The tragic news of the Las Vegas massacre on October 1 was a great shock to the city. A lone gunman, now identified as local Nevada resident Stephen Paddock, opened fire from his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, claiming the lives of at least 58 people and injuring more than 500 others.
Just one week before the shooting I visited a gun convention at the Cashman Centre in Downtown. It cost US$14 to get in and was open to the public. We have all heard how easy it is to buy guns in the US, but coming face-to-face with the reality of it was unnerving.
A light security check was performed on arrival, which was ironic given I was entering a place that had enough weapons to start a small war. The hall was filled with stands selling everything from 5.56mm M4 machine guns for US$1,228 to an XMG belt-fed 8mm machine gun made by BRP Corp using Nazi parts for US$6,999.
There were stacks of Ruger 9mm magazines for US$20 and boxes of Winchester x 22 magnum full metal jacket bullets for US$12; M&P15 semi-automatic rifles, and even rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), which are used as anti-tank weapons. Traders wore T shirts with slogans such as “No mercy, no remorse”.
According to the National Rifle Association, you do not need a permit to buy hunting rifles or shotguns in Nevada. Nevada does not ban assault weapons, which are designed for maximum fatalities. Fully automatic weapons are illegal in the US but guns can be modified with legal accessories to make them fire at similar speeds.
If you buy a new gun from a dealer, they are required to do a background check but if you buy “private”, which basically means second-hand (of which there were hundreds at this show), you only need a valid ID to walk out with whatever you like.
There is no bill of sale or registration requirement to inform the government that you are now the owner. Nevada is an open-carry state, which means you need a permit to conceal one on your person, but not to wear it in view. There is no limit on magazine capacity, the number of bullets or the number of guns you can buy.
One vendor I spoke to said: “In terms of the purchasing, anything that has a hand-written tag is privately owned. We have a federal firearms licence but we are allowed to own these [used guns] privately. Out the door there is no background check as long as you are a Nevada resident.
“These guns [on the other hand] you have to pay tax, you have to do paperwork and we have to do a background check on. But we did 16 background checks today and 15 people walked out of here with one. We only had one three-day delay. We get first-time buyers all the time.”
Look out for our cover feature celebrating the dynamism of Downtown Las Vegas in our upcoming November edition of Business Traveller.