Members of the firearms industry, including some from Arkansas, gathered this week in Las Vegas for the industry’s largest trade show, a few months after a gunman, firing from atop a high-rise hotel in the city, killed 58 people attending a concert and injured hundreds more.
The Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show is sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms, ammunition, shooting and hunting industry.
“This year, we meet respectfully in the shadow of the recent tragedy at Mandalay Bay, with all the special challenges that horrific event brings to the show,” Steve Sanetti, president and chief executive officer of the foundation, said in a statement as the show opened. “Mindful of those challenges, yet recognizing the rightful place that the lawful commerce in firearms for law-abiding citizens holds in our American democracy, we are determined to begin the new year by putting our best foot forward.”
In early October, 64-year-old Stephen Craig Paddock — armed with at least 16 guns, including rifles, outfitted with after-market bump stocks, which allow rapid firing — shot into a crowd of concertgoers. Police said Paddock later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Critics of the firearms industry complained that gun-makers showed they are tone-deaf to the tragedy by continuing to produce the trade show.
The industry-only event is not a traditional gun show but a place where industry insiders meet and show new products. It began Tuesday and runs through today. This is the 40th year for the show, its 20th in Las Vegas. It features more than 1,600 exhibitors and draws about 64,000 people. It’s the seventh-largest trade show in the city and the 19th-largest in the U.S., according to the show’s organizers.
This is the third year in a row that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson visited the show. Hutchinson is the first Arkansas governor to attend the show.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Hutchinson said he spent the day meeting with representatives from 12 Arkansas companies, including homegrown gun-makers, like Wilson Combat and Nighthawk Custom, both in Berryville, and larger ammunition companies like Remington and Sig Sauer. Hutchinson praised the firearms industry, and the jobs and opportunity it provides Arkansas. He also said he thought it was important to hold the show, despite last fall’s Las Vegas shooting.
“It reflects the resolve that we as Americans don’t stop doing business because of a bad actor,” Hutchinson said.
According to the Firearms and Ammunition Industry Economic Impact Report, produced by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, in 2016 there were 2,764 jobs in Arkansas directly related to the firearms and ammunition industry, with total wages at $120.3 million.
A number of custom firearms makers, air-gun suppliers and ammunition companies call Arkansas home. In Fort Smith, are Umarex USA and Walther Arms, both under the umbrella of Arnsberg, a Germany-based PW Group. North Carolina-based Remington Arms has its large ammunition plant in Lonoke. New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer centralized its ammunition production at a new plant in Jacksonville in 2017, and the parent company of Daisy Outdoor Products — Gamo Outdoor USA — recently moved its U.S. headquarters to Rogers and expanded the facility there.
Chris Tedder, founder and president of Clinger Holsters in Fort Smith, said the trade show is vital for his business. This is his third year to have a booth at the show. Clinger designs and manufactures holsters primarily for the concealed-carry market.
“It really is a big deal,” Tedder said. “It’s building relationships and making connections.”
He said the show is a chance to get his products in front of a wide variety of potential customers and industry media. He added that it’s also a chance to see new products from handguns to knives that will drive demand for the holsters his company produces in the coming year.
According to research company Wallethub, Arkansas ranks eighth in dependence on the gun industry. The survey ranked the 50 states on 13 key metrics that examined the gun industry, gun prevalence and gun politics. Arkansas ranked ninth in the number of gun manufacturers per capita, with 2.67 per 100,000 residents; sixth in total firearms-industry output per capita; 20th in taxes paid by the firearms industry per capita; and 28th in average firearms-industry wages and benefits per capita.
The FBI reported that National Instant Criminal Background checks for 2017 stood at 25.23 million, the second-highest number on record. In Arkansas, there were 237,629 such checks, according to the FBI, down from 266,014 in 2016. While those figures don’t represent the number of guns sold, they are generally used as indicators of firearms demand.
Nationally such checks hit record levels in 2016 at 27.53 million, up 18 percent from the year before.
Luke Thorkildsen, vice president for marketing and product development for Walther Arms in Fort Smith, said many companies are looking forward to a strong 2018.
He noted that while the number of guns sold last year was significant, many were sold at deep discounts because manufacturers were stuck with inventory as demand slumped.
He said this year at the trade show, Walther debuted its PPQ subcompact, a pistol with a 3.5-inch barrel that comes with a 10-round magazine and an optional 15-round magazine that’s aimed at the concealed-carry market.
Research firm IBIS World notes that consumer anxiety over gun-control legislation was a major sales driver in recent years, but it anticipates a slowdown in sales over the next five years with annual growth predicted at 1 percent through 2021 as demand levels out.
Mark Davis, social media specialist for Fort Smith-based air-gun company Umarex, said while he’s seen news reports pointing to a sales slump, he’s not seen any doom or gloom at the trade show this year.
He said Umarex and its associated brands have several new products to tout at this year’s show, including its .50-caliber Umarex Hammer air rifle.
He said the air rifle’s heavy projectile allows it to be used on a wide variety of big game where it’s allowed by law.
He said its storage tank allows for three full-power shots before needing to be refilled.
He added that the rifles will be assembled at the company’s Fort Smith operation.
“It’s pretty groundbreaking,” he said.