Gun Tourism Grows in Popularity in Recent Years
The death of an Arizona firearms instructor by a 9-year-old girl who was firing a fully automatic Uzi displayed a tragic side of what has become a hot industry in the U.S.: gun tourism.
With gun laws keeping high-powered weapons out of reach for most people — especially those outside the U.S. — indoor shooting ranges with high-powered weapons have become a popular attraction.
Tourists from Japan flock to ranges in Waikiki, Hawaii, and the dozen or so that have cropped up in Las Vegas offer bullet-riddled bachelor parties and literal shotgun weddings, where newly married couples can fire submachine gun rounds and pose with Uzis and ammo belts.
"People just want to experience things they can't experience elsewhere," said Genghis Cohen, owner of Machine Guns Vegas. "There's not an action movie in the past 30 years without a machine gun."
The accidental shooting death of the firing-range instructor in Arizona set off a powerful debate over youngsters and guns, with many people wondering what sort of parents would let a child handle a submachine gun.
Instructor Charles Vacca, 39, was standing next to the girl Monday at the Last Stop range in White Hills, Arizona, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas, when she squeezed the trigger. The recoil wrenched the Uzi upward, and Vacca was shot in the head.
Prosecutors say they will not file charges in the case. The identities of the girl and her family have not been released.
The dusty outdoor range calls itself the Bullets and Burgers Adventure and touts its "Desert Storm atmosphere."
Similar attractions have been around since the 1980s in Las Vegas, although the city has experienced a boom of such businesses in the past few years. Excitement over guns tends to spike when there's fear of tighter gun restrictions, according to Dan Sessions, general manager of Discount Firearms and Ammo, which houses the Vegas Machine Gun Experience.
There's also the prohibitive cost of owning an automatic weapon — an M5 might go for $25,000, while a chance to gun down zombie targets with an AR-15 and three other weapons costs less than $200.
"It's an opportunity that people may not come across again in their lifetime," Sessions said.
Tourists from Australia, Europe or Asia, where civilians are barred from many types of guns, long to indulge in the quintessentially American right to bear arms.
"People have a fascination with guns," said Cohen, who is from New Zealand and estimates about 90 percent of his customers are tourists. "They see guns as a big part of American culture, and they want to experience American culture."
The businesses cast a lighthearted spin on their shooting experiences, staging weddings in their ranges and selling souvenir T-shirts full of bullet holes.
But behind the bravado, owners acknowledge they are one errant movement away from tragedy. Cohen's business, for example, is installing a tethering system that will prevent machine guns from riding upward after firing — the same motion that killed the gun instructor this week.
"Guns are designed to cause damage, and if they're mishandled, they'll do exactly that," said Bob Irwin, owner of The Gun Store, the original Las Vegas machine gun attraction. "They have to be respected."
Sam Scarmardo, who operates the outdoor range in Arizona where the instructor was killed, said Wednesday that the parents had signed waivers saying they understood the rules and were standing nearby, video-recording their daughter, when the accident happened.
"I have regret we let this child shoot, and I have regret that Charlie was killed in the incident," Scarmardo said. He said he doesn't know what went wrong, pointing out that Vacca was an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jace Zack, chief deputy for the Mohave County Attorney's Office, said the instructor was probably the most criminally negligent person involved in the accident for having allowed the child to hold the gun without enough training.
"The parents aren't culpable," Zack said. "They trusted the instructor to know what he was doing, and the girl could not possibly have comprehended the potential dangers involved."
Still, the accident has raised questions about whether children that young should be handling such powerful weapons.
"We have better safety standards for who gets to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park," said Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, a group seeking to reduce gun violence. Referring to the girl's parents, Hills said: "I just don't see any reason in the world why you would allow a 9-year-old to put her hands on an Uzi."
In 2008, an 8-year-old boy died after accidentally shooting himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun expo near Springfield, Massachusetts. Christopher Bizilj was firing at pumpkins when the gun kicked back. A former Massachusetts police chief whose company co-sponsored the gun show was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
Dave Workman, senior editor at thegunmag.com and a spokesman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said it can be safe to let children shoot an automatic weapon if a properly trained adult is helping them hold it.
After viewing the video of the Arizona shooting, Workman said Vacca appeared to have tried to help the girl maintain control by placing his left hand under the weapon. But automatic weapons tend to recoil upward, he noted.
"If it was the first time she'd ever handled a full-auto firearm, it's a big surprise when that gun continues to go off," said Workman, a firearms instructor for 30 years. "I've even seen adults stunned by it."
Scarmardo said his policy of allowing children 8 and older to fire guns under adult supervision and the watchful eye of an instructor is standard practice in the industry. The range's policies are under review, he said.
By: Michelle Rindels and Jacques Billeaud, Associated Press
Smith & Wesson Finds Guns on Shelf as Control Fears Ebb
Smith & Wesson, it turns out, isn’t immune from what’s plagued rival Sturm Ruger RGR, -3.49% or retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods DKS, -0.24% and Cabela’s CAB, -1.86% . Read previous column: Paranoia has its limits as gun sales fall.
And it’s a simple issue — ebbing demand as fears of gun control wane.
The Newtown, Conn., school shooting in December 2012 led many in the public to assume that some sort of legislation to deter the availability of weapons was around the corner. Those people overestimated Congress’s ability to act. By now, that inaction is clear, so even the paranoia that drives gun sales has abated.
Not that Smith & Wesson SWHC, +0.66% will say that out loud. “As expected, sales of long guns, including modern sporting rifles, were negatively impacted by lower consumer demand,” is how the company phrased it in a news release after reporting a 23% drop in revenue. Executives were similarly dry on a conference call.
If anything, actually, there’s something to Smith & Wesson’s contention that the worst is over. CEO James Debney pointed out that background checks are starting to pick up again. (Background checks are an imperfect proxy for gun sales.) They’re now down 5% year-to-date, compared to the 11% fall as recently as March.
Even so, Smith & Wesson is working on reducing its inventory, and investors are lowering their sights — the stock is down 33% from June highs.
Debney bragged to analysts that Smith & Wesson has “the highest aided and unaided awareness in the industry.”
Maybe so. But without talks of taking away guns in the headlines, it looks like consumers aren’t taking them off the shelves.
By: Steve Goldstein, marketwatch.com
California Bill Would Let Families Try to Take Guns From Potential Offenders
Before Elliot Rodger went on a shooting rampage in May, killing 6 UC Santa Barbara students and wounding 13 other people, his parents were so concerned about his mental health that they went to the police. However, after speaking to Rodger and deciding that he wasn't a threat to himself or others, officers said there was nothing else they could do. On Wednesday, California's State Senate advanced a bill inspired by the Isla Vista shooting that would allow family members or law enforcement to petition the courts for a restraining order against people who show signs of violence or mental instability. Those found to be dangerous would not be allowed to possess firearms for 21 days. "It's an opportunity to take guns away from people who are in moments of distress," said Democratic state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.
According to the Associated Press, Connecticut, Indiana, and Texas already have laws that let police seize guns from people believed to be dangerous, but the California measure would be the first to allow family members to petition the courts. The bill was modeled after laws that temporarily prohibit people with domestic violence restraining orders from owing guns.
The bill passed the Senate 25-8, and will now head back to the Assembly for a final vote. The eight Republicans who voted against the bill said it violates multiple constitutional rights, from the right to bear arms to the protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Opponents also said the way to solve the problem is keeping mentally ill criminals locked up, not restricting gun ownership. "There are some who will use every tragedy to take guns away from law-abiding citizens," said Republican state Senator Jim Nielsen. "Let's not release into our community without treatment thousands of mentally ill individuals." Supporters countered that Rodger, as well as the shooters in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, had no criminal record.
The parents of two Isla Vista victims were in Sacramento on Wednesday to push for the bill's passage. "Nothing can bring back the life of my son, but there are common-sense solutions that can help ensure other loved ones aren't killed by preventable gun violence," said Richard Martinez, who lost his 20-year-old son Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez. "This bill will save lives and spare other families from suffering the anguish we experience each day."
By: Margaret Hartmann, New York Magazine