The Las Vegas shooting-range owner backing gun control: ‘If we can make people safer, why not?’

Some may accuse Genghis Cohen of hypocrisy, given he offers access to full or semi-automatic rifles, but hes speaking out in the wake of the mass shooting

The owner of Machine Gun Vegas, a shooting range that gives customers the real feel of what its like to clear a room with just a pull of the trigger, was on hand to personally explain to some Chinese customers why they were still not open on Tuesday, 48 hours after the citys mass shooting.

We just dont think its appropriate, said Genghis Cohen, whose shooting range is typically open to children as young as 10, and also arranges trips where clients fly across the desert in a helicopter shooting out of an M60 belt-fed machine gun.

What constitutes appropriate is, of course, a matter of opinion, and Cohen said the company has been targeted with fuck you hate mail from seething gun enthusiasts who do not believe he should have closed for two days.

He is, however, undeterred, and has been moved by Sundays massacre to cross a rubicon and enter territory rarely touched by owners of gun ranges: actively calling for gun control.

One guy, he said, sat in a hotel room with 23 guns and managed to kill or injure 600 people. They say he was using 60- to 100-round magazines. Why does a 64-year-old man, who is not in the military or in the police department, why does he need a gun that can basically fire fully automatically?

Some might accuse Cohen of hypocrisy, given his company offers clients access to more than a dozen different types of full or semi-automatic rifles, several of which are similar to those used by Paddock to kill 58 people and injure more than 500.

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Genghis Cohen. Photograph: Courtesy of Machine Gun Vegas

But in an interview with the Guardian, Cohen, a longtime Las Vegas resident who looked visibly shaken by the ordeal of recent days, said he felt he was doing the right thing in the aftermath of the attack, which has affected several people he knows.

Among them, a friends daughter was was shot in the leg and is recovering from surgery, and an employee whose friend from high school was killed. Many of Sundays deaths and injuries, he said, would have been avoidable with stricter rules regulating access to firearms. If we can change laws to make people safer, then why would we not do that?

Other shooting ranges offering automatic firearms experiences in the vicinity of the Mandalay Bay casino and hotel, the complex Paddock used to fire at thousands of country music fans at a venue below, were open on Tuesday.

Bullets and Burgers, a company that picks up Las Vegas tourists from hotels and ferries them to the same shooting range in the Arizona desert where, three years ago, a nine-year-old girl lost control of an Uzi machine gun and shot dead her instructor, said it was offering its usual packages (which costs $199, and includes a complimentary beer, fries and soda).

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A makeshift memorial on Las Vegas Boulevard near the Mandalay Bay hotel. Photograph: Otto/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

The closest range to the Mandalay resort, the Range 702, which sells a machine gun adrenaline rush for $599.50, was open for business, as was Battlefield Vegas, where an employee at the desk explained the process was straightforward. Like a restaurant: come in, order what you want, we give you the gun, go shoot, he said.

Cohen said he was aware his rivals were open, but said it was right to close for longer than just 24 hours and talk frankly about gun legislation. Someones got to say something because if we dont we end up looking like a bunch of cockroaches scurrying for cover, he said.

The 47-year-old former nightclub owner said his opinions about gun control were not new, and were born in part from his upbringing in New Zealand, a country with safer gun rules. He said he had also been affected by late-night host Jimmy Kimmels impassioned broadcast about the failure to enact gun restrictions.

But he said it was Sundays shooting that had done most to move him to be more outspoken about Americas gun laws, the shortcomings of the NRA and what he argues is the widely misunderstood second amendment.

Cohen disputed that his company, which offers gun-shooting packages with names like The Femme Fatale and Seal Team 6 to experience the pulse-pounding thrills of modern machine guns and bad-ass assault rifles, glorifies the kinds of weapons of mass murder used by Paddock.

We dont sensationalize guns, he said. Society sensationalizes guns.

Have you ever watched a movie with guns and violence in it? he continued. Have you ever played Call of Duty, or any video game where there is shooting involved? I havent heard one person who said no.

His business opened six years ago as a destination that marketed itself as a gun range where customers could be taught by stunning gun girls. But Cohen said the business strategy has evolved since then and the company now primarily markets its access to high-caliber weapons they cannot shoot elsewhere.

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He stressed that his range, which has some 26,000 customers a year, does not buy or sell weapons or ammunition. We are strictly, 100%, a tourist attraction, he said.

For less than $60, clients can stop by the range and fire an Uzi or AK-47. Children aged 10 and over are permitted to fire weapons but Cohen said instructors select smaller firearms.

Cohen said he believed Americans should be entitled to own firearms, but said there should be far more difficult tests and exams for licenses, and owners should be subject to regular testing and repeated, annual, background checks.

He also advocated closing the controversial loophole that allows people to buy weapons at some gun shows without background checks, and said there should be prohibitions on some firearms. Do I think a regular civilian needs to own an assault rifle, with accessories that make it practically automatic, with [60- to 100-]round capacity? No.

Nevada state laws that enable him and others to carry concealed handguns after a basic course were, he said, insane and way too lax.

While Cohen admires the work the National Rifle Association does to promote gun safety, he compared its lobbyists to witches around a cauldron and who respond to even basic gun reform with hysteria.

Their argument is that if we give up some of our rights, it opens the door to losing all of our rights, he said, adding: If the government doesnt regulate the industry, then we need to regulate ourselves.

After his comments were published, Cohen contacted the Guardian to say he had been subjected to further hate mail and he wished to clarify some of his remarks. He believes the industry may need to regulate itself, he said, because of the risk of dramatic over-regulation by government. He also said the additional tests and checks he advocated would relate specifically to concealed-carry license holders and not, for example, owners of hunting rifles.

In his original interview, Cohen, who is planning on opening a second gun range in Orlando, the city where the second-worst shooting on modern US history occurred earlier this year, denied that he was taking advantage of the very same lax gun laws he takes issue with.

Asked why he carries a handgun with him, he replied that America is a very dangerous place and added: If the government got rid of all the bad guys with guns, Id give my gun in tomorrow.

  • In an earlier version of this article, Cohen was quoted referring to 50-round capacity rifles. There are no 50-round magazines, and Cohen says he meant to say 60- to 100-round magazines.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/03/las-vegas-shooting-gun-control-genghis-cohen

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