For some Arizona kids, photos with Santa come with the usual holiday cheer and some serious firepower.
Armed with assault rifles, grenade launchers, and pistols, the jolly old fellow is posing with families and their children at a Scottsdale, Ariz., gun club. Young and old can preserve the moment while gripping the high-powered weapon of their choice.
To gun enthusiasts like Bruce Stevens, the photo shoot is something to be joyful about. He plans to take his four children, ages 8 to 17, to take pictures with Santa and his arsenal Dec. 10.
“It’s a unique opportunity for a family that does enjoy shooting and the recreation portion of it and the history of it all,” he says.
But some say linking guns to a figure affiliated with Christmas sends the wrong message.
“It’s a time when you’re talking about peace and good cheer and things of that nature,” says the Rev. Brent Loveless of the North Valley Baptist Church in Phoenix. Although he is a hunter who supports the right to bear arms, the pastor says that arming kids with machine guns around Santa “is probably just a little too much.”
Although the holiday photos are raising eyebrows, they exemplify Arizona’s thriving gun culture. This past April, the Colt Single Action Army revolver became the state’s official firearm.
For years, Arizona has had a reputation as one of the most gun-friendly states in America. It has more than 1,200 federally licensed gun sellers, according to The Arizona Republic, which analyzed data from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives earlier this year. Those sellers have been on pace to sell a record number of firearms this year.
As for the holiday photos, they first made a splash at the Scottsdale Gun Club last year. The cost of a sitting with Santa is $5 for members and $10 for nonmembers, with one print photo and one digital copy included.
“Our customers have been looking for a fun and safe way to express their holiday spirit and passion for their hobby,” Ron Kennedy, the club’s general manager, said in a statement. “Some are back for the second year and are making this an annual tradition for their holiday cards and Facebook photos.”
To Eric Bowen, the father of an 11-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, the photo shoots are more of a novelty than anything else.
“It all comes down to a personal right,” he says. “If you want to celebrate the Christmas season with Santa and your favorite rifle, then why should I stop you?”
At the photo session Nov. 26, people of all ages took turns standing next to St. Nick, grinning and toting AK-47s and modified AR-15s. The backdrop included an $80,000 Garwood Minigun, a heavy machine gun.