Las Vegas Businesses Gamble on Machine Gun Fans

Wednesday, 22 Jan 2014 10:56 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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People who dream of shooting machine guns like they see in the movies are flocking to ranges popping up around Las Vegas.

Bob Irwin, owner of The Gun Store, told CNN that's he's the "pioneer of machine gun tourism," as he started renting out machine guns to tourists to shoot in his indoor gun range since the 1980s.

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But in the last year alone, five competitors have opened shop, cutting into Irwin's annual sales by 30 percent. He still averages around 200 customers a day who come in to fire a weapon that they otherwise wouldn't get their hands on.

Tourism attractions like Irwin's are becoming popular in Las Vegas, which has lost gambling money in recent years after states legalized casinos. Crowds are returning to Las Vegas, reports The New York Times, but visitors are spending less money per trip, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The total revenue from gambling reached $15.3 billion in 2012, which was $500 million that what had been spent just five years before.

The city is just as crowded as ever, say tourism officials, but the newer visitors are younger and don't like to gamble as much. However, they will spend money on experiences they can't get anywhere else — like shooting machine guns.

At The Gun Shop, the machine guns include a World War II-era Schmeisser submachine gun, a belt-fed M249 currently used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and even a pink AK-47 with a "Hello Kitty" decal that's become a favorite for bachelorette parties.

The Gun Store also lets customers shoot guns they've only seen in 1980s action movies, like Israel-made Uzis, and the Thompson submachine guns, more commonly known as the "Tommy guns" that were used by Prohibition-era gangsters.

"People want to shoot the guns that they see in the movies," Irwin said. Packages for gun parties cost between $100 and $1,000, and the range even has a wedding chapel for people who want to say their vows and shoot their guns.

The party packages come under different themes, like World War II and the ever-popular zombie apocalypse theme, for "practice for when we have to shoot real zombies, which is apparently coming up sometime soon," said Irwin.

Irwin said he's met quite a few celebrities who come to shoot his weapons, and that he once met Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47, but he has mixed feelings about him.

"He was a pioneer in designing ways to kill Americans," he said. "Fine guy, just don't like his politics."

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