Gun ranges are part of Sin City's ‘action attractions'eVisitors flock from around the world to the Las Vegas' machine gun shooting ranges, eager to try out the fully automatic MP5, specially designed for U.S. Special Forces and SWAT teams, and other assault rifles and machine guns that are a far cry from your typical ".38 Special" revolver.
The state of Nevada has some of the nation's least restrictive gun laws. Combine that with Las Vegas' hyper-competitive tourism market and an economy still seeking to recover from The Great Recession and you get the latest trend in a city upon them. The city has seen six machine gun shooting ranges open in 2012, including Machine Guns Vegas. Several more have opened since 2010 and more still are planned.
The new trend has been welcome news in a state that was one of the hardest hit during the housing bust in 2008 and one that still maintains the nation's highest unemployment rate (11.5 percent in October 2012).
Businessmen such as Machine Gun Vegas' Genghis Cohen (co-owner along with Tim Larkin) often are products of the city's entertainment industry and, of course, are gun enthusiasts themselves. They opened the new venues hoping to "re-invent" Las Vegas following The Great Recession.
The market has yet to show signs of saturation. Restaurant and casino workers throughout the Las Vegas area say they constantly get asked by guests where they can shoot guns in the area. The market has adapted, with shooting ranges developing unique themes, from "The Bullets and Burgers Experience" to enormous "The Range 702" to Machine Gun Vegas' luxury lounge concept.
Machine Guns Vegas' 10,000-square-foot facility at 3501 Aldebaran Ave. off Spring Mountain Road features a luxurious alcohol-free lounge, an indoor shooting range with two private firing lanes, large plasma TVs and complimentary refreshments.
The hostesses carry iPads giving an overview of the automatic and semi-automatic weapons available to rent. The range also features "Gun Girls," models who also are NRA-certified instructors.
The travel website TripAdvisor.com's reviewers highly recommend Machine Gun Vegas' luxury gun range with 108 of 139 rating their experience as "excellent". The competition includes action/adventure attractions as "Dig This," a heavy equipment playground; "World Class Driving," featuring Ferraris and Lamborghinis; "Vegas Indoor Skydiving"; "Flightline Zipline;" as well as an old standby, "Graceland Wedding Chapel."
TripAdvisor.com reviewers said they weren't merely "satisfied" with their Machine Guns Vegas experience but "ecstatic". One recent female reviewer said her dream came true, adding, "Top of our agenda next time in Vegas is a repeat visit".
"When we established Machine Guns Vegas, we sought to create the best experience possible for our guests. Our continued success seems to show we got it right," MGV co-founder Tim Larkin said.
The machine gun ranges are particularly attractive to tourists from countries with strict gun laws such as the UK and Canada, although they also attract visitors from New York, California and elsewhere in the United States.
Las Vegas' first machine gun shooting range opened 30 years ago. However, the currently popular multiplayer video games such as "Call of Duty," with their graphic depictions of weapon usage, are credited with sudden and increasing popularity of machine gun shooting ranges.
"People play one of those video games then they want to know what it is like to use those weapons for real," Larkin said. "So they usually pick weapons they have used in the video games. Many people are surprised at how powerful these weapons really are."
The machine gun shooting ranges cater to all segments of the market, offering kids' packages, mobster packages, military packages and even "zombie apocalypse" packages in addition to "gamer" packages. They even check what weapons are featured in the latest popular movies.
All this military-grade hardware means these businesses must take all precautions and provide all the safety gear and trained personnel possible. For example, Machine Guns Vegas features NRA-certified range masters who guide customers through all the steps of safe gun handling, including loading, pointing, shooting and reloading. Even MGV's "Gun Girls," former models, are NRA-certified and some even are veterans.
However, rumour has it one group of gun enthusiasts are planning a machine shooting range with a "kill room" like those found in military and law enforcement training grounds. It would allow tourists with automatic weapons to make their way through a building filled with targets and decoys.
Larkin said that kind of attraction is bad for the entire industry by making the public think the people behind these businesses are looking for a fast buck, cheap thrills and don't care about safety.
"That sort of thing just reinforces the negative stereotype of those who enjoy shooting as recreation. We aren't a bunch of yahoos. This is a serious business and we are serious about safety," he said.
Larkin said one of the challenges of operating a machine gun shooting range for the public versus one for law enforcement or military members is the former haven't been these weapons and often don't know what to do. It's quite different dealing with someone like that, who also is a paying customer, versus the professionals.
However, given the state of Las Vegas' economy, the one-upmanship in the machine gun shooting range industry is likely to continue to where these will be considered "the good old days."