Over the past decade, I’ve spoken at the Shot Show in Las Vegas about a half-dozen times. Ever been there? It’s quite a spectacle.
The conference — which is next scheduled to take place in January 2023 — attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Are these gun nuts? Crazy right-wingers? Fox News devotees? Maybe there are a few. But the great majority of people are small business owners and employees that make their livelihoods from the firearms industry.
Take a walk around and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll meet the owners of retail stores, gun ranges and online marketplaces. You’ll see sellers of ammunition, holsters and decoys. You’ll pass by manufacturers and distributors of eyewear, footwear, hunting gear and lighting products. The show has thousands of exhibitors selling everything from crossbows to ammunition to locks, grips and stocks. There are hunters, law enforcement agents, private detectives, consultants, trainers, chemists, toolmakers, engineers, marketers, financiers and professional athletes.
They are small businesses. Mom and pop stores. Family-owned companies. Privately held firms. Freelancers. Contractors. Proprietors.
According to the NSSF — the Firearms Industry Trade Association which sponsors the show — companies in the United States that manufacture, distribute and sell firearms, ammunition and hunting equipment employ about 169,000 people and generate an additional 206,000 jobs in supplier and ancillary industries, which include jobs in supplying goods and services to manufacturers, distributors and retailers, and those that depend on sales to workers in the firearm and ammunition industry. The average wage of these workers is about $57,000.
The association also says that in 2021 the firearm and ammunition industry was responsible for as much as $70.52 billion in total economic activity in the country. It impacts firms and workers in industries as varied as banking, retail, accounting, metalworking and even printing, all depending on the firearm and ammunition industry for their livelihood. Those people and companies related to the industry pay about $8 billion in taxes every year.
This is a giant, sprawling industry. Limiting it would be an enormous economic hit. Eliminating it would be an economic debacle. Of course, horrific incidents like the one this past week in Uvalde make it tempting to point fingers. But can we agree that the challenges facing this industry are really no different than the ones facing others?
This week, the media and many others have accused businesses in the firearms industry of killing children at elementary schools. But these same people also accuse businesses in the construction, oil and gas industries of killing our planet. They investigate smartphone and clothing manufacturers who outsource their manufacturing to places where workers — and children — are abused. They write about companies in the agriculture and food industries that destroy our health. They say that technology and media companies are undermining our social fabric and point fingers at the automotive industry which is killing the environment. Alcohol manufacturers and bar owners are responsible for deceptive marketing tactics that cause car accidents. Pharmaceutical profits are blamed for pursuing profits over concerns of addiction. Gambling has been known to financially destroy people. And Wall Street? Don’t get me started.
All of these industries benefit society. But these same industries also kill people. It’s not just the firearms industry. This is the price of capitalism. Are we willing to pay that price? Hey … another round of beers here, please!
So who are we to judge how someone makes a living? Every industry, every business has its demons, its dark side and its challenges. The firearms industry is no different. None of the good people that I’ve met at the Shot Show want to see their products used the wrong way. And no one wants to break the law. Running a business in this industry is particularly hard because there are so many limitations and regulations for selling your products and services already. And when children are murdered in the classrooms of Texas or the streets of Chicago or Philadelphia these businesses are always the first ones to blame.
Like all other industries, the firearms industry should be subject to regulations that limit the negative aspects of the products they sell. But never forget that this industry, like all these industries, is made up mostly of small and mid-sized businesses that together contribute countless billions to the economy and employ millions of people whose livelihoods depend on their companies. These people want their products to be used safely, legally and happily. They shouldn’t be blamed for making these products. They should be appreciated for the value they provide.
• Gene Marks is a CPA and owner of The Marks Group, a technology and financial management consulting firm specializing in small- and medium-sized companies.
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