LAS VEGAS On a night when country music icon Randy Travis crooned that hindsight is 20-20, the 2008 SHOT Show in Las Vegas took his advice.
That, of course, is an easy thing to do when the SHOT Show is celebrating its 30th anniversary, something that several thousand attendees at Friday night's 2008 "State of the Industry" gala eagerly did.
The cool Vegas night, which was capped when the six-time Grammy award winning Travis wowed the crowd with a voice that has sold 24 million records and produced 22 number one hits, served as the perfect backdrop to celebrate the shooting, hunting, and outdoors as both a full-fledged growing industry and an American heritage and way of life that is threatened.
With a festive mood filling the Barron Ballroom of the historic Las Vegas Hilton, the celebratory event to cap Day One of the 2008 SHOT Show first cast a nostalgic glance backwards.
That's because the trade show of the shooting, hunting, and outdoors equipment industry began humbly in St. Louis in 1979 with 290 exhibitors; 2,700 attendees; and 52,153 square feet of exhibit space.
By comparison, organizers of this year's event expect close to 2,000 exhibitors; upwards of 50,000 attendees; and some 715,000-square feet of exhibit space occupying the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
"We are expecting the largest show in the history of the SHOT Show, which is a great way to celebrate its 30th year," said Doug Painter, president of the sponsoring National Shooting Sports Foundation, in the Day One edition of the 80-page SHOT Daily news magazine.
At Friday night's gala, when asked about the health of the industry, Painter didn't hesitate to respond.
"The state of the industry is strong," Painter said, noting the tens of thousands of visitors that will be crowding the 16 ½ acres of exhibit space through Tuesday, Feb. 5.
During his speech and a subsequent video-presentation to the crowd, Painter delivered his "State of the Industry" presentation on Friday night.
In doing so, he noted that success has been obtained on many fronts.
"We've come a long way since St. Louis [in 1979]," he said. "Over the years, the SHOT Show has helped build success of many individual companies while helping to build success for us all."
But as eager as Painter and others were to take a look at where the SHOT Show has come from and the successful state of the industry today, they also took a sobering look into a challenging future as gun control forces, anti-hunters, and others marshal their forces to threaten shooting and hunting in America.
With this election year, forthcoming court decisions, and a softening economy all casting a less-than certain shadow onto the future, Painter recounted a tale of Canada goose hunting along Maryland's Eastern Shore that ended with a timely message.
"If you are really determined to get some place, it takes a lot to prevent you from getting there," he said.
With that, Painter then outlined the NSSF's three main goals to help the industry and the way of life "get there" in coming years.
First, Painter stressed that the NSSF and its partners must create inviting pathways so that future generations are able to get into the sports of shooting and hunting.
Next, the NSSF president said that barriers must be eliminated so that enhanced access and better opportunities will greet those newcomers.
And third, Painter said that it is vital for the industry to get to a place " where the next generation of Americans get to enjoy the rights (to shoot and hunt) granted to us by our forefathers."
"We can not relax, we can not relent in our fight to protect our hunting rights," he added. "We must never take those hunting rights and our shooting heritage for granted."
To that end, Painter and others urged attendees to join the National Rifle Association and to support its "Insure Your Gun Rights" campaign.
One of the others to echo such thoughts was U.S. Army Sgt. Sammy Davis, one of 107 reported living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for "valor in action against an enemy force" that an individual serving in the U.S. Armed Forces can receive.
"Our job has just begun," Davis told the crowd. "We must stand up today and every day hereon after if we are to succeed.
"There are people out there who want to change our world and if we let that happen, we (will) deserve what we receive."
Davis paid tribute to those currently serving in the Armed Forces, the " young men and women who are over there securing our freedom today."
To ensure that Davis' charge is met, leaders of the NSSF presented a $500,000 check to the NRA's executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre to help the "Insure Your Gun Rights" program.
In addition to focusing on protecting and securing American's shooting and hunting rights and heritage in the future, attention was also paid on Friday night to successful endeavors like the NSSF's "Step Outside" and "First Shots" program that work to recruit and retain first-time hunters and shooters.
To help support the NSSF's "Hunting Heritage Partnership" program, John Eichinger, executive director of the Safari Club International, presented Painter a check for $250,000.
By night's end, with the successful past and present of the SHOT Show adequately celebrated, not to mention the events of the 2008 show ready to unfold over the next three days, many gala attendees left the building with enthusiasm and determination to both embrace and to change the future.
"Thank you for standing with us," Painter said. "It has and it continues to make all of the difference."