March 1999

Report From Atlanta

I’ve just returned from the 1999 Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade Show, better known as the SHOT Show. In terms of new-product introductions, it was one of the better fireams-industry efforts in recent memory. We’ll be examining many of those products in the coming months, including Walther’s expensive answer to the Ruger 10/22, a GSP-based .22 LR pistol/rifle combo, Winchester’s newly formulated X-2 shotgun, and a raft of new handguns.

Though the new-product introductions were certainly the whipped cream on my trip, a not-very-tasty main course was served away from the crowded aisles of the Georgia World Congress Center. As we reported last month, Atlanta’s municipal government was planning to join the growing numbers of cities suing the gun industry. That led to an amusing confrontation—in a bittersweet sense—before the SHOT Show, my sources say. Apparently, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) had tentatively committed to bringing SHOT back to Atlanta for several years. I heard several estimates about how much money this would pump into Atlanta’s urban economy, but one widely talked about number was $50 million.

But lo and behold, even while the city’s convention representatives were saying, “Ya’ll come back,” other elements of Atlanta government were saying, “You got yours, now gimme mine,” as they prepared to sue gun manufacturers. Naturally, this didn’t make Bob Delfay, president and CEO of the NSSF, very happy, since the city was essentially double-dealing him. He promptly canceled negotiations and rescheduled the Year 2000 SHOT Show for Las Vegas.

With these convention dollars gone, there was more sweet justice coming for Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell, a too-slick politician who seems to me to be the model for the cynical, manipulative black mayor in Tom Wolfe’s new book, A Man In Full. Campbell tried to have his way with the industry, offering his city as a venue for the show, which, of course, poured money into the hands of his downtown constituency. Then with the other hand, he tried to reach in the gun industry’s other pocket for some legal vigorish.

But Campbell not only miscalculated the industry’s willingness to roll over, he also may lose his ability to sue. On February 9, the Georgia State Senate passed legislation that would prevent Atlanta from suing the industry. That state’s House is expected follow suit. This “pre-emption” tactic at the state level, which has been used previously when several cities sought to enact gun bans some years ago, would signal that the tide has begun running our way on these potentially disastrous municipal suits.

If Atlanta is indeed forced to resign from its legal action, I will lift a chilled glass in toast of Delfay, the National Rifle Association, and Georgia’s representatives, who don’t want their cities running off perfectly good business. With strong gun-ownership sentiments in state houses across the land, these gun defenders seem to have hit upon a strategy that could stop such city-instigated suits. And if politicians like Campbell are left holding an empty bag, so much the better. I’m liking Vegas better every year.

-Todd Woodard