s standards are still higher, in terms of sales, than in any previous decades.  For example, we continue to see a good amount of buying activity in the areas of polymer-frame and concealed-carry-style handguns. Additionally, there is still a very strong market for modern sporting rifles for use in home defense, shooting competitions and hunting.    

Do you have any new projects or initiatives coming in 2024 that you can tell us about?

As with any good organization, we are constantly assessing and auditing all our programs, projects and initiatives. We have a robust internal auditing program that reviews internal and external processes and surveys members, attendees and employees to find out what works the best and what needs to be tweaked. We recently launched a new program call Project CyberSafe™ that is designed to help educate the industry to protect critical data from cyberattacks. While this may not sound like a big deal to some, we have seen the impact on our members who have been attacked/hacked. It is just another way that we are taking an aggressive and progressive approach to helping the industry stay ahead of the “bad guys.” 

Aside from that, this year being a presidential election year, our GUNVOTE® initiative will be in full swing. This program educates people in how to register to vote, where to vote, and what candidates’ positions are on things that are important to the industry. 

We continue to provide new and informative educational programs, host webinars and do live retailer training on programs like Don’t Lie for the Other Guy, our anti-straw-purchasing retailer education program, as well as Operation Secure Store, which helps retailers assess their physical security measures to prevent burglaries and robberies at retail. 

Another area where we are actively engaged is in suicide prevention. We know that more than half of all firearm fatalities are suicides, so we are working to prevent suicide by firearm by being a trusted voice to gun owners. We have been working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for several years to learn about ways to prevent suicide and to bring that message to gun owners everywhere. In order to create a more user-friendly, public-facing forum, we are completely overhauling our Brave Conversation website to provide more and easier to use information for those who may be experiencing a temporary crisis or those who may know someone who is. We are very proud to represent the firearm industry in doing good work in the quest to save lives through our suicide prevention messaging and outreach.  

How does the NSSF support retailers?

Retailers make up the largest segment of our membership. The bulk of our educational and compliance training programs are geared towards retailers. Our Premium Membership option provides exceptional value for a wide variety of services, including access to our consultants, who are ready to assist at a moment’s notice. NSSF is the only organization out there that exists to support the businesses and jobs of our industry, and our dedicated and experienced staff are focused on this mission every day.

Is there anything you’d like retailers to know about the NSSF? 

When we say that “Your Fight is our Fight,” we are genuine and serious. We exist to support the businesses and the jobs in our industry. When an industry is responsible for generating — either directly or indirectly — roughly $80 billion in economic activity, and supporting 350,000 American jobs, not to mention a constitutionally protected right, you can be certain that there is literally not a day that goes by where we are not looking out for our industry. When a company joins NSSF, it not only helps to bolster our clout on Capitol Hill and state legislatures throughout the United States, it also directly contributes to the success and survival of the entire industry. It’s a fight worth fighting and a cause worth supporting. 


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