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From Valentine's Day to zombies, Vegas embraces in-your-face gun promotion; 'a shot at love'

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. - One Las Vegas shooting range is selling "take a shot at love" packages that include 50 submachine gun rounds. Another is offering wedding packages in which the bride and groom can pose with Uzis and ammunition belts. And a third invites lovebirds to renew their vows and shoot a paper cutout zombie in the face.

Never known for its understatement or good taste, Sin City is bucking the U.S. trend of avoiding flippant gun promotions after the Connecticut school shooting in December left 20 young children dead. Instead, it is embracing tourists' newfound interest in big guns the only way it knows how: by going all in.

Capitalizing on the state's relaxed gun laws, shooting ranges offer an armoury of military-grade weapons that aren't accessible in other states. And because this is Las Vegas, they also allow customers to destroy photographs of exes, make souvenir T-shirts full of holes and shoot fully-automatic weapons in barely-there bachelor party man-kinis.

Some gun control advocates say the promotions trivialize the dangers of high-powered weapons.

"These gun stores and shooting ranges offer bad puns in poor taste in their efforts to put a happy face on firearms, yet each day more than 86 Americans die from gun violence," said Josh Sugarmann, who is executive director of the Washington D.C-based Violence Policy Center.

"While Las Vegas gun promoters present assault rifles with high-capacity ammunition magazines as harmless Valentine's Day props, the vast majority of Americans understand their true role: military-bred weapons that threaten police and public safety," he said.

At least half a dozen ranges opened in Las Vegas last year, triggering a marketing arms race.

Before visitors even pick up their bags at McCarran International Airport, they are confronted by ads for the Gun Store, Las Vegas' most venerable shooting range. One ad features a blonde posing with an MP5 submachine gun under the words, "Try one."

Machine Gun Las Vegas, which opened last winter, hires former go-go dancers as hostesses and sells its "femme fatale" package with the slogan, "There's nothing like the scent of Cordite in a woman's hair." (Cordite is an alternative to gunpowder).

"We give what people are asking for, whether it's the 'mob experience' and they want to test a Tommy gun, or a bachelor package, and they want a limo to take them to the club afterward," said Lianne Heck, marketing director at Range 702, which opened in October.

This year, gun ranges are extending their tongue-in-cheek promotions to Valentine's Day, always a moneymaker in this matrimony-and-sex-obsessed town.

The Guns and Ammo Garage is offering free vow renewals by the "Pistol Packing Preacher" for one day only. The Gun Store has built a permanent "shotgun weddings" chapel, because nothing makes a memory quite like the sound of gunfire.

Bob MacDuff of Canada said his "I do's" there last July before posing with AK-47s for wedding pictures and going shooting with his 25 guests. He encourages others to celebrate their love with weapons in hand.

"For people who are gun people, you can't find a better option," MacDuff said.

British tabloids have chided the Las Vegas gun ranges.

"What hope for the U.S. when couples can now get married with weapons?" read the headline of a Jan. 7 article in the Sun reporting that that no couples had cancelled their shotgun weddings after the national tragedy.

Emily Miller, wedding officiant and head of marketing for the Gun Store, said the high-powered weapons allow tourists to live out a wild-west fantasy.

"People always want to put a spin on it, like it's a hostile or angry thing," she said. "Really, customers just want to have fun."

At least one gun control advocate agrees with her.

In what might be called a Valentine to the shooting range industry, a spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said Vegas' public embrace of shooting might cause people to associate it with other Sin City favourites like gambling, benders and ill-conceived hook-ups.

"If anything, this will maybe enforce the image of guns as something that are bad for you," he said.

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