Las Vegas • Nearly 40 Utah companies selling everything from rifles to bullets to safes are here for the gun industry’s massive SHOT trade show, gathering more attention than usual because it’s taking place just a couple miles from where a lone gunman killed 58 concert-goers in October.
There was little — if any talk — among exhibitors on Tuesday’s opening day of the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show about the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Stephen Paddock also injured 851 people in the massacre.
SHOT Show has been held for 40 years, half that time in Las Vegas, and this year’s gathering was scheduled well before the attack last fall.
A large Las Vegas police presence could be seen in the front of the Sands Convention Center.
“No law abiding American should be forced to face evil with empty hands,” read a quote from gun rights lawyer and activist Colion Noir on a giant poster at the National Rifle Association booth.
As many as 65,000 people are expected to pack the 12.5-miles of aisles over the four-day event, where 1,850 manufacturers are trying to entice buyers from retailers big and small with dazzling displays of shooting and hunting goods.
“This is a 10 out of a 10,” said Lehi gun dealer Shawn Conlin. “The biggest thing is that there are all these new things.”
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.”
Business proceeded as normal in the crowded aisles and hallways of the convention center, where everything from tactical law enforcement and military equipment to women’s purses designed to carry a pistol were being displayed. One company promoted a holster that allowed joggers to comfortably carry their concealed weapon.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation sponsors the gigantic show drawing sellers and buyers from 111 countries and all 50 states, using proceeds to promote, protect and preserve the hunting and shooting sports industry.
Utah was represented by manufacturers producing rifles, pistols, bullets, silencers, reloading supplies, camp stoves, targets, optics, gun safes, camouflage clothing, headlamps, sound suppressors, concealed holsters, concealed gun clips, wraps for outdoor gear and a product that allows a cell phone to be mounted to a scope for long-range photos.
Morgan-based Browning is one of the few companies that has attended every SHOT Show since the first one was held in 1979 in St. Louis. Only 290 exhibitors rented space for that first show.
“We write a lot of orders,” said Aaron Cummins of Browning when asked about the importance of the SHOT Show.
He said that many took advantage of range day on Monday to test out products. Cummins said there is great interest among hunters and sport shooters in long-range rifles.
Christensen Arms, a Gunnison-based company known for its carbon fiber rifle barrels and founded in 1995, seems to be growing each year. Its big new product this year is the Modern Precision Rifle, with an all-carbon fiber barrel that marketing specialist Taylor Whitney called the pinnacle of all the company’s engineering.
She said the show is extremely important because it gives manufacturers a chance to interact with other brands.
“This is the one time of year you are on a level playing field,” she said. “It’s great to see how alive the whole industry is.”
Though now part of Remington, Mona-based Barnes Bullets is another big player at SHOT.
Tim Janzen, a research and development specialist for the company, said its all-copper bullets were designed for improved hunting accuracy and to kill efficiently by quickly expanding.
There is increased interest in using the copper bullets in southern Utah and northern Arizona, where big game hunters are being discouraged from using lead bullets that can be fatal to California condors. Janzen said there is a similar sentiment in Europe against using more traditional lead bullets.
Berry’s, a St. George-based company that produces plated bullets and reloading supplies, offered new plated bullets, ammo cans and tumblers, mainly for those gun enthusiasts who like to load their own ammunition.
“This is very important,” said Courtney Clark of Berry’s. “There are a lot of new buyers and new products.”
Payson-based Liberty Safes, one of four Utah County safe companies, celebrated its 30th anniversary with a brochure touting endorsements from conservative commentators including Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Dana Loesch.
Company spokesman Jamey Skousen said Liberty employs 500 people capable of producing 500 gun safes a day. It has about 350 dealers across the United States.
Liberty was displaying a vault door designed to secure large concrete storage rooms often found under front porches in homes.
Two smaller Beaver-based companies — Phone Skope and Hydro Graphics — were located in a remote corner of the basement of the giant convention center. Both seemed to be doing brisk business.
Phone Skope allows hunters, birders or astronomers to mount a cell phone near the lens, which can then capture clear photos of distant wildlife or stars using the scope’s optics.
Hydro Graphics offers a “dip” where everything from guns to snowmobile covers to tire wheels can be coated with a camouflage surface.
Miles Moretti, the president and CEO of the Utah-based Mule Deer Foundation, attended the show as an editor of the non-profit’s magazine as well as a buyer.
“We work with companies that are our sponsors,” he said. “We also buy products for our fundraisers next year.”
One manufacturer was noticeably absent. Slide Fire, the leading manufacturer of bump stocks, a once-obscure product that attracted intense attention in the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting, was not among the exhibitors.
The Texas-based company hasn’t said why it’s not on the roster of exhibitors, although it was last year. It didn’t return messages to The Associated Press 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.
SHOT Show, which is not open to the public, runs through Friday.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.
SHOT Show by the numbers
• Nearly 40 Utah manufacturers are displaying their gun and hunting-related goods.
• More than 64,000 people expected to attend.
• Las Vegas’ seventh largest trade show and 19th largest in the U.S.
• 1,850 exhibitors are displaying their wares.
• Exhibitors, buyers and media come from 111 countries and all 50 states.
• Firearms and ammunition are an $8 billion industry that support more than 301,000 trade shows.
• The show is sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Association, which uses revenue from the event to find programs that promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
Source: National Shooting Sports Foundation