Why Is NBC Sports Sponsoring America’s Largest Gun Show?

Next week, thousands of gun dealers, traders, and enthusiasts will gather in Las Vegas for the annual Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, which touts itself as the largest trade show of its kind in the world. When it does, NBC Sports will be a lead sponsor.

NBC Sports, which has struggled to make its mark in the world of daily televised sports, showcases hunting, fishing, and outdoor shows on its network throughout the day, so its original interest in a trade show aimed at the people who participate in such sports isn’t shocking. But according to some accounts, the SHOT Show is hardly that sort of show. While it bills itself as a huge gathering of hunting and outdoors enthusiasts, the reality is far different, according to a 2011 report from Media Matters, which sent reporters to that year’s event:

The reality of SHOT was thousands of yards downrange from the image projected by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association that owns SHOT and celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. The NSSF portrays SHOT as representing the business interests of family-friendly, outdoors recreation-focused “shooting sports” like elk hunting and clay target shooting. These sports are represented at SHOT, as they are in the firearms industry as a whole, but they’re vastly overshadowed by handguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, home defense shotguns and the like, along with hollow point bullets, concealed carry holsters, tactical clothing and other “personal protection” accoutrements.

This year’s show has an even deeper meaning to its attendees. In the wake of multiple mass killings, with lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels pursuing sensible restrictions on guns in an effort to curb gun violence, SHOT’s organizers are pitching the event as a show of “industry unity,” as Media Matters’ Matt Gertz noted today:

SHOT Show is billed as the “the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries” and “the world’s premier exposition of combined firearms.” But it is more than just a trade show; according to its organizer, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the trade association for firearms manufacturers and dealers), “Any SHOT attendee will tell you the show is more than about selling and buying; it’s a powerful display of industry unity and its resolve to meet any challenge affecting the right to make, sell and own firearms.”

It’s one thing for NBC Sports to promote the safe and responsible ownership of guns used in the type of outdoor sports it broadcasts. The SHOT Show, though, seems less a place for hunters and outdoorsmen and women than it does a place where attendees can buy, trade, and otherwise gawk at the high-powered, military- and law-enforcement grade weapons and ammunition that, frankly, have no place in a rational society.

There is a marked difference between those types of weapons and the firearms used by hunters and people who shoot for sport. That distinction is often covered up by organizations like the National Rifle Association, which has instead resorted to promoting the paranoid and absurd belief that liberal politicians in Washington are coming after everyone’s guns. Blurring that distinction is profitable for it and possibly even the National Sports Shooting Foundation (which puts on the SHOT Show), the types of groups that often deny the role of guns in mass killings and America’s high rates of gun violence, because the paranoia that results brings larger crowds to gun shows and pads the bottom line.

But that explanation doesn’t work for NBC Sports, which, as a media organization, shouldn’t just want to promote that distinction but has an obligation to. No one is targeting the guns used in hunting and sport-shooting, because we can curb gun violence in this country without attacking the people who are able to safely and responsibly own and operate firearms for sporting purposes. Those guns, and those gun owners, aren’t the root of America’s gun violence problem, and that’s a fact recognized by everyone involved in the debate over how to prevent gun violence in America (yes, even the NRA). By making that distinction clear, NBC Sports could go a long way in making that debate smarter, sharper, and more accurate. It’s a shame it has chosen not to.