NSSF President Steve Sanetti’s remarks at the SHOT Show’s annual State of the Industry event:
The State of our Industry is, in a word, misunderstood.
Who among us has not been moved by the unspeakable tragedy that was inflicted by a deranged man upon the children of Newtown, Connecticut, our very home at the NSSF?
What can possibly heal the wounds, silence the anguished outcries, and make rational discourse on such a heartfelt topic occur?
I submit that there are not two “sides” to this debate. There is only one side — the good people of America, on all points of the political spectrum, united in THEIR revulsion over this senseless, evil attack on our most helpless. Yes — there is only one side — the good side — the “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln said, “Opposing evil.”
We all must recognize that those who don’t agree with us share in our desire to rid the world of such monstrous acts; and they must recognize that we are not the evildoers. Ours is a responsible industry that makes and sells lawful products to law-abiding citizens. Citizens who exercise their constitutional right to own, use and enjoy firearms safely and responsibly for all lawful purposes. We are part of the fabric of American life, and we treasure our children, our heritage, and our traditions.
I don’t think many of those who disagree with what we do appreciate the many things we’ve done to advocate personal responsibility with firearms. Many have either no experience with firearms or, unfortunately, have had negative experiences, either first hand or via the media, who rarely portray firearms or their owners the way the vast majority actually use them.
So tonight, allow me to state some things which are probably obvious to all of you, but which have been lost in the clamor to “do something” to give meaning to the incomprehensible — which is an understandably human yet impossible task.
Our industry’s products include semiautomatic firearms — one shot for each pull and release of the trigger. They are the most popular types of firearms in America, and have been for many years. The most popular hunting and clay target shotguns are semiautomatics. The one I use most was designed in 1905. So are the most popular target pistols, including those used in the Olympics. The most popular .22 rifles used to hunt small game are semiautomatics.
The overwhelming choice of both law enforcement and civilians who wish to exercise their constitutional right to own a pistol for self-defense is a semiautomatic. Semiautomatic rifles have been used in this country for deer hunting since 1905, and they are overwhelmingly the most popular rifles being sold today — yes, for hunting, target shooting, and other lawful sporting purposes and home protection.
Rifles of all kinds (and semiautomatics are rifles) have figured in less than 5% of all crimes committed using firearms. In Connecticut, since 2006, they have been used in exactly 2 homicides. In this, they have been used twenty times less than knives, blunt instruments, and even hands and feet. Millions of law-abiding sportsmen across the nation own them, and when those misinformed about firearms say that “no sportsman has any need for a gun that is only used to kill people,” they are in effect calling millions of American sportsmen murderers — not exactly the way to promote civil discourse.
And our industry? Again, easy to demonize among the ignorant, but we are the good people of America as well as they are! We care deeply about the safety of our children. Since 1999 we have distributed over 35 million free gun locks, to cities and towns all across this nation, as part of our “Project Childsafe” program; along with even more safety brochures urging gun owners to securely store their firearms away from children and unauthorized adults, as is also the law in Connecticut, I might add.
And we just gave 1,000 locks and safety kits to the people of Bridgeport, Connecticut. We are expanding our Project Childsafe messaging to emphasize secure storage and in particular the need for this in homes where at-risk individuals may be present. And securely storing firearms when not in use would have prevented the Newtown tragedy, with no additional laws needed. Personal responsibility is the key.
Our “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” program, in partnership with the ATF, has educated prospective gun purchasers, sellers, and would-be owners that illegally purchasing and delivering a firearm to someone not legally qualified can get each of them a $25,000 fine and up to ten years in jail. A new initiative, which will repeat and expand our efforts in cities along the Southwest Border, is also being planned.
And instantaneous retail point-of-sale criminal and mental health background checks were the invention of the industry in the late 1980s, years before they became mandatory federal law. We recently supported “the NICS Improvement Amendments Act” which addresses gaps in information, particularly in court-adjudicated mental health records, to help prevent purchases of firearms by prohibited persons.
There have been over 147 million background checks since 1998. Over 300 million firearms are owned by almost half the households in America. Firearms ownership among normal, law-abiding citizens has undeniably increased, And over the last 30 years, despite the growth in firearms ownership, the homicide rate has declined by 50 percent, and violent crime has dramatically decreased to record lows not seen since the early 1960s.
This baffles our friends who fear that more guns equal more crime, but thankfully, this is just not true. Facts not emotions, however raw and heartfelt, must guide important social and legislative policies, especially where constitutional rights of American Citizens are concerned. Of course we listen to our hearts; but we must think with our heads.
We have worked with the Veterans Administration to help ensure that every service member returning from conflict zones during the last 2 years has been offered one of our gun locks and safety kits.
And we have exhorted Hollywood to stop its obsession with violent entertainment, which both coarsens our culture and has a desensitizing effect upon impressionable youths.
We are the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Our mission is “to promote, protect, and preserve hunting and the shooting sports” so they can safely be enjoyed by all law-abiding Americans with a desire to participate. And record numbers of them are choosing to do so.
Hunting license sales have reversed a 25-year decline, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with a 9% increase during the last 5 years.
Packed Firearms safety classes also show an intense interest in firearms ownership, and firearms accidents are at an all-time low, constituting less than 1% of all accidental deaths in this country, according to the National Safety Council. I’d like to think that at least some of these decreases are due to industry and NSSF safety programs.
For it is us, above all, who do not wish to see our products misused. This industry strongly supports severe penalties for those who misuse their right to own firearms and can’t understand why we are blamed when those who use illegally owned guns harm others. They don’t go through the many required steps to be able to own and use firearms legally. Violent criminals who violate the law have no right to keep and bear arms, and they belong in jail.
I recognize that this is a very different and more somber message than I usually give on an evening where we celebrate our industry, the oldest in America, and all the fine people who populate it. You didn’t cause the monstrous crime in Newtown and neither did we. My friends and associates in almost six decades of peaceful, lawful enjoyment of the shooting sports have been among the finest people it has ever been my privilege to know. We abhor criminal violence as we praise the responsible ways in which the vast majority of lawful firearms owners conduct themselves in the hunting fields, at target ranges, and in the home.
We stand ready to participate in any constructive dialogue regarding the safe and lawful manufacture, distribution, sale, ownership, and use of firearms by law-abiding American citizens. But a prerequisite to such dialog is an honest recognition of the legitimacy of what we do and the important part of the National culture which we represent. Hunting and the recreational shooting sports are here to stay. And so are we.
Our culture is a good culture; one that should be celebrated, not destroyed. And our young Olympic shooters present here tonight represent some of the best America has to offer.
Finally, I would like to recognize and honor my fellow employees at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, some of whom are present tonight. We have been located in Newtown, CT for almost 20 years, and it is our home that was violated by this senseless tragedy as well. The lives of each of our employees that work in Newtown have been directly affected by December’s events — yet they have carried on and performed their jobs despite immense sorrows and pressures, in superb fashion that you and I have come to expect from the consummate professionals they are.
So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring all the outstanding employees of your trade association, who I would ask to stand and be recognized.
Hold your heads high and be thankful that you live in America, which is still the freest nation in the world, and where our home, and hearts, and our precious days afield with our family and friends will always be remembered.