The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

February 15, 2013

Vegas says take a shot at love

LAS VEGAS —  One Las Vegas shooting range was selling "take a shot at love" packages that include 50 submachine gun rounds. Another offered wedding packages in which the bride and groom can pose with Uzis and ammunition belts. And a third invited lovebirds to renew their vows and shoot a paper cutout zombie in the face.

Never known for its understatement or good taste, Sin City is bucking the national trend of avoiding flippant gun promotions after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting. Instead, it is embracing tourists' newfound interest in big guns the only way it knows how: by going all in.

The newest crop of outlandish Valentine's Day offers was no exception.

Capitalizing on the state's relaxed gun laws, shooting ranges offer an armory of military-grade weapons that aren't accessible in other states. And because this is Las Vegas, the ranges also allow customers to destroy photographs of exes, make souvenir T-shirts full of holes and shoot fully-automatic weapons in barely-there bachelor party man-kinis.

Some gun control advocates say the promotions trivialize the dangers of high-powered weapons.

"These gun stores and shooting ranges offer bad puns in poor taste in their efforts to put a happy face on firearms, yet each day more than 86 Americans die from gun violence," said Newtown native Josh Sugarmann, who is executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.

"While Las Vegas gun promoters present assault rifles with high-capacity ammunition magazines as harmless Valentine's Day props, the vast majority of Americans understand their true role: military-bred weapons that threaten police and public safety."

At least half a dozen ranges opened in Las Vegas last year, triggering a marketing arms race.

Before visitors even pick up their bags at McCarran International Airport, they are confronted by ads for the Gun Store, Las Vegas' most venerable shooting range. One ad features a blonde posing with an MP5 submachine gun under the words, "Try one."

Machine Gun Las Vegas, which opened last winter, hires former go-go dancers as hostesses and sells its "femme fatale" package with the slogan, "There's nothing like the scent of Cordite in a woman's hair." (Cordite is an alternative to gunpowder).

"We give what people are asking for, whether it's the 'mob experience' and they want to test a Tommy gun, or a bachelor package, and they want a limo to take them to the club afterward," said Lianne Heck, marketing director at Range 702, which opened in October.

This year, shooting ranges extended their tongue-in-cheek promotions to Valentine's Day, always a moneymaker in this matrimony-and-sex-obsessed town.

The Guns and Ammo Garage offered free weddings performed by Jimmy "Mac" McNamara, the "Pistol Packing Preacher," because nothing makes a memory quite like the sound of gunfire.

"To me it's not the shooting, it's the amendments and our rights as Americans and as citizens of this country," McNamara said after marrying a couple beside an arch made of rifles.

The Gun Store has extended the gimmick beyond Valentine's Day and built a permanent "shotgun weddings" chapel.

Bob MacDuff said his "I do's" there last July, then posed with AK-47s for wedding pictures and went shooting with his 25 guests.

"For people who are gun people, you can't find a better option," said MacDuff, of Alberta, Canada.

In the wake of the Dec. 14 shootings, many companies curtailed their activities to avoid giving offense.

Groupon, the online coupon giant, halted gun-related promotions, video game company Electronic Arts scrubbed its website of links to weapons retailers and the 3-D printing company MakerBot began removing blueprints for guns from its database.

Fox pulled episodes of "Family Guy" and "American Dad" that made jokes about the punishment of children.

British tabloids chided Las Vegas gun ranges for failing to follow suit.

"What hope for the US when couples can now get married with weapons?" read the headline of a Jan. 7 article in the Sun reporting that that no couples had canceled their shotgun weddings after the national tragedy.

The finger wagging rankled Emily Miller, wedding officiant and head of marketing for the Gun Store, who said the high-powered weapons allow tourists to live out a wild-west fantasy.

"People always want to put a spin on it like it's a hostile or angry thing," she said. "Really, customers just want to have fun. It's like a bucket list item."

At least one gun control advocate agrees with her.

In what might be called a Valentine to the shooting range industry, a spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said Vegas' public embrace of shooting might cause people to associate it with other Sin City favorites like gambling, benders and ill-conceived hook-ups.

"If anything, this will maybe enforce the image of guns as something that are bad for you," he said.

 

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