It’s late at night, I’m in a penthouse at the Venetian, and I’m surrounded by Navy SEALs. There are military dogs here, too. The room is lined with bowls of PMAGs, which are free to take like they’re some sort of delicious candy treat.
Cast members from the Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush are here. Lone Survivor‘s Marcus Luttrell is supposed to be around somewhere. The open bar is well stocked. The catered food seems a bit pretentious for the crowd. Once it runs out somebody replaces it with wings. There’s a green-screen photo booth set up in one section of the giant bathroom. Someone is posing with a dog on his shoulders. It’s great.
I spend most of the party in one of several giant bedrooms, hanging out around a coffee table with Bob Owens and Jenn Jacques of the website Bearing Arms. The three of us talk to combat veterans from California’s Warfighter Academy. We cover all sorts of topics: Why they only use force-on-force training. How terrible the SEAL fighting stance is (as demonstrated by a former member of SEAL Team 7). Why the J-hook technique is a better way to clear a room than the pie method. Which whiskey is best.
This went down during my time at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s 2016 Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas, better known as SHOT Show. I haven’t seen anything else quite like it on God’s green earth.
This is the country’s biggest gun show, but the difference between it and your local gun show is not just one of scale. Despite drawing around 65,000 people it is also, ironically, not open to the general public— and you can’t actually buy any of the guns.
Well, not you, at least. Or me. SHOT Show is a trade show, so the only people who can actually buy anything are wholesalers and other gun store representatives who come to figure out what they should sell you in the coming year.
1,600 companies were crammed into the 640,000 square-foot Sands Convention Center. There were 13 acres worth of product displays, ranging from standard conference displays to a two-story log cabin built right on the convention floor. The NRA’s booth featured a firearms museum, a badass Jeep, and my personal hero.
You would be surprised by how overwhelming 13 acres of gun displays can be. I went to SHOT expecting something like CPAC but, you know, with guns. What I got was at least ten times bigger. It had everything. There were fully skeletonized AR-15s from F-1 Firearms. The most intricately-designed handguards I’ve ever seen from Unique-ARs. ARs that looked like they were straight out of the future from Cobalt Kinetics. Lots of ARs, really. ARs made to look like Star Wars stormtroopers. Iron Man ARs. Captain America ARs.
Even ARs styled after the classic Tommy Gun that they wouldn’t let me “borrow” for a “review” despite repeated promises to “return” it back to Battle Arms Development.
Silencers were also a hot topic of the show, because it looks like the Hearing Protection Act, which seeks to remove silencers from the restrictive National Firearms Act of 1934, will be the big national gun rights push this year. Things are looking good for your eardrums and bad for those annoying foam plugs that you have to squish up and stuff in your ear canals.
Also on display was every gun-related accessory you could imagine, from a new kind of belt that promises to revolutionize the way you carry a firearm on your hip to a computer that you bolt to your handgun that analyzes how you shoot to hunting dog first-aid kits.
There were lots of celebrities. Gun celebrities, at least. Big-name YouTubers like Colion Noir and IraqVeteran8888 were there. Donald Trump showed up as I was flying back to D.C. in a successful effort to outrun the coming of Snowzilla. I think Dana Loesch was around, but I’m not entirely positive.
I was most excited to meet a retired middle school teacher from Tennessee. Now that his teaching days are behind him he spends most of his time shooting guns on YouTube under the username Hickok45, a pursuit that has earned him nearly half a billion views. He’s my favorite YouTuber. I’m a bit shocked at how tall he is (I’m 6 feet 1 inch).
In addition to the gun celebrities there were tens of thousands of normal gun lovers at the show. I was lucky enough to spend some time with a few of them, like Julianna Crowder and Robyn Sandoval of A Girl & A Gun women’s shooting league. They’re impressive representatives of the ever-growing female shooting world.
The most striking thing I saw: A kiosk where you can scoop bullets of all varieties into a plastic grocery bag and buy them by the pound—again, like candy.