With accidental Uzi death, a spotlight on gun ranges as tourist destinations

For a price, gun tourism gives customers, many from outside the US, access to high-powered weapons and a taste of 'American culture,' far from the regulations surrounding gun ownership.

John Locher/AP
An employee loads up a magazine for an automatic machine gun at Machine Guns Vegas, Thursday, in Las Vegas. Most visitors to Machine Guns Vegas have already pulled the trigger on an Uzi or an M5, from behind the controls of their Xbox. But with strict gun laws keeping the real thing out of reach for most people, especially outside the US, indoor shooting ranges with high-powered weapons have become a hot tourist attraction.

The accidental death of an Arizona gun instructor at the hands of an Uzi-wielding 9-year-old girl has put a grim face on the little-known but thriving industry of gun tourism.

These consumers may not be ready to purchase their own weapon, but they're paying big bucks for the opportunity to take a range of firearms for a test drive under the watchful eye of experienced instructors – and far from the constraints regulating gun ownership.

In recent years, several gun ranges designed to lure tourists with a willing trigger finger have popped up in and around Las Vegas. The Last Stop gun range in White Hills, Ariz., where the unidentified 9-year-old accidentally shot and killed Charles Vacca while learning to fire an Uzi submachine gun, is located 60 minutes south of Las Vegas.

Genghis Cohen, owner of one Las Vegas-based gun range, Machine Guns Vegas, estimates that 90 percent of his customers are tourists, many from outside the United States.

"People just want to experience things they can't experience elsewhere," Mr. Cohen told the Associated Press. "They see guns as a big part of American culture, and they want to experience American culture."

Another Las Vegas-based gun range, The Gun Store, caters to the more than 100,000 couples that head to Sin City to get married each year. “Shotgun wedding” packages start at $500 and include a ceremony performed by an ordained minister, Gun Store apparel, and a chance to fire a shotgun. Couples can upgrade to meatier weapons, for an additional cost.

Gun ranges in Hawaii and Guam have become popular destinations for international tourists, particularly those from Japan, in recent years.

Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. In Japan, not only is it illegal to own a gun, but it is also a crime to own a bullet, and a third crime to pull the trigger, according to The New Yorker.

"I think it's human nature to be curious about something that is forbidden," Tetsuo Yamamoto, a Japanese native who immigrated to the US 30 years ago and runs the Western Frontier Village range in Guam, told the AP last year. "Most of our customers are from Japan and have never had the opportunity to shoot a gun. It's very exotic for them, and it's very exhilarating."

 This report includes material from the Associated Press.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.