LAS VEGAS (AP) — A trade show expected to draw tens of thousands of gun enthusiasts and manufacturers opened on the Las Vegas Strip Tuesday with the head of an industry group preparing to tell convention-goers they weren't to blame for the recent mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
"We are not the evildoers," National Shooting Sports Foundation chief Steve Sanetti said in remarks scheduled to be delivered Tuesday evening. "You didn't cause the monstrous crime in Newtown and neither did we."
The start of the annual Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show at the sprawling Sands Expo Convention Center comes amid a national debate on gun control following last month's shooting, which left 20 children and six adults at the school dead.
President Barack Obama was expected to receive recommendations Tuesday from Vice President Joe Biden, who in recent weeks has led a task force studying methods to curb gun violence.
Also, New York state lawmakers passed the toughest gun control law in the nation and were daring other states to do the same.
In his state-of-the-industry speech, Sanetti characterized weapons manufacturers, sellers and buyers as "misunderstood."
"Ours is a responsible industry that manufactures and sells lawful products to law-abiding citizens, who in turn exercise their constitutional right to own, use and enjoy firearms safely and responsibly for lawful purposes," he said.
Sanetti's remarks drew criticism from gun control advocates who said promoting and selling military-style assault rifles is the growth model for an industry that the foundation said is coming off a profitable $4.1 billion year.
"There's a dirty little secret here in the wake of Newtown," said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "One of the primary areas for marketing and growth in the gun industry right now is assault weapons. The other is compact style handguns for people who carry guns in public."
"What's sexy and promoted is military-style assault weapons, not bolt-action deer hunting rifles," Everitt said. "In truth, the lobbying of the NSSF and their partners at the NRA is the sole reason we now live in an America where homicidal maniacs are allowed to stockpile firearms, often legally."
Sanetti said the weapons industry strongly supports severe penalties for those who misuse their right to own firearms.
The foundation, which is headquartered in the same Connecticut town where the school shooting took place, was hosting a show that's expected to attract nearly 60,000 credentialed industry professionals, recreational gun owners and law enforcers.
The 35th annual SHOT show was closed to the public and was only being covered by a limited number of reporters and photographers.
The group was swamped by media requests following the Newtown shooting and eventually stopped accepting applications, foundation spokesman Bill Brassard Jr. told The Associated Press.