Call it machine gun tourism -- the birth of a new industry.
Ranges that market themselves to tourists looking to go full-auto are opening at a rapid-fire pace in the Las Vegas valley.
The concept isn't new in Sin City, where billboards advertising the Gun Store are commonplace in McCarran International Airport, on taxi cabs and on billboards anywhere tourists queue outdoors.
"We have gained in business every year. Yearly gross has increased every year for 10 years straight," said Bob Irwin, owner of the Gun Store.
Irwin wouldn't release specific customer counts, but said international visitors make up 30 percent of his customers.
"We're really in the tourist business, so we market the same way as casinos," Irwin said.
The difference is that few casinos will let total strangers choose from among 11 fully automatic weapons -- anything from the classic Thompson submachine gun to the most modern M249 Squad Automatic Weapon -- and blaze away at targets.
The Gun Store has been around since 1988, but in a town where nothing succeeds like excess one gun range that will rent machine guns for play isn't nearly enough. Six weeks ago, Machine Guns 4 Fun opened its tourist-centric range, and a third range, Machine Guns Vegas, is scheduled to open in a week or two.
Word on the street is that others will follow.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Irwin said.
Some of the outfits are staffed by Irwin's former employees, while others have been started by shooting enthusiasts who simply noticed that there's money in allowing people to do things they can't do back home. This variation of Las Vegas's time-tested business model works like this: customers pay a flat fee for a package that includes a predetermined number of rounds and a souvenir, usually a T-shirt. The patron gives the range owner an ID, signs a waiver and goes through a brief safety training.
Then it's time to rock 'n' roll.
rounds and rounds
At the Gun Store, you can shoot 50 rounds from a fully automatic machine gun for $50. At Machine Guns 4 Fun, the company advertises packages with kitschy names like Call of Duty, SWAT and Zombie Hunter. For about $140, you can burn through 75 rounds. Machine Guns Vegas' Femme Fatale package -- at $90 -- allows you to shoot 25 rounds through an Uzi submachine gun and 20 with any handgun. Yes, there's a T-shirt.
Since opening about six weeks ago, Machine Guns 4 Fun has had about 100 customers a day, with women making up 25 percent to 30 percent. Most are international tourists from dull places with strict gun control laws.
"They can't believe they can do it," said Darby Neagle, co-owner of Machine Guns 4 Fun. "Every week we pick up a little more business."
Thus far, Machine Guns 4 Fun has seen visitors from Australia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Canada; and Southern California.
"Canada has very strict gun laws. Australia has very strict gun laws. It's such a big deal to those countries," Neagle said.
The range, near the Strip at 5155 S. Dean Martin Drive, advertises "Put some more blast into your Las Vegas trip!"
"Our location is one of our strong points over some of the other ranges," Neagle said.
Machine Guns Vegas will be operated by Gun Store expatriates. Lianne Heck, the company's director of marketing and sales, anticipates 40 percent of her business to come from Southern California, 18 percent international, with the exception of 10 percent from Canada. The remainder, Heck anticipates, will be from elsewhere in the United States.
Based on her numbers and her experience at the Gun Store, Heck does not expect an oversaturation of the machine gun range tourism market anytime soon. She said at times there can be a two-hour wait to shoot at the Gun Store, so there's plenty of business for all.
Heck expects to see 90 to 100 customers per day at the range at 3501 Aldebaran Ave. She said that's a slow day at the Gun Store.
As for Irwin, he's not worried about the new kids on the block.
"It creates an industry," he said.
Contact reporter Laura Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4588.