Gun safety in focus as SHOT show gets underway

Every time a gun incident like the one last month in Hayden, Idaho, occurs, it’s a setback for gun safety advocates.

On a shopping trip to a Wal-Mart store in December, 29-year-old Veronica Rutledge was perusing the shelves with her four children when her 2-year-old son in a shopping cart reached into her purse, found a small-caliber handgun and accidentally discharged it, killing the woman.

“That was tragic,” said Bill Romanelli, a spokesman for Project ChildSafe, a gun safety initiative launched by the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 1999. “That was exactly the type of incident that this program is meant to prevent.”

The foundation that established Project ChildSafe is also the organization that puts on the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, and the Project ChildSafe booth was in a prominent location as the four-day show opened Tuesday.

More than 67,000 people are expected to attend the event, which has more than 1,600 exhibitors on 630,000 square feet of exhibit space and 12.5 miles of aisles.

It’s Las Vegas’ fifth-largest annual trade show, the 17th- largest in the United States and the biggest show on the Sand Expo and Convention Center’s calendar.

The event has a long-term annual commitment to appear in Las Vegas and has been here 16 times in the 36 years it has been staged. It has a $89.6 million nongaming economic impact on Southern Nevada.

Organizers of the SHOT Show say attendance at the show has been on a steady climb for more than 15 years — like the gun industry itself.

The Small Arms Survey, an international firearms information service, believes Americans own 270 million guns, or about 89 firearms for every 100 residents. Firearms and ammunition are an $8 billion industry in the United States.

Gun ownership took off in 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president. Bill Brassard, director of communications for the foundation, said people feared Obama would lead a charge for gun control legislation, and the public responded by buying more guns before laws could be enacted.

Based on the number of gun registrations, a somewhat imprecise measure because some who register buy more than one weapon at a time, the number of guns and gun owners increased steadily from 2008 through 2013. There was a slight falloff in 2014, but the number of registrations last year was higher than in 2012.

Black Friday gun sales last year were at the second-highest level in history, and December sales were the second-most overall.

Brassard said gun ownership has picked up because more young people and women have become buyers. Brassard said the foundation believes a quarter of the nation’s gun owners are new, those who have owned their guns five years or less.

The average age of an established gun owner with more than five years of experience is 43 while the average age of an owner with less than five years’ experience is 33.

An estimated 22 percent of the experienced owners are women while 37 percent of those owning a gun for five years or less are women.

Nineteen percent of the experienced gun owners got started using guns after age 18 while 77 percent of those with less than five years’ experience began shooting after that age.

Gun manufacturers, seeing women as a growing market, are developing smaller guns that women are more comfortable holding and shooting.

The foundation believes the reason for the increase in ownership is a result of a fear of future restrictions, a general increase in interest in target shooting and an abundance of veterans returning from foreign conflicts who want to own weapons.

He said awareness of Second Amendment rights has spiked when courts overturned handgun bans in Washington and Chicago.

Brassard said the increase in ownership has led to increased awareness in safety.

The foundation’s Project ChildSafe incorporates a theme of “Own it? Respect it. Secure it.” With the distribution of safety literature came a plan to give away 70 million gun locks through 800 police forces and gun organizations dedicated to gun safety.

Brassard said that the industry has to redouble its efforts on safety whenever an incident like the one involving Rutledge occurs.

“The idea isn’t just to educate people to teach gun safety to their children but for them to keep them out of reach of children as well as mentally ill adults and felons,” Brassard said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all campaign, but it lays out all the necessary safety precautions on various fronts.”

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.

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