The stated aim of the National Shooting Sports Foundation is to promote, protect, and preserve America’s shooting, hunting, and outdoors heritage. It does that by working behind the scenes in Washington, D.C, and in state capitals to educate legislators on the importance of protecting the Second Amendment as well as the overall financial impact of the firearms industry on the American economy. NSSF has also created a number of successful programs and initiatives, like Project ChildSafe, designed to promote firearms safety and help spur the recruitment and retention of hunters and recreational shooters.
SHOT Business sat down recently with NSSF president and CEO Joe Bartozzi to talk about these programs. Firearms retailers should be especially interested to hear what Bartozzi has to say about helping to keep your business open during the COVID-19 crisis.
Below is a full transcription of the interview above, edited for clarity:
Slaton L. White, Editor, SHOT Business (SB): The first question is a rather lengthy one, but I think it’s one of the most important issues that the shooting sports industry and the NSSF has faced recently. Amid this unprecedented national health crisis, the governors of some states have taken it upon themselves to close gun stores, claiming they weren’t essential businesses.
The NSSF, however, worked with the Department of Homeland Security to get the agency to declare that the manufacture and distribution of firearms, as well as the operation of retail stores and ranges, were critical services that should remain open. Can you talk a little bit about how the NSSF worked with the Department of Homeland Security to achieve this designation?
Joe Bartozzi, NSSF President and CEO (JB): This was a very important thing for us. It came up rather suddenly, you know, as the pandemic started to hit the shores of the U.S., we started hearing from our members that there was some uncertainty state by state regarding whether they’d be able to remain open or not. And, you know, we’re a trade association that listens to our members.
We reached out to the director of Cyber Security and Infrastructure at the Department of Homeland Security and said, look, the folks in our industry, the firearms and ammunition industry, they provide the tools essentially, right, firearms and ammunition, for the Department of Defense. They provide firearms and ammunition to federal, state, and local law enforcement.
We can see from the long lines forming around gun shops that citizens are eager and anxious to exercise their Second Amendment rights. So, we reached out with a with a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, identifying these issues and requesting a critical infrastructure for essential business status and they responded in a favorable fashion indicating that these businesses were critical to the infrastructure of the country and you can see that, you know, a lot of our members are defense contractors, making ammunition and firearms for the armed forces and providing that all over the country and all over the world.
Law enforcement certainly goes to ranges to practice and maintain their skill levels. So we thought this was a very important thing and we were very pleased with the results and how that worked out to give some certainty to our members in regards to their their ability to remain open.
SB: In those states where they may not accept this designation, are there any further plans to try and get them to open these stores?
JB: Certainly we’ve been reaching out to legislators and governors all over the country where we had some issues and we’ve had favorable results. There are only a very few number of states that have kind of dug their heels in.
Other organizations have filed lawsuits, in some cases and while NSSF hasn’t directly engaged in direct litigation, we certainly are doing some work behind the scenes to assist them in this in this litigation process.
SB: I think it’s important for people to know, you do a lot of work behind the scenes that really supports the industry that some people just may not be aware of.
JB: Our government relations team—we have boots on the ground in all 50 states. We’ve got either direct employees or contractors that work for us, keeping an eye on legislatures—legislation and legislators—all over the 50 states and on Capitol Hill.
We certainly push back against anti-gun legislation being proposed, and the good news is we’ve had a lot of successes that, frankly, don’t make the news because when something doesn’t get passed, it’s not really news, right, so we’ve been very, very aggressive and very good at beating back bad legislation, and conversely we’ve been very successful in promoting good legislation to help promote hunting and the shooting sports.
A couple of examples right now that we’re working on is, we’re seeing that several states are starting to discriminate against firearms industry members by trying to choke off their access to funding and capital through banking relationships and other things. So we’re pushing, at the state level, to get legislation introduced that would stop that practice because it is discriminatory it is really putting people out of business through the use of government power against a private business. So, we’re pushing back hard on this thing.
Another example, at the federal level, we fought for many years to get export control reform to accomplished, that is, giving our members and non-members any exporters of firearms or ammunition, the ability to do that under one single set of regulations. Not to de-regulate it, to be sure, but certainly to get under one set of consistent regulations and that happened, finally, very recently. We’re very proud to say that NSSF is at the forefront of this thing, so we’re very happy with that. But we are very aggressively engaged on Capitol Hill and in all 50 States on protecting the industry and, ultimately, the consumers of firearms and ammunition.
SB: This kind of heavy lifting requires a lot of work on your part. It’s like preparing the ground for a crop and I think some people may not see it as glamorous work, but it’s absolutely essential to the continued health of the shooting sports.
JB: I guess it’s like watching sausage being made, right? You don’t really wanna see it being done but it is, the results are very important and we, again, we don’t back down from a good fight. We’re smart with what we do. We don’t wade in recklessly. But we certainly have been very successful and frankly we’ve developed good relationships with with the federal agencies such as the ATF, for example and kind of touch on the whole the kind of the the afterthought of the essential business designation, which really hadn’t been considered early on, was—so we get these businesses to remain open.
How do we then balance that with the ability to, effectively, in the time of COVID-19, stay open and keep the health of their employees squared away? So, we reached out to the ATF and we asked them, is there a way to have a different definition or perhaps an expanded definition of what constitutes the premises for the ability to sell firearms and ammunition at retail.
And the ATF, they did a great job of quickly responding and providing a letter out to all FFLs, which indicated that they can, in fact, conduct business outside of the store proper, either through a doorway or in a parking lot if it’s part of the business property. So, that allowed them to stay open, practice social distancing, and keep consumers available to buy firearms at retail.
SB: I think that’s key. We talked to a retailer while we were doing the What’s Selling Where section for the next issue of SHOT Business magazine, and he was doing exactly that—doing business in the in the parking lot. They didn’t want anybody in, so that kind of work that you did with ATF really helped him to maintain legal transfers of firearms and serve his customer base.
JB: Right. We certainly wanted to make sure that the transfers were legal. We didn’t want any of the retailers to get sideways with the local ATF folks, so we knew it was essential to actually reach out to ATF headquarters and see if we can get this and frankly without that determination by ATF, so many places would not be allowed to be open in state after state, so it was absolutely crucial that we did that and I’m I’m very proud of the fact that our folks were able to get it done in very quick time.
SB: You did move real quickly on it. I was surprised how fast you were able to get that done, but I think that’s another indication of the relationships that you’ve built with the various agencies and also the legislative part of our government. This stuff doesn’t happen in two days. It’s based on years of working with people and mutual respect and creating those kinds of relationships.
JB: You have to create credibility and trust and we we have done that. We are not going to mislead anyone. We have, there’s a line we will never cross. There are things we will not compromise on, but when it comes to, at least having a civil discourse with agencies or legislators, we’re going to be honest. We’re going to be firm and we’re going to be fair and I think they understand and appreciate that. Even if they don’t always agree with us, they’re certainly going to respect our approach.
SB: Since we’re talking about gun sales, one of the things that we noticed was that firearm sales recently set new records and many retailers have reported seeing a huge increase in first-time buyers. I would think NSSF would be a valuable resource for these new owners. What sorts of programs help them and how can they access them?
JB: We have a lot of materials, especially for for first-time gun owners. We have website properties that contain educational and training videos. Of course, Project ChildSafe, which is a program of NSSF, we’ll talk about that program, where we have a training videos. We’ve got safe storage information. So, you can go to NSSF.org and there’s information there.
We have a YouTube channel so you go to YouTube and and search NSSF and you’ll see all types of videos from beginning shooters all the way up to experts. Techniques, range etiquette, safety, safe storage, suicide prevention materials—we’ve got a number of different things that are available. We’ve got LetsGoShooting.org as a resource for locating ranges, for practicing safe handling in the field. We’ve got LetsGoHunting.org, plus all of our social media platforms.
So, we have a tremendous amount of resources, more than I can even remember at this moment, but searching NSSF.org will lead you to these things going to YouTube will certainly lead to a lot more and we’re very proud of these things and frankly some of our videos and our content has been award winning and we’re very, very proud of that fact. Our guys in the communications group do just a tremendous job.
SB: You mentioned Project ChildSafe just a couple of minutes ago. That is what probably one of your most successful programs, and if I’m not mistaken, it’s been around about 20 years. And it’s grown significantly over that time. Could you just elaborate a little bit for people who may not be familiar with that program?
JB: Project ChildSafe is, frankly, the largest and most comprehensive gun safety program in existence. It’s been around just about 21 years now. Last year, we celebrated our 20th anniversary. It is absolutely incredible the amount of work that’s been done in that short period of time, relatively speaking.
To date, we’ve distributed over 38 million safety kits, which include a gun locking device, through over 15,000 law enforcement partners in all 50 States and in all U.S. territories. So we’ve been we have a far reaching ability here to connect through the community, through the law enforcement folks in the community to provide information on how you safely store your firearm and we give you the means, free of charge, to do that.
I mentioned earlier that on ProjectChildSafe.org there are number of safety videos, for children up to adults, so it’s a great resource for people to learn and understand how to safely store your firearms when they’re not being used. You know, with all of the new gun buyers out there and many of them first time buyers, we did a press release, fairly recently, where we highlighted and hyperlinked to many of our safety programs in that press release. We found in the last couple of weeks, the number of people going to ProjectChildSafe.org has roughly tripled in the course of a month. So, there are people out there are definitely looking for this information.
There’s clearly an appetite for people to learn more about safe storage and we’re so proud to be able to provide that as a trusted source of true firearm safety. Not the stuff you hear in the media there, with these firearms safety groups. This is true firearm safety and the truest sense. We’re not trying to stop anyone from having a gun. All we’re saying is, if you’re not using it, just lock it up so that a child or another at risk person in the home wouldn’t have access to it. It’s an award-winning program. We’re very proud of it.
You can go to ProjectChildSafe.org to donate. Project Child Safe relies on grants and donations for its funding so we really encourage people to donate. It’s a 501C3 charity and for people to go online and go to ProjectChildSafe.org and donate to that program. It’s really really important to keep this thing going.
SB: That’s great. NSSF recently launched an initiative called Gun Owners Care. What is it and what does it hope to accomplish?
JB: Gun Owners Care is a very important program, I think, in that we’re trying to educate gun owners and anyone in the firearms industry about the positive things that the industry stands for. So, right now. what we’re seeing, by some in the media and some politicians, I call it shaming and blaming anyone in the industry or any gun owners, for example, violent crime or things that are certainly the act of criminals, not the act of those in the industry or your every-day law-abiding gun owner.
So, what we’re trying to do is provide a forum so people can see for example, the charitable efforts on behalf of our industry to support communities right now in the time of COVID.
We have member companies and non-member companies that are out there providing masks and face shields to first responders. That are out there raising money for organizations in our communities to help recover from this virus. We’ve got groups out there that are donating blood to the Red Cross.
We’re trying to let people understand that we’re not the enemy. We’re part of the community as well and we want and we wanna remain so. Wildlife conservation: the gun and ammunition industry pays almost all the money that goes into restoring wildlife and habitation. So whether you hunt, or shoot, or don’t, you’re benefiting from the taxes paid by the firearms and ammunition industry.
We want people to remember that fact so that when they’re at a cocktail party and their friends or family start to push back on why you own a gun, there are a lot of positive things. The programs that we have, for example, to keep guns out of the wrong hands like Fix NICS, certainly Project ChildSafe is one, Don’t Lie For The Other Guy, Operation Secure Store, to name a few.
These are things that are doing the right thing, keeping guns out of the wrong hands, working with law enforcement and community partners to keep people safe with firearms and so people can enjoy the sport and exercise their constitutional rights. It’s an important program. We’re very proud of it and it’s gotten a tremendous boost through social media recently.
SB: One of the things I’ve seen over the years. while I’ve been at SHOT Business and talking to retailers is that they are pillars of their communities and they really believe in what they’re doing. And they work tirelessly to support a lot of community groups and they don’t get credit for that outside of our world. It’s unfortunate. They don’t realize the impact they have on people’s lives and the communities in which they work and live.
JB: When we started to look at this thing with Gun Owners Care, we saw so many organizations—gun shops, ranges, manufacturers, distributors—doing so much good all around the country that does not get noticed.
We wanted to create a forum for people to share those success stories to remind each other and, frankly, push each other to do more where we can help out in the communities, especially now, we’re seeing this. you know this unprecedented health crisis.
But again, I keep stressing that the Red Cross needs blood. We have a blood donation team that pushes each other to go down and donate blood and platelets and things so we think by encouraging people to remind them that you’re not alone, it encourages charitable and other types of giving that really can support their community.
SB: Good. Recruiting and retaining shooters and hunters requires ongoing work. to that end, NSSF created the +One Movement. How does that work?
JB: The +One Movement is a mentoring program. really. What we’re trying to do is to have every hunter and shooter out there bring at least one new person out to the range or to the field. We believe that creating this opportunity for people to learn about hunting or shooting opens their mind it. It allows them to expand their horizons and of course it helps the industry, because if we can convert some of those folks into hunters or shooters, it’s good for everybody. It’s good for wildlife, and because of the excise taxes paid through the purchase of guns and ammo and it spreads the word even politically about the recreational and other beneficial work of of hunting and shooting.
So, we’re trying to get people to do that and our goal this year is to get a million people to sign up and take the pledge to bring one new shooter out to the field or out to the range and I think if we can do that we can secure the future of this pastime, and also again protect our constitutional rights, which is extraordinarily important.
SB: I think that’s an important program, because a lot of us older people were introduced to the shooting sports through a family member. Personally, my father did not hunt or shoot, but I had a good friend whose father did and he said, “Would you like to learn how to shoot a shotgun?” And from there, I became a hunter. I also think it’s really important, because family structure is very different now than it was a generation ago.
JB: Yeah, that’s correct, and your story is exactly like mine. My father didn’t hunt or shoot, but I had a good friend who did. A friend’s father who did and an uncle who took me out to the range for the first time. So, it is important—mentorship is very important and that’s why we’re pushing this program and and again we’re seeing very good results so far.
Our goals is to hit a million a million people this year.
SB: One thing that’s interesting and it kind of touches on this, is the women that are coming into the shooting sports, which I think is great. I was on an industry hunt a couple of years ago and I was the only man on the hunt, which was interesting. It was a turkey hunt and let me tell you, they hunted hard and the guides were surprised. I had already met a couple of the women and I said, “You know, they’re they’re here to hunt.” And they really enjoyed the experience and they were also really good shots.
JB: That’s a wonderful thing. I’ve had the opportunity to this past, year to be on the sporting clays range when Kim Rhode was there and while she she didn’t shoot, we all know how great she is. I mean she’s a six-time Olympic medalist, but to have her pull targets for me. It was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had and luckily I hit most of the targets that she threw, but still it was it was a humbling thing and I think it’s a wonderful and empowering thing that’s happening here and I’m very proud to see that.
SB: Yeah. I’ve I’ve seen (Rhode) shoot and I wouldn’t wanna shoot next to her. She’s really good.
Given all that the NSSF does to help promote, protect, and preserve America’s shooting, hunting, and outdoor heritage, I would think membership in your organization would be an important way to further those goals. How do you become a member and support the important work that you do?
JB: Becoming a member of NSSF is really easy. You can go to NSSF.org and there’s a button. and click on the “Join” button and it’ll take you to one of our membership specialists to start the process.
And I would just point out that I think it’s so important, probably more now than ever, because you see here we have a presidential election coming up, and for the first time in my lifetime, and probably ever, you have a presidential candidate who’s coming and saying publicly, “I’m going to come after the firearms industry. I’m going to take the industry down.”
I mean if that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what it is.
The fact of the matter is that the NSSF has been doing great work. To promote, protect, and preserve the industry. We’re fighting every day on Capitol Hill. Our members are bearing the burden and the cost of our efforts, hiring folks to work on these legislators and so forth and now, I suppose, companies can sit on the sideline and hope for the best and hope that somebody else will do the lifting for them. But I’m really hoping that we can stand with a possible, because guess what? Those members have influence in their states and on Capitol Hill.
When I walk into a legislative office building and I tell a member of Congress that we’ve got 9,000 businesses out there that we’re representing they take notice of that. You know how much more impactful could we be if I said we have 15,000 members.
I mean, I think that’s important and you go state by state, you walk into a governor’s office and say, look we’ve got, you know, 87 members that are companies in your state that employ you know several thousand people. They take notice of that.
So again, companies are certainly free to sit on the sideline and benefit from the work that this trade organization is doing, but we’re really hopeful that they can come on board with us help us shoulder that burden and help us to protect the rights of all gun owners and frankly, the firearms industry as a whole. We’re really hopeful that they’ll come on and again NSSF.org. Please join up. Please become a member and help us get this thing done.