Gun industry converges near site of Las Vegas mass shooting
LAS VEGAS -- The gun industry is holding its biggest annual trade show this week just a few miles from the site where a gunman slaughtered 58 concertgoers outside his high-rise Las Vegas hotel room in October using a display case worth of weapons, many fitted with bump stocks that enabled them to mimic fully automatic fire. Gun control advocates, meanwhile, pointed to the irony of the location and planned a protest to renew calls for tighter gun sale regulations, including expanded background checks.
"We're trying to show the connection between the industry that makes all the money and the damage that their products cause," Lee Goodman, an organizer with Chicago-based Peaceful Communities, said Tuesday. His organization advocates for a rewrite of the constitutional Second Amendment right to own guns.
What exactly will be among the thousands of products crammed into the exhibition spaces at the National Shooting Sports Foundation's SHOT Show convention, running Tuesday through Friday, will be a bit of a mystery, shielded from the public and, this year, members of the general-interest media.
One thing is known: Slide Fire, the leading manufacturer of bump stocks, a once-obscure product that attracted intense attention in the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, won't be among the exhibitors.
The Texas-based company hasn't said why it's not on the roster of more than 1,700 exhibitors, although it was last year. It didn't return messages seeking comment. The company also isn't on the list of those attending this year's National Rifle Association annual meeting or other prominent gun trade shows.
In the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre Oct. 1, Slide Fire had so much trouble keeping up with demand it temporarily stopped taking orders for the product. It has since resumed.
"From purely a public relations standpoint, it wouldn't be a surprise at all if bump stocks just sort of disappeared this year," said Robert Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and an expert on firearms and the Second Amendment. "That's a PR no-brainer."
Still, the convention floor is likely to have plenty of other devices that gun-control advocates have taken aim at in recent years: accessories that make it easier to carry a firearm, shoot it or reduce the noise it makes.
On the list of products they oppose are "trigger cranks," which, like bump stocks, make it easier to fire a long gun rapidly, and "assault pistols," which look remarkably like short-barreled AR- and AK-style firearms but skirt certain federal restrictions because they aren't designed to be shot from the shoulder.
"For a person from the general public, I think the thing that would startle them the most about the SHOT Show ... is just the sheer scope and the vastness of this show," said David Chipman, a former agent with the federal agency that regulates firearms and now a senior policy adviser with the gun safety organization founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded in a shooting in 2012.
SHOT Show has been held for 40 years, half that time in Las Vegas, and this year's gathering was scheduled well before the bloodshed last fall. It will have some 13 miles of aisles featuring products from more than 1,700 companies. More than 65,000 visitors are expected at the gathering, a place where connections are made and deals worth millions are struck.
The general public is not allowed to roam the aisles; the only people who can attend are those with direct ties to the industry: manufacturers and dealers of firearms or associated products. Although a few reporters from general-interest news organizations attended in recent years, NSSF this year restricted access to about 2,500 journalists from trade publications and media.
The show's location and timing 3½ months after Stephen Paddock's murderous attack have heightened awareness of the event.
"The gun industry has not been responsible and responsive to addressing the gun violence issue in America," said Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, in the Connecticut town where 20 children and six educators died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012.
Kristin Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., accused events like the SHOT show of adding to the national problem of weapons and violence.
"We're allowing it to exist," Brown said. "And we're doing almost nothing to address the loopholes in the law that allow private sales to happen at gun shows and over the internet."
Brown also called donation-based compensation for the hundreds of Las Vegas shooting dead and injured inadequate.
"We do almost nothing for victims, whose only fault in this case was to attend a concert," she said.
Goodman planned a protest Wednesday outside the Sands Expo Convention Center at the Venetian resort, and a 3-mile walk to the outdoor festival venue near the Mandalay Bay resort, from which Paddock fired thousands of rounds from assault-style weapons into a crowd of 22,000 attending a country music concert. The attack was billed as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Michael Bazinet, NSSF director of public affairs, said that while those attending are well aware of the tragedy that occurred nearby, "they also know that legal gun ownership and the lawful commerce of arms is something quite removed from the act of an individual such as this. And that's not to diminish the tragedy at all. But people come to the show do make that distinction."
The show comes as the gun industry's fortunes have waned after nearly a decade of unprecedented sales. No longer concerned about the federal government restricting gun rights, Americans have scaled back their firearm-buying sprees.
When SHOT Show, which stands for Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade, was launched, its emphasis was on hunting and the outdoors. Over the decades, it has evolved and grown and now has huge sections devoted to the law enforcement and military community. No sales are allowed at the show, firing pins are removed from all guns on display, and there is no live ammunition.
There are so many companies that want to exhibit, there isn't enough space. The waiting list is several hundred names long.
Kevin Michalowski, executive editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, has been going to SHOT Show for more than a decade and said he doesn't anticipate this year's event will have a different feel from other years. He said it's a close-knit industry accustomed to being put under the microscope by the media and by gun-control advocates.
"This is not just a group of redneck gun owners as are often portrayed by the mainstream media. This is serious business," he said. "Millions and millions of dollars are exchanged, and it helps the economies of many, many states, it helps the economy of the U.S."
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