Gun show attendees say firearms limits would be wrong response to Tucson

Even as the deadly Tucson shootings have sparked calls for tighter gun legislation, representatives of the firearms industry open the world's largest annual trade show, intent on promoting the newest guns and gear and preventing what they believe would erode their gun-ownership rights.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 19, 2011; 10:21 PM

LAS VEGAS - Since the Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson, gun-control advocates have called for greater restrictions on firearms. But here at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, where the world's largest annual gun trade show opened this week, firearms industry representatives say that would be a misguided response to the crime that killed six people and wounded 13 others.

The more than 55,000 attendees from the United States and 100 other countries are focused on promoting firearms, networking and doing business - and preventing what they believe would be an erosion of their gun-ownership rights.

"What happened in Tucson was not a failure of gun-control laws," said Lawrence Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is sponsoring the gun show. "This was a failure of the mental-health system."

Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old who faces murder charges in the shooting that apparently targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), displayed increasingly erratic behavior in the months and days leading up to the crime, including outbursts at a YMCA and disruptions in classrooms and libraries at Pima Community College.

The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference (SHOT Show) comes at a time when people are buying guns at "near record levels," said Steve Sanetti, the president of the shooting sports foundation, the trade association for what he called a "$28 billion a year industry."

The show, which is not open to the public, is the premier trade event for professionals involved in the world of firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports. It is the place where politics and the lucrative business of guns coincide, where the FBI, the National Rifle Association and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives set up booths next to gun manufacturers in the cavernous convention center.

On two floors, where more than 1,600 exhibitors are spread out over more than 630,000 square feet, dealers and distributors come to see and buy firearms and gun gear on display in glitzy, giant booths stretching from floor to ceiling. Manufacturers from Bushmaster to Smith & Wesson have booths, some designed as rustic log cabins, others showing streaming video of hunters shooting game in the African bush. At the SIG SAUER booth, a world-renowned shooter demonstrates his techniques.

Everywhere an attendee walks, someone is inspecting or aiming a rifle. For that reason, no personal firearms or ammunition are allowed. Only guns on display, and with their firing pins removed, are permitted on the show floor.

Executives in the large booth for Glock, the Austrian company that manufactured the gun police say was used in the Tucson shooting, did not want to talk about the incident. Loughner legally purchased the Glock 19 semiautomatic handgun, one of the most popular firearms depicted in Hollywood movies, Nov. 30 at a gun store in Tucson, about two months before the shooting. Authorities say he used an extended magazine with 31 bullets and was carrying three additional magazines filled with 61 more bullets.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who got hurt and their families," said Josh Dorsey, the vice president of Glock, whose U.S. sales division is based in Smyrna, Ga. "We hope they have a speedy recovery."

A firearms industry executive said that 65 percent of the law enforcement market in the United States use the Glock handgun, "including those investigating the Tucson tragedy."

"We stand with all Americans in condemning this senseless act of violence - a truly horrible act that defies any sense of rationality or explanation - and we continue to keep those affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers," said Ted Novin, a spokesman for the firearms industry, who called the shooting "the action of a madman."

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