A Tactical Retreat

I will probably not be attending the SHOT show, the shooting industry’s largest trade show, in Las Vegas in January. For one thing, the Venetian Hotel is so large it has its own weather systems and, more often than not, I cannot find my room without the help of a security guard. For another, I have a hard time taking the whole circus seriously. I don’t believe, for example, that scent-elimination products work. I don’t know how many iterations of Polartec long underwear have come out over the years, but I can seem to convince myself that today’s version is that much better than the 11 that preceded it. And I don’t need an AR that shoots beer cans, or has two separate shotguns mounted on one platform, or one painted in a proprietary purple zebra-stripe pattern. Cool as that looks.

But the real reason is that the tactical side of the show, which was once a fraction of the larger show, now dominates. In this post-9/11 world, the outdoor gear is the also-ran. And, try as I might, my personal hunting style does not require ballistic body armor, thermal imaging scopes, or an Ergotec 4025 bomb disposal suit with a “streamlined chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear facemask.”

I remember attending the show a decade or more ago. At one point, I wandered past a dude dressed in full SWAT body armor, a living mannequin. He changed positions every minute or so to show the armor in various attitudes. Or maybe just to keep the blood flowing. I remember being struck by the way people ignored him. They didn’t just pass him by. It was as if he were invisible. I’m drawn to such people, so I struck up a conversation. “What’s this gig like, standing around in all that stuff?” I asked. “I mean, how heavy is it?” He smiled, happy to be human again, and told me it wasn’t bad. He only had to do it for an hour at a time. He was an LAPD cop, and wearing the armor was his ticket to the show. He motioned to a table nearby where his sergeant was sitting.

I went over to the guy, who looked to be in his early 60s and projected the aura of a man who’d spent his adult life in policing. I asked what he thought of the show. He shook his head slowly and raised his eyes to the heavens. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s the most expensive candy store on earth for my guys. And, between you and me, there’s nobody on earth more gullible than rookie cops. They want everything they see—armored vehicles and battering rams and sniper rifles. I tell them, ‘Guys, guys, listen to me. Everything you need to do your job was invented 50 years ago. Sidearm, shotgun, tear gas, night stick, and handcuffs. The best piece of equipment you’ve got is up here,’” he said, tapping the side of his head.

I leaned over the table and shook his hand. “Good luck, brother,” I said.