Only Days After Giffords Shooting, Packed Gun Show Puts Deadly Firepower on Display
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"Our dual tube feature maximizes operator lethality," said sales representative Chad Enos as he brandished a floor model of the KSG 12-gauge, a new pistol-grip shotgun produced by the American firearms manufacturer Kel-Tec. "This bad boy looks like it shouldn't be legal. But it is."
"Glass reinforced polymer grip and stock assembly with hardened steel tube magazines," said Enos. "Twenty-seven inches muzzle to stock with an 18-inch barrel, so it's just as compact as legally possible."
The Kel-Tec display area was packed during the 2011 SHOT Show, held January 18 to 21, the largest annual gathering of firearms makers and dealers in the United States.
The KSG was one of the hottest guns to debut. As demonstrated by Enos, a selector switch enables the shooter to alternate between two seven-shot magazines. This means the KSG holds 15 rounds, with one chambered. A standard police-issue shotgun holds six.
This was the 33rd annual SHOT Show. It was the biggest show in SHOT history and drew roughly 50,000 attendees who reveled in the firepower displayed by around 1,600 exhibitors spread across more than 650,000 square feet of total exhibit space -- five times the size of the casino floor at Caesar's Palace.
Looming over the main entrance to the Sands Expo & Convention Center was a massive banner of a leering Grim Reaper with glowering red-eyes, wielding a scythe. It advertised a laser scope called the Eliminator.
Death personified also symbolized the timing of SHOT, which began just 10 days after Jared Loughner opened fire on a crowd in Tucson, Ariz., killing six people and wounding 13, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner used a Glock-19 handgun, the same gun used in 2007 by Virginia Tech spree shooter Seung-Hui Cho to kill 32 people and wound 17. Lougher's Glock-19 was equipped with a 30-round magazine. Cho's held 15 bullets.
The manufacture for sale in the U.S. of handgun magazines holding more than 10 rounds, known as "high-capacity" magazines, was prohibited under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). That law expired in 2004. Attempts to renew it have been thwarted by the National Rifle Association, aided by legions of firearms industry lobbyists.
The self-defense applications of high-capacity handguns that fire 15, 30, or 50 rounds without reloading are dubious at best. Yet since the expiration of the AWB, high-capacity magazines have become integral to the core marketing strategies of most firearms manufacturers whose products are designed first and foremost to kill people, not for hunting or precision target shooting.
Unlike televisions or blue jeans, firearms don't wear out in a matter of months or years. Gun ownership has been in long-term decline over the last 40 years. The industry experienced a brief resurgence in 2009 after President Obama's election stirred fears of new gun control laws. However, that buying surge has evaporated and left the industry reeling as many recent buyers have sold their firearms, flooding the secondary market.
To lure repeat buyers, increased lethality has become the nicotine of the firearms industry. Every year gun makers roll out new lines of assault rifles, tactical shotguns and handguns that hold even more bullets, or fire even faster, or boast new gadgetry that supposedly enables their user to kill other human beings more efficiently than ever before.
At SHOT, the guns on display at the Smith & Wesson exhibit made for a Darwin-chart of the evolution of the modern handgun from the straightforward, Wild West-style, six-shot revolver to new-fangled guns like the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22P. It's all curves and serrations, equipped with a 25-round "banana clip" magazine, a muzzle flash suppressor and a "ported" barrel with holes to lessen blowback and heighten control during rapid fire. The M&P 15 is part of Smith & Wesson's popular "Military & Police" line of firearms that, despite their branding, are perfectly legal for civilians to purchase.
Glock, the maker of the gun used in the Tucson shootings, went big at SHOT with one of the largest and most luxurious exhibits. It resembled the waiting lounge in a five-star hair salon, with plush silver carpeting and shiny black logo towers proclaiming "25 years of perfection." Placards trumpeted ergonomic features "resulting in reduced recoil and faster follow-up shots."
It's not just firearms manufacturers rolling out new, more deadly products every year at SHOT. Ammunition-makers likewise promote new bullets designed to heighten the damage they cause to the human body. For example, this year the Nebraska-based handgun ammunition manufacturer Hornady, one of the leaders in the industry, introduced .44 Special and .45 Colt caliber rounds to its popular Critical Defense line of "personal defense" hollow-point handgun rounds. (Hollow point bullets expand or "mushroom" when they enter a human body, amplifying tissue damage, blood loss and shock.)
"The only problem with typical hollow-point rounds is that when they travel through heavy clothing, the tip of the bullet tends to clog up, which doesn't allow the bullet to fully expand," explained Hornady salesman Tom Mills. "The Critical Defense line bullets solve that problem by having a flexible tip that allows for maximum penetration and maximum expansion." Mills holds up a gleaming Critical Defense .45 Colt round. "This offers 13 inches of penetration into ballistic gel [which simulates human tissue] when fired through the standard FBI heavy clothing protocol. In other words, 'Hasta la vista, baby.'"