Clark County, NV -- Official Washington has the collective attention span of a fruit fly. This condition is exacerbated by the Obama administration's proclivity for declaring selective events and issues to be crises that require immediate action. The problem is aggravated because the loyal opposition is in near total disarray, and few in the so-called mainstream media have any idea what they are talking about.
That's the summary assessment of many attending the annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show here in Harry Reid's Nevada. Note to editors and broadcast producers: the SHOT Show isn't a gun show. Nobody here can buy or sell a single firearm. There are guns here and tents, boats, clothing, boots, camping gear, all-terrain vehicles, SUVs, bows, arrows, fishing tackle and all manner of police and equipment -- even high-tech wheelchairs for disabled outdoor activities. The SHOT Show isn't open to the public, only to representatives of the industries above, professional outfitters, law enforcement and military suppliers and contractors.
My first SHOT Show, in 1992, was as the manufacturer of specialty armor and ballistic protective equipment for law enforcement and our military. This year, I came to represent the Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee of the National Rifle Association. Freedom Alliance sent our outreach coordinator to explore additional outdoor activities to help America's military heroes recover from the wounds of war.
Trade shows are really nothing more than an opportunity for members of an affinity group to meet and exchange ideas on new products and services, challenges facing their industry, and what works and what doesn't to stay in business. There are more than 90,000 trade and professional associations in the U.S., and nearly all of them have gatherings with ample opportunities for fruitful conversations among like-minded people seeking solutions to common challenges. The nearly 36,000 people attending this year's SHOT Show are no different.
What was different this year was what was happening in Washington and, to a lesser extent, in Albany, New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo signed new "gun control" legislation into law on January 15. Nearly everyone I spoke with understood that New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (NY SAFE) Act and the 23 directives issued the following day by the president were going to affect their business. The common refrain was: "How is [insert new measure here] going to stop bad people from doing bad things?" These are not cynical questions. They are serious inquiries from serious people who see their businesses -- and the employment of hundreds of thousands of our countrymen -- jeopardized by hasty, ill-conceived regulations that will not achieve the goal of a safer society.
That's not to say there is universal opposition to what the White House announced on January 16. In two days here at the SHOT Show, I've had hundreds of conversations with participants. A few observations:
There is widespread support for the NRA's proposal to put police officers in schools. All here endorse the idea of keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and mentally unstable individuals who pose a danger to others.
The idea of pursuing and prosecuting "straw purchasers" of firearms and giving longer sentences to those convicted of violent crime has wide appeal. There were, of course, some who suggested that Attorney General Eric Holder might have to prosecute himself for the straw purchases he authorized in his ill-conceived â€˜Fast and Furious' gunrunning scheme.
The NY SAFE Act requires law-abiding citizens to pass a background check before being able to purchase ammunition of any kind. One retailer points out: "There is no mechanism for making such a check -- no form we can fill out, no way of complying. My lawyers have told us to stop filling catalog and Internet orders from New York ZIP codes until this is clarified. The people who drafted this law spent more time concocting a cute acronym than thinking about how this could put me out of business. Maybe that's their real objective."
At 3-Gun Nation's "Rumble on the Range" -- where competitors are scored on speed and accuracy in firing a shotgun, a handgun and a rifle -- one of the competitors, a U.S. Marine, observed: "This sport cannot happen with small-capacity magazines. Too bad Cuomo and Reid aren't here to explain why this is a bad thing." Citizens of the Empire State must now go elsewhere to practice and participate in three-gun competitions.
And finally, there were numerous complaints that "nobody in politics or the media knows what an 'assault weapon' really is." Perhaps. But there is an organization that does: the National Rifle Association. If the numbers are right, more than 100 million Americans own firearms. Yet only 4.5 million of us are members of the NRA. This would be a good time for law-abiding gun owners to join the organization that will fight for the right to keep them.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on the Fox News Channel and author of the New York Times bestseller, "Heroes Proved" from Threshold Books. He's also the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.