LAS VEGAS (AP) — A weapons industry group based in the Connecticut town where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults last month is opening a Las Vegas Strip trade show Tuesday that's expected to draw tens of thousands of manufacturers and enthusiasts.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation was focusing its 35th annual SHOT Show on products and services new to what it calls a $4.1 billion industry, with a nod to a raging national debate over assault weapons.
The group said it has issued credentials to nearly 60,000 industry professionals, recreational gun owners and law enforcers to attend.
"Hunting and the recreational shooting sports are here to stay. And so are we," Steve Sanetti, the foundation president and chief executive, said in a show-opening statement. "A prerequisite to any dialogue involving our industry and its products is an honest recognition of the legitimacy of what we do and the important part of the national culture which we represent."
The Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show at the sprawling Sands Expo Convention Center is closed to the public, and the organizer limited media attendance after the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Foundation spokesman Bill Brassard Jr. told The Associated Press on Monday the organization stopped accepting media applications when it was swamped by requests following the Newtown shooting. At the time, the foundation issued a statement saying family, friends and acquaintances were affected by what it called a terrible tragedy.
In Las Vegas, gun rights enthusiast and activist Eric McGovern, a volunteer area director for the Nevada Firearms Coalition, said his work schedule prevents him from attending the SHOT Show, which runs through Friday.
But McGovern said he was closely watching the gun rights debate framed by President Barack Obama, who has called for gun controls to curb mass shootings like the Newtown massacre, and National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre, who has said, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
New York's Senate on Monday passed the toughest gun control law in the nation calling for a tougher assault weapons ban, restrictions on ammunition and the sale of guns and mandatory police registration of assault weapons. The measure was expected to pass in the Assembly on Tuesday.
In Baltimore, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg argued during a gun violence conference at Johns Hopkins University for greater federal gun control, including background checks for all purchases and a federal crackdown on trafficking. Bloomberg co-chairs Mayors Against Illegal Guns, whose members also spoke out Monday in cities including Portland, Maine; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Santa Fe, N.M.
McGovern, 37, of Las Vegas, owns a military-style semiautomatic rifle similar to the one authorities say was used in Newtown, and two registered handguns. He has a concealed carry permit.
"Here's the problem we're having right now," he said. "We're all very emotional. We need our elected officials to sit back and think calmly. They're talking about massive laws at the federal level."
Obama on Monday was considering a range of possible executive actions including ordering stricter action against people who lie on gun sale background checks, striking limits on federal research into gun use, ordering tougher penalties against gun trafficking and giving schools flexibility to use grant money to improve safety.
The president told reporters that he also supports legislation to ban assault weapons, limit the capacity of ammunition magazines and institute universal background checks. He is expected to unveil his proposals as early as Wednesday.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation said it was part of a firearms violence task force meeting headed by Vice President Joe Biden last week, along with the NRA.
Sanetti, the foundation chief, is due late Tuesday to talk in Las Vegas about the state of the weapons industry before 2,000 guests who are also scheduled to be entertained by Las Vegas comedian, impressionist and singer Terry Fator.
"Ours is a responsible industry that manufactures and sells lawful products to law-abiding citizens, who in turn exercise their constitutional right to own, use and enjoy firearms safely and responsibly for lawful purposes," Sanetti said in his statement.