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At sprawling Vegas gun show, firearms and fiery talk mix

Published January 18, 2013 9:15 am

Discourse • Gun control debate fueling sales as 60,000 gather for annual event.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Las Vegas • Judging from the crowds roaming the aisles of the annual Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show Thursday, recent political efforts to control assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and expand background checks from Washington, D.C., have been good for business.

The annual event, sponsored by the Newtown, Conn.,-based National Shooting Sports Foundation since 1979, is about three times as large as the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market Show that opens next week in Salt Lake City.

It is drawing nearly 60,000 credentialed industry professionals, recreational gun owners and law enforcers, in addition to 1,600 exhibitors that include 31 from Utah, to the 630,000-square-foot Sands Convention Center on the Las Vegas Strip for the four-day run that began Tuesday.

Sandy Chisholm, president of Provo-based North American Arms, which manufacturers small pistols, doesn't think the latest gun-control proposals will have an effect on his product line.

"But the commercial ramifications are staggering," he said Thursday. "The threat of adverse legislation or adverse policy tends to drive people into the market. From a commercial point of view, the mood is ecstatic. Having said that, I am sure everyone has an abhorrence of gun violence and would like to minimize or eliminate it."

The latter point was a message that foundation president Steve Sanetti tried to drive home earlier this week when he said the gun industry has been misunderstood, especially in the wake of the school-shooting tragedy in the group's hometown of Newtown that claimed the lives of elementary school students and teachers.

"We all must recognize that those who don't agree with us share in our desire to rid the world of such monstrous acts," Sanetti was quoted in a daily show newsletter as saying at the annual State of the Industry dinner Tuesday night. "And they must recognize that we are not the evildoers. Ours is a responsible industry that makes and sells lawful products to law-abiding citizens, citizens who exercise their constitutional right to own, use and enjoy firearms safely and responsibly for all lawful purposes."

Alex Robinson of the North Salt Lake-based Robinson Armament Co. said that although fear is helping sell products, that may not be a good thing.

"Gun manufacturers like it, but I hate it," he said. "It's horrible. [Gun buyers] are paying three or four times the going price. That provides the industry a shot in the arm, and then [business] is dead."

Not only is the issue of gun control a hot topic, but some weapons have their own degree of notoriety. Although defining exactly what constitutes an assault rifle might be difficult, Robinson's products look like military rifles because that's the way they were designed. But he said all of his guns can be used for hunting.

"The Second Amendment has nothing to do with sport or hunting," he said, adding that "weapons of war are the new buzzwords for the anti-gun folks. But the Second Amendment is an obvious individual right.

"They say no one needs a semi-automatic rifle with a huge-capacity magazine. But what if you own property, there are armed bands roaming around and you have to defend your family? High-capacity magazines have nothing to do with crime. The amendment provides protection from foreign and domestic threats."

But just what constitutes an assault rifle?

Mitchell Fedoruk, president of American Firearms in Tooele, a company that does not have a booth at the SHOT Show but is exhibiting some of its weapons, said military rifles are often confused with what's available to civilians.

"There are clear legal guidelines," he said. "The National Firearms Act dictates what those are. What is available is a version authorized for civilian sporting use."

And the big difference is that military weapons are automatics, while civilian arms are semi-automatic. That means that a trigger must be pulled for every round of ammunition shot.

Utah is represented at the show by a diverse group of companies, including industry giant Browning, whose headquarters are in Morgan, and Mona-based Barnes Bullets. Beehive State vendors are selling silencers, safes, hearing protection, camping gear, gunbarrels, targets, pistols and many types of rifles.

Brent Throckmorton of Barnes Bullets said business has been strong. The company's big new 2013 product introduction is a personal-defense ammunition. He said the ammo is a high-expansion, deep-penetrating bullet designed to double in diameter upon impact.

The Barnes Bullets display at the show is near the National Rifle Association Booth, which included a big circular projection screen hung from the rafters.

Featured there were quotes from Wayne LaPierre, the organization's executive vice president and CEO. They included soundbites such as "We believe in a real plan," "100 million gun owners are going to stand up and fight," and "They called Wayne crazy, but America ignored the media elite."

Heath Petersen of Gunnison-based Christensen Arms said that "everybody is excited to be here looking at new products. We stayed extremely busy."

A big part of the company's line includes tactical sporting guns, which are military-style rifles designed for hunting. Petersen even showed off a huge 50-caliber Ranger rifle, designed as a sporting gun for long-range shooting.

Judging from packed aisles filled with all kinds of firearms and hunting gear, the industry appears alive and very well in the midst of controversy over how some of its products have been used.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton