The Gun Digest Interview: Steve Sanetti

Steve Sanetti, NSSF

It’s the largest trade organization in the shooting sports industry. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is a 7,000-members strong group and includes manufacturers and retailers, shooting ranges, conservation groups, gun clubs and most everything in between. As such, it’s no surprise that the biggest event in the firearms and hunting industries are the NSSF-organized Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show, the SHOT Show, a four-day extravaganza of all things shooting held in Las Vegas each January. Since 2008, NSSF’s president and CEO has been Steve Sanetti, 63, a self-described “gun nut” who loves shooting and hunting, Sanetti recently talked with GD about NSSF, the SHOT Show and the future of our shooting sports.

GD: So, just how big will the 2013 SHOT Show be?

Sanetti: We estimate it will be about the same size as last year—and last year was an all-time record. So, in the neighborhood of 20,000 exhibitors, 1,200 booths, 35,000 attendees and 2,500 members of the media. We’re at 625,000 square feet, which is the largest show the Las Vegas Sands Hotel puts on. Currently, the SHOT Show is the 13th largest trade show in North America of any kind.

GD: Any improvements or changes at SHOT?

Sanetti: The Sands Hotel has really worked with us to improve SHOT. There are more escalators [than last year], so it will be easier than ever to get between levels, the lighting’s better, the food choices are better and we’ve been able to widen the aisles. We’ve also made a concerted effort to bring more European buyers to SHOT. It’s a different market, but it’s a significant market and one we can’t afford to ignore.

GD: Let’s talk NSSF. If I’m not currently a member, why should I consider becoming one?

Sanetti: We are the trade association for the firearms, ammunition and related accessories industries. If you look at our website (www.nssf.org), you’ll see we have literally hundreds of programs to promote and protect the shooting sports.

GD: Such as…?

Sanetti: The First Shots program, which encourages people to try the shooting sports. Our research shows that, within 12 months, about 40 percent of First Shots attendees actually return to the range or the store that held the event. Families Afield has been a huge success, too. We partnered with the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance and the National Wild Turkey Federation to introduce people to hunting without first having to go through a hunter education course. In a Families Afield state, as long as they are hunting with a qualified mentor, a young person—or grandpa, for that matter—can try a hunt. If they like it and want to do more? Then they take the appropriate hunter education or safety course. With Families Afield, tens of thousands of people have tried out hunting and returned to hunt again.

GD: NSSF is very involved in the political process, too, right?

Sanetti: Absolutely. Our clout rests on that fact that, when we go to The Hill, Congress knows we represent the shooting sports industry. That gives NSSF considerable influence, in and out of Washington.

GD: On a personal note, what are your favorite types of shooting and hunting?

Sanetti: Informal target shooting with my family. We go into the woods behind our cabin in New Hampshire and shoot—it’s a lot of fun, and great family time. Deer hunting is my favorite hunting.

GD: Do you have a favorite firearm?

Sanetti: Probably my Ruger Standard [.22 LR] Pistol. But one of my best memories is of a Springfield 1903A3 rifle I sporterized when I was 16. Dad and I bought it at a pawn shop for $19.95! I handloaded my own ammo, too, took it deer hunting and got my first deer that year. Dad was there. I was very proud, but very moved by the whole experience, too.

GD: What did you do before coming to the NSSF?

Sanetti: I worked for Sturm Ruger for 28 years, the last five as President and CEO. I took a job right out of the Army, defending Ruger in product liability lawsuits. That was in the 1970’s. Bill Ruger came up to me in the early 1980’s and said, “A lot of people are saying we need to give you a job, and I think we should, too. One day, I believe you’ll be president of this company.” I took the job—but I never really thought I’d really be president of Ruger.

GD: What do you hope your legacy will be as President of NSSF?

Sanetti: NSSF headed up a Shooting Sports Summit several years ago, and the goal that came out of it was we as an industry were going to increase participation in the shooting sports by 20 percent by the end of 2014. I thought it was a pretty large goal—workable, but one that was going to take much work. Well, Americans are buying firearms like never before, and there’s a huge interest in shooting. We certainly didn’t do all of that. But, with the programs and initiatives we had in place—like First Shots and Families Afield—and the many new efforts we are making to promote the shooting sports? I think we’ve got a darned good chance of hitting that 20 percent mark. I’m thrilled to be a part of that, and to work with such a great staff at NSSF.

This interview appeared in the January 28, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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