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Q&A: Steve Sanetti, President, NSSF

Steve Sanetti

By Larry Teague
Editor, Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine

Last week, NSSF President Steve Sanetti, along with long-time staffers Bill Brassard and Glenn Sapir, traveled to the Buckmasters headquarters in Montgomery, Ala., to share information and find common ground between the two organizations. Prior to becoming President and CEO of the NSSF in May 2008, Sanetti was with Ruger for 28 years, including five years as President and Chief Operating Officer. In this question and answer session, Sanetti discusses international efforts to control small arms, trends in U.S. firearms sales and the state of the shooting industry, as well as changing attitudes about gun ownership.

1) The NSSF has been busy on many fronts. Tell us about some of your programs that affect hunters and shooters.

The NSSF is the trade association for the firearms, ammunition and accessories industry. Virtually everything we do affects hunters and shooters in some way. Our mission is to promote, protect, and preserve hunting and the shooting sports. Pull the Trigger is a website which gives shooters brief but very informative video tips about all aspects of firearms, hunting and shooting, from where to hunt in your area, to sighting in your rifle, to how to prepare venison. Our Hunting Heritage Partnership awards state agencies grants to improve access to state lands. Families Afield works toward authorizing apprentice hunting licenses in 32 states so that novice would-be hunters get to go hunting one time with an experienced adult mentor before they actually go through the long process of applying for and obtaining their first hunting license. Our Range Partnership Grant program has awarded over a million dollars to help fund over 46 shooting ranges nationwide. Where to Shoot.org allows shooters to search out all the ranges and gun clubs that are open to the public in their area. And our First Shots program gets would-be shooters their first hands-on experience with firearms safety and the experience of actually shooting a firearm under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor, and has served as the gateway for thousands of new shooters to become participants in the shooting sports. These are just a few of the many programs the NSSF offers.

2) NSSF also has been actively involved in gun control issues. One of those is strong opposition to the proposed United Nations Arms Treaty Negotiations. Should hunters be concerned about international efforts to regulate small arms?

Shooters and hunters should be very concerned about international efforts to regulate the manufacture, sale, transportation, use and even the very ownership of firearms. The list of such efforts is too long to mention here, but suffice it to say that well-funded international disarmament organizations which do not believe that individual citizens should own firearms are doing whatever they can to discourage firearms ownership by proposing a whole range of restrictions, generally but not always under the guise of a UN-sponsored proposal to “regulate” firearms in the name of a “more civil society” worldwide. Many of these proposals are being finalized this year, and we will either see a lively international debate as to their merits, or they may be put off until our Presidential election because they are so controversial. Both the NSSF and our sister organization, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) have been on the job for years, trying to respond to these challenging proposals. Only time will tell if we have succeeded.

3) The firearms industry is one of the few sectors of the economy that is enjoying brisk business. Many people attribute this to the political climate and fears that Washington is out of control. How do you see firearms sales playing out in the next couple of years?

Firearms sales have increased month-over-corresponding month of the previous year for 22 consecutive months now. The big question is, how high is up? We know this trend can’t continue forever, but at present it shows no signs of abating. In my 32 years in the firearms business, I have never seen such sustained growth. Perhaps the best news of all is that during this period of increased firearms sales, violent crime has plummeted to levels not seen since the early 1960s, and accidents with guns have dropped to their lowest level since 1906, now accounting for only about one-half of one percent of all accidental fatalities in the U.S. each year. This is great news, and our firearms safety programs such as Project ChildSafe are working to make this number even lower!

4) Speaking of attitudes toward firearms ownership, they have shifted remarkably since the 1960s. Please speak to that and also the proposed repeal of Canada’s gun registry.

The American public seems to be more receptive to lawful firearms ownership than ever — at least since the Gallup Organization began public opinion polling of gun control attitudes in 1959. Well over 70 percent of the general public is either opposed or strongly opposed to a handgun ban, and a majority even opposes a ban on so-called “assault weapons” (the term used by Gallup). Other surveys show that hunting and recreational shooting is either supported or strongly supported by over 78 percent of the population, even among non-hunters and shooters. And firearms sales have hit record levels, with last December recording the highest level of retail point-of-sale background checks ever. Even hunting license sales have increased in 24 states, reversing a decades-long decline. And Canada of all places has recognized the futility of trying to control criminals by pursuing lawful firearms owners and has recently dropped its wasteful 25-year-old registry of long guns. What a great time to be involved in our sports!

5) Tell us about the Shooting Sports PAC begun two years ago.

NSSF PAC is a new program designed to educate hunters and shooters about the issues of greatest concern to our community. While it does not endorse candidates, it makes clear the positions they take on various issues of interest and lets our members make up their own minds. Further details can be obtained by contacting our legal department.

6) The best selling firearms over the last several years have been handguns, ARs, tactical shotguns and other products pertaining to self defense. Do you see this trend continuing?

Self-defense, of course, is a legitimate reason to own firearms, as recently recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as a fundamental right of American citizenship. A great many purchasers of pistols and revolvers during recent years have given personal protection or protecting their family as a main reason for their latest firearms purchase, or their first firearms purchase in the case of new owners. Uncertain times produce insecurity, and this in turn enhances the need felt by many of both sexes to go through the steps necessary to purchase a firearm, generally a handgun, for self defense. As of now, we do not see this trend slowing down — in fact, one of the major U.S. manufacturers of pistols and revolvers actually has had to stop taking new orders because of the consumer demand on their newly expanded production facilities.

NSSF7) The NSSF has been actively involved in changing attitudes toward ARs, rebranding them as MSRs or Modern Sporting Rifles. Why is this effort important?

The gun control debates have always been charged with emotionally laden terms which the other side uses to scare the public. Witness “cop killer bullets,’ “Saturday Night Specials” and “assault weapons,” to name just a few. We believe that facts are on our side and that the type of gun a law-abiding gun owner possesses is completely irrelevant to the abuse of unlawfully owned firearms by a tiny minority of violent criminals. So when we saw the tremendous popularity of AR-15 platform rifles with the shooting public, especially as they became so commonplace during the last few years, we saw the other side leap to falsely demonize them as being in their “bad gun” category. These state-of-the-art rifles represent the most popular type of rifle being sold in America today, both for target shooting, plinking and hunting small and big game. We decided to re-educate the public about the fact that virtually all civilian hunting rifles had their ancestry in what were once military firearms. This goes back to the period right after the Civil War — lever actions, bolt actions and semiautos rapidly became the sportsmen’s gun of choice during the years after generations of ex-soldiers became familiar with them. So rather than being the fully automatic military ”assault rifles” that the gun controllers would mischaracterize them, we thought the far more accurate term to use would be today’s “modern sporting rifle” —because that’s exactly what they are!

8) Several weeks ago, the NSSF announced an iPhone app called Where2Shoot. What does it do, and where do readers go to download it? Also, is there an Android version in the works?

Where2Shoot is a new free iPhone app that puts our popular listing of all public shooting facilities right into the palm of your hand, so shooters can go to the range after just a click on their icon. Again, go to www.nssf.org for full details on how to download it. There is no Android version at present, but knowing the speed at which our communications wizards operate, one can’t be very far behind!

9) What is your favorite type of hunting and your favorite gun in your collection?

I have always been a whitetail hunter at heart, having bagged my first one in Pennsylvania way back in 1966. I love sitting in a stand and watching the forest wake up on a cold, clear day (and the ability to open up a thermos and drink some coffee in the process!). My favorite rifle is a .276 Pedersen semi-automatic rifle, one of 200 that the U.S. Army tested in the 1930s while seeking a suitable modern rifle to replace another favorite of mine, the M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle. The Pedersen has a toggle action that superficially resembles a Luger’s and it stays open on the last shot — I hate to think what would happen to it if a soldier dropped it into the mud or sand like that! The Garand was obviously a better choice, but the Pedersen is a masterpiece of intricate machining. And if any of your readers know the whereabouts of an en bloc clip for it, please let me know!

10) How can people find out more about the NSSF?

I thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions, and if anyone would like any additional information about the National Shooting Sports Foundation and its programs, they should go online at www.nssf.org. We’ve specifically designed our website so all the information you might want on any topic or program we offer is no further than one click away.

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