Every year, thousands of firearms enthusiasts and businesspeople descend on Las Vegas. Their mission: to show off the newest products and new designs while having a frantic, horrendously busy good time.
So, yeah. Busy. Lots of people, lots of products, lots of shiny things for yours truly to blink at.
Did I mention the people? One absolutely striking – I mean, almost shocking – thing this year is the surprising lack of Booth Babes. To be absolutely honest, I have so far seen one woman wearing shorts and a push-up tank top working a law enforcement booth; three or four hanging around one other booth; and one scantily-clad busty woman putting her autograph on an advertising poster. That’s it. And that’s weird, because in years past the BBs were everywhere. There were fewer last year than I’d seen before, but this year they really aren’t here at all.
Lest you think I’m hung up on the sex thing, I’m really not. People can do whatever they want to do for a living. All the same, I’m thrilled to see fewer BBs because it means the industry has finally started to realize that they aren’t just selling their products to men, and that women are an important part of their customer base. Once a company realizes that their market includes women, it usually adjusts its advertising to reflect that truth. That means the vanishing BB is huge and important news, not just a minor side note.
Okay, what follows is a near-verbatim transcript from my audio notes today. Ready? Here goes…
We decided to start in the law enforcement corner, the part that’s h idden in the far back corners of the basement.
First impressions: SHOT Show always has good security, but I do have the impression that security is a lot heavier than normal. Every single door to the law enforcement areas has a guard, and there are big signs everywhere urging people to report suspicious activity. Not surprising in view of recent political events, I guess.
Two tee shirts walking past. First: “I support the right to arm bears.” Personally, I don’t think most bears need an AR, do you? Second: “I carry a gun because a cop is too heavy.” The guy wearing that one had an indefinable air about him (maybe it was the high & tight, the 5.11 pants, and the sunglasses indoors) that said he was a cop. Hm.
Note to self: Elite First Aid has emergency kits. I need to update mine. Always something, isn’t it?
At the Olight booth, I found two flashlight models that were of interest. I asked the sales guy, “Please show me your smallest bright flashlight, or your brightest small flashlight.” He showed me two lights. First, the S10: a single cell CR123 light barely larger than its battery. The second was a double cell T20 digital, slightly larger but still small enough and slender enough to carry every day. Both of them were super bright and easy to carry.
I just took a picture of an articulated mannequin wearing a target shirt at the Law Enforcement Targets booth. LE Targets is where I buy most of my targets, and they do have some nifty things. Of course, they have prominently featured their line of zombie targets, which is kinda cool. I’m a big fan of the more realistic targets though, especially the ones that let you visualize the hit zones at different angles.
Saw a holster booth that appeared to be filled with knock-offs of the knock-offs. Fascinating.
Nifty product: the RAC, an unusual gun storage device. It comes in two sizes: a short version, which will hold a single firearm, and a tall version that holds up to three guns. On the tall version, you can store multiple handguns, multiple long guns, or a mixture of the two. The device bolts firmly to a floor, a wall, or any solid surface, and opens with a key. It does not hide the gun from view, but it does very securely prevent tampering or theft and it does allow relatively quick access. The thing I really liked about this product is that you can mount multiple handguns or multiple rifles, making it a good way to store your home defense guns if you have a spouse who would also use one.
This is interesting: apparently, they are allowing direct retail sales at the show this year. That’s a change from years past. I wonder what it means.
One of the law enforcement companies is making ballistic vests that are concealable and that are actually shaped to deal with a female chest shape. No more squished boobies for those who wear these things.
At the Genesis flashlight booth, I looked at the E84. This little LED flashlight throws a reported 280 lumens from a single cell CR123 battery. It uses a tailcap switch but also has a front dial so you can select a low, medium, or high intensity beam before you touch the switch, and there’s also a strobe option. I’m a fan of this kind of setup for an everyday light. You leave it set on high intensity all the time so it’s ready for defensive use, but then you can save the battery by dialing it down before activating it if you’re using it for some other task. It’s going to retail around $65.
Five years ago, a flashlight like that would have cost twice that much money, been half as bright and in a two cell sized package. Ten years ago, you couldn’t buy one at all. I love advancing technology!
In case you’re wondering why I’m fixated on flashlights this year, it’s simple: they are useful for self-defense and for a dozen other purposes. People who carry a firearm really should also have a light so they can identify their target, and because they make nifty defense tools in a million situations where a firearm isn’t the appropriate choice. As far as I can tell, there’s no longer any reason not to have one in your pocket or purse all the time. They’ve shrunk to almost nothing in size and the costs for a really good one have come down dramatically. Once you start carrying a light, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. So I’m making a quick spot-check survey of what’s out there in the tiniest, most easily carried sizes.
HT Holsters offers a Speed Draw concealed carry holster, a fiberglass reinforced polymer holster designed to be worn outside the waistband. It’s a bit bulky for concealed carry, but it’s also amazingly sturdy and rock-solid. The thing that caught my eye: an innovative retention system that holds the gun very securely in the holster to defeat gun grabs. It consists of a flat rocking lever that moves very naturally out of the way when you draw the gun with a proper grip, but which defeats any attempt to remove the gun from any other angle. I picked one up for testing and review, so you can expect to see something about it down the road.
EagleTac offers a tiny little flashlight – again, a single cell CR123 with an LED – that throws around 175 lumen. The plain black one will retail around $40, or you can get a prettier (and easier to find in the dark!) one in titanium for around $70.
I always like stopping by the LaserLyte booth, because they have fun products as well as useful ones. This year they’re offering something called the Center Mass, a laser with multiple dots that make it easier to find your laser at a distance. Interesting idea. The other nifty thing at that booth (and I think they’ve been offering these for awhile now) is a cute little laser training target that stays lit when you hit it. They’re small and come two to a package, making them good for multiple target drills as well as for single target drills. As we all know, dry fire can sometimes feel a little boring because there’s no direct feedback, so a product like this can help you stay focused longer while you practice good trigger control. That’s a good thing. Those reactive laser targets will probably retail at $150 for two.
Stopped and shook hands with the Pistol Wear people. They still offer some of the most comfortable belly bands in the industry – I love these things! – and they work really well for active people during exercise. The neoprene based soft holsters hold the gun securely and comfortably, and the product design allows you to adjust the fit without any leftover itchy bits sticking out.
Oh my goodness! The Woolstenhulme Designer Concealed Carry purses this year look beautiful! Last year, when I talked to owner Kate Woolstenhulme, she was having a terrible time with suppliers. But she’s worked out those problems and has kicked her production into high gear with suppliers who can provide much better service than she found in the past. Better than that, I absolutely love the look of this year’s offerings. These purses have come a million miles from their origins. The looks have improved a little, but the function has improved tremendously. All of her new purses offer true ambidextrous function with locking zippers, adjustable strap lengths, and excellent general purpose features on the inside. Most offer additional elastic loops to hold your pepper spray or spare magazines. The gun compartments are well-integrated into the purse styles, so they provide a really discreet carry method. And the new high-end genuine crocodile purse? Amazing! (Far too rich for my budget, mind you … but I’m a big believer that everyone has a right to protect themselves using efficient modern tools. For those with a lifestyle that includes a serious commitment to high fashion, these bags make it possible to do that.) New this year, too, are some excellent men’s bags with the same well-designed internal structure. I took a few pictures of the DCC bags, but all of them were blurry and didn’t do these gorgeous bags much justice. If I can find the time, maybe I’ll stop back by there again with a real camera.
While I was in the DCC booth, Gun Rights Radio mogul Mark Vanderberg walked in. On my audio, there’s a record of Mark saying, “I bought two purses this year and I’m looking for another one…” To be honest, the rest of the story was that the purchases were Christmas presents for his wife, but you know.
All right, use your imagination. Just pretend that you are the director of marketing for a company that sells pinkoflage and camoflage nightwear for women. How would you dress your female sales staff at SHOT Show?
Bulldog Cases offers secure, fast access small safes. On the show floor, the marketing person showed me products that ranged in price from $25 to $300. Most are electronic and some biometric. I’ll be doing a full review at some point in the future.
Oh crap! I just found out that EVERY image I took at this booth and after this point didn’t survive. That would include all of the pictures of the awesome women I met at the women’s networking event after hours. Crum, crum, crum. Ahh well. We’ll move forward with what we have.
Totally outside my usual sphere, I kinda love the idea of a neoprene gun cover for a waterfowl shotgun. They look good and I’m sure they feel better in your hands than a soggy wet freezing cold gun.
Lots of pink accessories everywhere. Pink rifle slings, pink gun cases, pink range bags. Retailers have noticed that women are part of the market. Now if we can only get them to realize that 1) not every woman loves pink, and 2) most of us would prefer a range of color options including traditional black, and 3) color has very little to do with it, we’d be making some progress!
By the way, the Outdoor Connection has a fairly decent looking pink range bag with lots of pockets. It looks like it has good functionality at a glance, but I was pressed for time and didn’t take time for a full exam.
Here’s a startup company: Everyday Tactical Gear. Tagline offers “tactical solutions for men and women,” and the products are purses and bags. I picked up a very pretty evening bag in a plastic faux croc with a detachable chain strap (so it can be used as either a clutch or a purse). Look for a longer review later, but so far I’m impressed: ambidextrous, adequate size, attractive, normal-looking. Prices look to range from around $50 to around $180, with most falling in the $70 range. The designer, Kim, tells me, “I wanted bags that everyone could afford to buy, that would go with every outfit, that you could buy multiple purses, that men could wear if they wanted to, that were very useful, cute, fashionable, and safe and practical.” Internally, ETG purses offer a neoprene gun pouch that Kim refers to as a “trigger guard.” She believes all you have to have – within a dedicated gun compartment – is something to reassure people that the trigger is covered so nothing gets stuck in it. The one-size-fits-most sleeve fills that function and holds the gun at the user’s preferred depth and angle inside the purse.
Just bumped into Jessica and her crew from Guns and Lace. She’s good people.
Speaking of things that seem like a spectacularly bad idea, I just walked past a pocket knife with a handle shaped like a little pistol. What in the world are they thinking??
Lots of reactive targets and falling steel.
More pink rifle slings than you could shake a long gun at.
NextTorch offers some cool little lights, including one that allows you to program the functionality of the flashlight from your computer. Wait, what? Well, it’s a superbright LED. So you can set it up to always give you full bright with a single click of the tailcap switch. Or you can set it up to cycle through dim, medium, bright, strobe. Or whatever floats your boat. And program the strobe for a specific speed. Oh, and it also recharges via USB while it’s plugged into your computer, so there’s that. Retail prices for these range start around $100.
Lots of companies sell accessories that help you store more guns in your gun safe, or keep your gun safe organized. That’s a good thing.
Note to self: you need to write an article about traveling with firearms and another one specifically about flying with firearms.
Blade Tech offers a superbright pink line – looks to be branded by Packing in Pink – including the dropped and offset holster that makes such good range gear for women with curves. Of course Blade Tech makes one of my all time favorite products, the very inexpensive and practical Training Barrel for dry fire and movement drills.
There’s a company that makes a very clever cowboy-action style holster for your water bottle. I took a picture, but did I mention all my images vanished? And of course, I made a point of having the company name in the image and somehow it didn’t make it into the audio. More dirty words.
Speaking of stupid ideas, I cannot imagine why anyone serious about protecting themselves would ever wear a tee shirt whose sole purpose is to inform others what a jerk you are.
Oh, these poor people! Here’s an AR company that produces California-legal rifles and adaptations. It’s based out of Placerville, CA and looks to be someone’s small family business. The unfortunate thing? The name is Newtown Firearms Company. Sigh.
Kestrel makes a bullhorn that’s supposed to be waterproof and durable. I’m thinking about it, because one of my biggest challenges as an instructor is making sure students hear my range commands clearly. I can bellow with the best of ‘em, but it might be nice to leave the range without a sore throat for a change.
Titan Gun Safes offers a fast access mechanical (not electronic) safe. When you open the door, the holstered gun slides out slightly so you can grab it very quickly and efficiently. I really like this design. Again, maybe a full review down the road. There’s a video on their website so you can see how it works.
Gun company to watch: Canik. Looks like they’re poised to take the budget-gun slot that Taurus might be vacating as they put more emphasis on quality control.
It sure looks to me like Lisa Looper at the Flashbang Holster Company is having a good show. When I stopped by the Flashbang booth, it was surrounded by a huge crowd – literally three or four people deep in the aisle – all craning their necks to see the product better. The funny part? The crowd was all male. Not a woman in sight! Just so you know, I keep hearing from other women how much they love the Flashbang. It’s easy to see why. The original Flashbang provides an excellent, reliable way to hold the gun securely while allowing a very fast draw without relying on wearing a belt. Speaking of belts, Looper does offer belt based holsters too, and recently released some very attractive and functional belt styles for women. I will say it’s about time someone addressed that part of the market.
Wow, I’m loving the new purse and bag designs from Gun Tote’n Mamas. The designer, Claudia, tells me they’ve had great success with these and it’s easy to see why. All their styles are fully ambidextrous and they have a selection of different sizes to fit different sizes of guns. The new “Legacy” series – they plan to release one every year – donates $5 per purchase toward the Turning Point Foundation, a charity for battered women. The one they released this year, Model 30, is a lush and beautiful brown suede with leather faux-croc trim. Mostly made of solid leather with good linings, GTM purses provide a Velcro lined gun compartment with a bucket type holster inside. Almost all styles retail for less than $100.
Still looking for practical ways to secure firearms when not in use, I’m standing in the SportLock booth. Lots here to study, but I zero in on the Life Jacket series to secure handguns, shotguns, and AR-style rifles. These nifty products are super-lightweight (under 2 pounds for the steel versions and almost nothing for the polycarbon one) and can easily travel with the gun wherever it goes – although they also allow you to mount them to a solid surface if you’d prefer. They secure with a key and cover the trigger, trigger guard, and the moving parts of the action. According to the designer and the written regulations, they are TSA-compliant.
Hot Shot Tactical offers a single cell AA flashlight. Superbright with a bubble lens and a focus feature that lets you choose the throw and dispersion of your very smooth beam. Retail around $50. Nice: you can choose bright pink, desert tan, OD green, or black. I’ve always thought it was insane to sell black flashlights, since you can never find a black flashlight in the dark. That bright pink one would be easy to find in the bottom of a purse.
Let me say it again. There’s no longer any reason at all not to carry an adequate flashlight with you everywhere you go, every day.
It’s probably been about 3,682 times today that I felt the desire to holler out the word, “MUZZLE!” Yes, I know all the firing pins are removed (and checked, double checked, and triple checked) before the guns are allowed on the show floor. I know that in theory there’s no live ammunition anywhere in the building. I don’t care. I think people who handle guns all the time should be more cautious and more careful than the average. But by and large, they are not. Bad gun handling habits are pernicious and contagious. I HATE watching people become so complacent with these gun-shaped objects, so cluelessly unaware of what they’re doing and so casual about how they’re doing it. People have this idea that people who handle guns for a living must be especially safe and reliable gun handlers. It’s not true. Many of the sales beings who inhabit the show floor have spent so much time ignoring the safety rules that it would take them a serious act of the will to deliberately follow them. That’s the complete opposite of how your safety habits should be.
Did I mention I don’t like having guns pointed at me?
V-Line Cases offer mechanical, no batteries ways to secure guns in storage containers of various sizes. Worth a deeper look … later.
Destinee has a new website. It’s called The Arms Guide. She says, “It’s very gun-centric, but it’s concealed carry, self defense, guns, holsters… for people! There’s going to be a lot of it that’s geared towards women, but it’ll be holistic and good for everyone.”
At the women’s networking event after hours, I met up with a bajillion fabulous and brilliant women. More on that later!