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Gun industry gathers just a few miles from mass shooting

LAS VEGAS (AP) – The gun industry is holding its biggest annual trade show this week just a few miles from where a gunman slaughtered 58 concertgoers outside his high-rise Las Vegas hotel room in October using a display case worth of weapons, many of them fitted with bump stocks that enabled them to mimic fully automatic fire.

What exactly will be among the thousands of products crammed into the exhibition spaces at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s SHOT Show convention, running from Tuesday through Friday, will be a bit of a mystery, shielded from the public and, this year, members of the general-interest media.

One thing is known: Slide Fire, the leading manufacturer of bump stocks, a once-obscure product that attracted intense attention in the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, won’t be among the exhibitors.

The Texas-based company hasn’t said why it’s not on the roster of more than 1,700 exhibitors, although it was last year. It didn’t return messages 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.

“From purely from a public relations standpoint, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if bump stocks just sort of disappeared this year,” said Robert Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and an expert on firearms and the Second Amendment. “That’s a PR no-brainer.”

Still, the convention floor is likely to have plenty of other devices that gun-control advocates have taken aim at in recent years: accessories that make it easier to carry a firearm, shoot it or reduce the noise it makes.

On the list of products they oppose are “trigger cranks,” which, like bump stocks, make it easier to fire a long gun rapidly, and “assault pistols,” which look remarkably like short-barreled AR- and AK-style firearms but skirt certain federal restrictions because they aren’t designed to be shot from the shoulder.

“For a person from the general public, I think the thing that would startle them the most about the SHOT Show … is just the sheer scope and the vastness of this show,” said David Chipman, a former agent with the federal agency that regulates firearms and now a senior policy adviser with the gun safety organization founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded in a shooting in 2012.

SHOT Show has been held for 40 years, half that time in Las Vegas, and this year’s gathering was scheduled well before the bloodshed last fall. It will have some 13 miles of aisles featuring products from more than 1,700 companies. More than 65,000 visitors are expected at the gathering, a place where connections are made and deals worth millions are struck.

The general public is not allowed to roam the aisles; the only people who can attend are those with direct ties to the industry: manufacturers and dealers of firearms or associated products. Although a few reporters from general-interest news organizations attended in recent years, NSSF this year restricted access to about 2,500 journalists from trade publications and media.

The show’s location and timing 3½ months after Stephen Paddock’s murderous attack have heightened awareness of the event.

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.”

The show comes as the gun industry’s fortunes have waned after nearly a decade of unprecedented sales. No longer concerned about the federal government restricting gun rights, Americans have scaled back their firearm-buying sprees.

When SHOT Show, which stands for Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade, was launched, its emphasis was on hunting and the outdoors. Over the decades, it has evolved and grown and now has huge sections devoted to the law enforcement and military community. No sales are allowed at the show, firing pins are removed from all guns on display, and there is no live ammunition.

There are so many companies that want to exhibit, there isn’t enough space. The waiting list is several hundred names long.

Kevin Michalowski, executive editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, has been going to SHOT Show for more than a decade and said he doesn’t anticipate this year’s event will have a different feel from other years. He said it’s a close-knit industry accustomed to being put under the microscope by the media and by gun-control advocates.

“This is not just a group of redneck gun owners as are often portrayed by the mainstream media. This is serious business,” he said. “Millions and millions of dollars are exchanged, and it helps the economies of many, many states, it helps the economy of the U.S.”

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