The SHOT Show, the world's largest gun trade show and conference, began this week in Las Vegas, 10 days after an assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in neighboring Arizona led to six deaths.
Gun control advocates criticized the timing of the show so soon after the shooting of Giffords, D-Ariz., and amid a resulting amplification of the country's ongoing gun debate.
This is the 33rd annual SHOT Show, which traditionally begins in the month of January and is the most important gathering of the gun industry. The U.S. gun manufacturing industry has combined annual revenue of $5 billion from about 300 companies, according to Hoover's Inc.
Attendance this year is comparable to that of last year, said Ted Novin, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which sponsors the trade show. About 55,000 people were in attendance through the second day of the show which lasts from Jan. 18 to Jan. 21.
The foundation, a trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting industries, said about 1,600 exhibitors will present a range of products. SHOT is an acronym for Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade.
The gathering for gun vendors and manufacturers is not open to the public and does not aim to sell individual guns. However, the SHOT Show is "extremely important" for manufacturers and distributors to garner business for the coming year, according to Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center.
"For the gun industry, the SHOT Show is like the Detroit Auto Show crossed with the Golden Globes," said Sugarmann. "It is the annual event for manufacturers to market and sell their products. And it's not just gun manufacturers, but accessories and other related products."
The foundation is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the show, which will feature new products, awards and a state of the industry dinner. The organization has a goal of increasing the number of hunters and shooters by 20 percent over the next five years.
Gun Trade Show Spurs Sales
The SHOT Show generates millions of dollars in revenue for foundation programs and services that help "promote, protect and preserve" all shooting sports, according to the SHOT Show blog.
Sugarmann said the show comes at a time when most of the major gun manufacturers are experiencing a significant decline in demand and declining sales.
"That industry itself is in very tough economic times," said Sugarmann. "They're businessmen and will take ample opportunity to promote their business."
Sugarmann said most of the country would be "amazed" and "disturbed" at what the industry has become.
"A lot of people think the gun industry is still selling grandpa's hunting rifle and other sporting weapons," said Sugarmann. "It has embraced militarization and heightened lethality in its marketing and sales efforts."
He said some gun vendors have used the fear of impending gun regulations, such as the renewed assault ban debate stemming from the Tucson tragedy, to increase gun sales.
"They have used everything from Y2K to 9/11 to the election of President Obama," said Sugarmann. "The industry itself is a series of hills and valleys in terms of sales. We're seeing the industry has hit a valley."
Novin expressed regret for the tragic shooting in Arizona and said the foundation was not surprised that the gun control movement would try to "politicize" the 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," Novin said. "And we continue to keep those affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers."
It is unclear how the SHOT Show or highly publicized shootings influence gun sales.
On Jan. 10, one-day sales of handguns in Arizona jumped 60 percent compared with the corresponding Monday a year ago, according to data from the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Handgun sales increased to 263 on Jan. 10, 2011, from 164 on Monday, Jan. 11, 2010. It was the second-biggest increase of any state in the country, as first reported by Bloomberg. Ohio had the biggest increase that day, 65 percent, from 240 sales that day in 2010 to 395 in 2011.
Blame Shooter, Not Guns
Novin argued that it was the actions of a person, not guns themselves, that led to the shooting.
"The recent tragedy in Tucson was not about firearms, ammunition or magazine capacity," Novin said. "It was about the actions of a madman. Period."