“It’s ridiculous,” Steve Drake, the owner of the Gun Den in Shelbyville, Ind., said Tuesday outside the show’s well-guarded entrance. “Newtown is a tragedy, but it goes back to insane people. You can’t control insane people. What we need to do is put more arms in sane people’s hands so insane people won’t be able to get so many shots off.”
Drake’s comments echoed the leaders of the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates who say that efforts should be focused on registering mentally ill people and putting armed guards in schools, not restricting access to assault weapons.
The 63-year-old father of four is one of 60,000 manufacturers, hunters, firearms dealers and gun rights advocates expected at the 35th annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference, known in the trade as “the SHOT show.” They come in business suits, camouflage and blue jeans.
Sprawling across two floors of the Sands expo and convention center and spilling into the luxury Venetian hotel next door, the show offers 12.5 miles of more than 1,000 exhibits featuring the newest and most sophisticated weapons and gear, from Bushmaster semiautomatic rifles and body armor to gun-cleaning kits and hunting vests.
The show is closed to the public and the mainstream press, though reporters from publications with names like Guns & Ammo and American Rifleman wander freely among the booths.
The Washington Post attended the show in 2010 and 2011 and was invited to attend this year. But after the massacre of 20 children and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school by a man with a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle and high-capacity magazines, show organizers would not allow The Post or other mainstream news organizations inside.
Many people in town for the show were equally publicity-shy, refusing to talk about the current debate. Even industry executives who did speak asked that their names not be used to avoid being singled out.
One arms manufacturing executive said he and many others do not believe that any new restrictions will pass Congress. The chief executive of another gun maker said he was disappointed by the debate in Washington.
“Lawmakers should put their efforts into harsher penalties for straw purchasers, more prosecutions of violators of gun laws already on the books and more treatment and sharing of state information about the mentally ill,” the executive said in an interview in his hotel suite, where an armed guard was posted outside the door.
Promoted as “The Event That Keeps On Giving,” the show is sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, whose headquarters are about three miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. NSSF President Steve Sanetti, who was among the gun advocates who met with Vice President Biden last week, says the industry is misunderstood, particularly in the aftermath of Newtown.