Are Gun Shows Still Relevant?
Kevin Felts 03.06.17
The past few gun shows I went to have been rather disappointing, to say the least.
One of the first gun shows I went to was around 1985. I was 17 years old and was not able to buy anything. I just wanted to look. Some of my buddies and I would pile into a car or truck and drive to the Port Arthur Civic center in Port Arthur Texas.
1985 and 1986, Russian AK-47s were around $75 for the wooden stock version. The para-trooper model was around $90 or $95. How things have changed!
Before the Internet
Before the mid to late 1990s, gun shows and gun magazines were the gun community’s primary source of information. If you wanted to read about the newest firearm, you bought a Guns & Ammo or
Shooting Times magazine.
When a gun show came to town, it was a big event in the local shooting community. It was a form of social networking, but done face-to-face.
I remember going to the Astro Hall gun show in Houston Texas while the assault rifle ban was moving through Congress. The bill was signed by Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. If I remember right, the gun show would have been around July 1994.
My buddies and I arrived at the Astro Hall around an hour early, and we were glad we did. When the doors opened, the line to get in stretched down the side of the building and around the corner. I estimated the line to be an easy 100 yards long. People flooded into the gun show and were buying everything they could get their hands on.
Before the Internet, if you wanted something you either bought it out of a magazine and waited at least 2 weeks for it to arrive, or you went to a gun show.
After the Internet
In the mid-1990s few people expected the Internet to catch on like it did. A lot of companies were slow to adapt to change. Search engines like we know them today were non-existent until after the year 2000.
Companies large and small finally caught on to the idea that the Internet could bring in millions of new customers. Customers caught on also. No longer did we have to mail a money order or check and wait weeks or a month for our package to arrive.
Then sites like youtube and discussion forums came along. Rather than just going to a site and buying something with no reviews, we could ask questions and post our own reviews on forums and youtube.
Gun shows felt the effect. What turned out to be a boom for the consumer, spelled doom for the gun show. Rather than shopping the gun show for the lowest price, we go to websites like ammoseek.com and gunbot.net.
Gun shows are a leftover remnant from a bygone era–a time when people talked face to face and people from the community met to share a common interest.
Gun shows were an excellent way for small startups to tell customers about their products. Now those startup companies post videos on youtube.
Rather than getting outside and meeting people, we sit in the comfort of our homes and play on the computer, phone, or tablet. Who has time to drive somewhere and look at guns, when we can do it from home?
Gun shows are slowly fading away. The most recent show I went to was in January 2016 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston Texas. The show was a small fraction of the size from those in the 1990s.
Gun shows in Houston Texas used to have thousands of tables. Now they are just a few hundred tables. The room for the gun show was not even half full.
Technology Changed Gun Shows
In the 1980s and 1990s gun shows had very little competition. You either paid the gun show price, or bought magazines such as Guns & Ammo to get information on vendors.
Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, customers today have the ability to do instant price checks. Today, a customer can stand at the booth of a gun show and use their phone to price check parts.
At the George R. Brown show, there was a guy selling AR-15 magazines for $20 each. The same exact magazine sells online for $7. Needless to say, he was not selling very many of them.
I am sad to see gun shows in their current state and how they are slowly fading away. I wish there was a way to reverse the trend and get more people out to the shows. However, it is difficult for a small business person to match online prices from large companies. With consumers, a lot of it boils down to price.
While I was at the George R. Brown Convention Center in January 2016, I bought a couple of Magpul parts. The price was not that much more than on-line.
Gun shows will probably never recover their previous glory. Then again, they will probably, and hopefully, never fade away either.