As coronavirus pandemic drags on, questions surround SHOT Show

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic caused the biggest boom in civilian firearms and ammunition sales North America has ever seen. But, as it drags on, it looks like SHOT Show, the continent’s biggest trade show for the shooting industry, might be canceled for 2021.

SHOT Show is based in Las Vegas, Nevada, with has 630,000 square feet of exhibition space. As a trade show, the public is not invited, but SHOT still usually draws 55,000- 60,000 visitors each year. It’s a huge show, and it’s where everyone goes to do business—even many Canadian companies.

Now, SHOT is looking iffy for 2021, because Nevada’s health authorities aren’t keen on massive public gatherings. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), scheduled to run before SHOT on January 6-9, has canceled for 2021. CES organizers are planning an online-only event. Safari Club International’s hunters’ convention, scheduled after SHOT on February 3-6, also canceled next year’s show. So where does that leave SHOT?

There’s no official cancelation notice yet, and the show’s website still says it’s going ahead January 19-22. However, the rules around COVID-19 are constantly changing in every jurisdiction, as the outbreak fluctuates. SHOT’s website says “We are actively monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, as the health, safety and well-being of our industry and the local community is a priority for us. We will continue to monitor the situation and share show updates in a timely manner.” In other words—it’s not canceled now, but that may change.

Right now, the biggest question mark is the state government’s anti-COVID rules. Currently, it looks like the show might be restricted to as few as 1,000 visitors at a time. Organizers are hoping loopholes in the state’s regs might allow as much as 50 percent capacity at the show, meaning around 25,000 visitors.

How does it affect Canada?

As an industry show, it’s Canadian firearms manufacturers, retailers, importers and similar businesses that are immediately affected if there’s restricted attendance at SHOT. But even if there are no restrictions on attendance, Canadians might not be eager to head down anyway. That’s the findings of an internal poll of Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association (CSAAA) members.

The CSAAA is Canada’s firearms industry body; only about eight percent of its members say they plan on heading to SHOT this year. About 60 percent say they will not go to SHOT for 2021 and roughly 30 percent are undecided.

A lack of information about Canada’s long-term border policy is the reason for many of those undecided members, says CSAAA managing director Alison de Groot.

“Most of those who are ‘not sure’ yet are waiting to see what Canada’s return requirements will be in January,” she says. “Right now, business owners can’t afford the required 14-day self-isolation period required for travelers returning to Canada from the US.”

De Groot says CSAAA members have other things to worry about besides SHOT Show, and that it wouldn’t make much difference on the Canadian market either way.

“There are other, more significant factors affecting the supply chain to Canada right now including the OIC firearms ban, lack of clarity at CBSA, and the combination of lowered manufacturing output (due to COVID-related staffing issue) combined with high U.S. domestic demand are all making it increasingly difficult to restock Canadian shelves,” says de Groot.

With that in mind, the CSAAA itself is planning to return to SHOT Show, partnering with a US government program to promote the Canadian market to American businesses. In 2020, the CSAAA hosted a seminar on exporting to Canada that had standing-room-only attendance, and de Groot says the organization would like to continue that format for 2021.