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

By Sari Horwitz
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."

The NRA released a letter late Wednesday pledging to oppose new proposals in Congress that include limiting the size of ammunition magazines and banning the possession of firearms near Congress members and some other federal officials.

The SHOT show appeals to the male-dominated gun industry, with scantily clad models posing next to rifles and signing calendars bearing photos of themselves.

But there is also a serious side: During the four-day convention, the ATF holds seminars to teach dealers how to adhere to federal laws governing the sale of firearms and how to watch for straw buyers, who are illegally buying guns for others prohibited from purchasing one. They teach dealers how to properly fill out federal forms that allow the ATF to trace a gun recovered during a criminal investigation. The shooting sports organization works closely with the ATF to promote its "Don't Lie for the Other Guy" program to fight straw purchasers.

Dealers are required to report a multiple handgun sale - more than one gun sold to the same buyer in five days. But dealers are not required to report the multiple sales of rifles and shotguns. For example, a purchaser can buy seven AK-47s in a day, but that sale does not have to be reported to the ATF.

In recent weeks, the ATF has attempted to implement a federal regulation to require dealers in states along the Mexican border to report the multiple sales of long guns. But the measure is strongly opposed by the NRA and the NSSF, the organization running the SHOT show.

"We don't believe the ATF has legal authority to do this, and we think that traffickers will just change what they do," Keane said.

On Jan. 29, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin will deliver the keynote speech at another large firearms convention, the Safari Club International Convention in Reno, Nev. She is planning to address a sold-out crowd of 20,000 at Safari, which bills itself as "the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and promoting wildlife conservation worldwide."

"Congress is more pro-gun than at any time in recent memory," said NSSF president Sanetti. "The mood is upbeat, even though the general economy is not."

horwitzs@washpost.com Staff writer James V. Grimaldi contributed to this report.

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