The show is closed to the public and the mainstream press, though reporters from publications with names like Guns & Ammo and American Rifleman wander freely among the booths.
The Washington Post attended the show in 2010 and 2011 and was invited to attend this year. But after the massacre of 20 children and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school by a man with a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle and high-capacity magazines, show organizers would not allow The Post or other mainstream news organizations inside.
Many people in town for the show were equally publicity-shy, refusing to talk about the current debate. Even industry executives who did speak asked that their names not be used to avoid being singled out.
One arms manufacturing executive said he and many others do not believe that any new restrictions will pass Congress. The chief executive of another gun maker said he was disappointed by the debate in Washington.
"Lawmakers should put their efforts into harsher penalties for straw purchasers, more prosecutions of violators of gun laws already on the books and more treatment and sharing of state information about the mentally ill," the executive said in an interview in his hotel suite, where an armed guard was posted outside the door.
Promoted as "The Event That Keeps On Giving," the show is sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, whose headquarters are about three miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. NSSF President Steve Sanetti, who was among the gun advocates who met with Vice President Joe Biden last week, says the industry is misunderstood, particularly in the aftermath of Newtown.
"We all must recognize that those who don't agree with us share in our desire to rid the world of such monstrous acts and they must recognize that we are not the evildoers," Sanetti said in remarks prepared for delivery to a closed-door dinner Tuesday. "Ours is a responsible industry that makes and sells lawful products to law-abiding citizens."