NEVADAN AT WORK: From early age, gun shop owner had career in his sights

Some boys in the 1950s made model airplanes, radios or ant farms. When Robert Irwin was growing up in Hollywood, he made his own machine gun.

As an adult, he has designed and made guns from scratch. He is best known in Las Vegas as the owner of The Gun Store, where customers buy guns and try out machine guns in a shooting range. He teaches classes on firearms use and is a frequent expert witness on guns.Advertisement

Question: How long have you been interested in guns?

Answer: I built a little machine gun that worked when I was 13 years old. I used parts of two BB guns and pieces from a Colt .32 pistol. I was the only kid on my block who had his own machine gun.

Question: Are machine guns illegal?

Answer: Machine guns are regulated by the federal government.

In 1934, they passed a law which said a civilian cannot have a machine gun, short-barreled shotgun, short-barreled rifle, pistol with a shoulder stock or a silencer without registering that device with the federal government and paying a fee of $200. It was a bootlegger law.

Question: Where did you get your education in guns?

Answer: I have a year and a half at Oregon Technical Institute.

In 1971, I moved to Las Vegas and started doing some design work in guns. I got a couple of patents in machine gun designs. We sold the patents to a company in Los Angeles, which never produced the gun, but it gave me a pile of money.

I went into partnership with another fellow, and we opened a retail gun shop at his suggestion.

My partner's name was Chuck Traynor. Chuck Traynor's wife was (porn star) Marilyn Chambers. Marilyn, Chuck and I opened the Survival Store in 1982. We bought a second store. When we split up, I kept one store, and he kept the other one.

Question: Didn't you introduce some retailing innovations?

Answer: Giving away gun locks. One of my employees said: "My sister is a pastor at a church in Glendora, California. The church is going to give away gun locks, and they want to know if we'll sell them a case of gun locks wholesale." I said, "Wow, no," but I'll give them a couple of cases. I put an ad in the paper, and said, "Come get your free gun lock."

CNN news picked up (a story on the church). Then, everybody picked up on it.

I have been the firearm's instructor at 28 police academy (classes). Then, I started training instructors for the National Rifle Association and police instructors. We've got a huge market share in the gun range business.

According to Metro (Police), we have about 85 percent of the market for (training civilians to carry) concealed weapons. We train security officers, also.

Question: Is this the only place in Las Vegas where people can shoot a machine gun?

Answer: No, but we were the first to do it. A guy was buying a machine gun and asked, "Can I try one of those on the range?" Well, there's an idea. So we just started doing that it, and it just kind of snowballed.

Question: What is the focus of the concealed weapons class?

Answer: We go rather heavily on the liability. Get them in the mind-set (of) if I use the gun, I'm going to use it to stop (someone's threats). I'm not going to try to kill him.

The gun is a defensive tool. Occasionally scenarios are presented where you have to pick him or you. Pick him? Absolutely.

It doesn't end right there. The police investigate. Was he a real threat? No, you misread it. So now you are charged with voluntary manslaughter or murder. If you are right in shooting him, are you going to get sued by his heirs? Of course.

Question: Why do most people want a concealed weapon permit?

Answer: Their fear of street crimes, robbery and rape. If you decide in advance not to have a means of self-defense, you are deciding to be a victim.

Question: Do many customers collect guns?

Answer: We get people who collect World War II guns. They will want to get a pistol from the German army, Italian army, then the Polish army, and it goes on and on.

Question: How did you become an expert witness on firearms?

Answer: In my other life, I work for the county as a part-time bailiff, mostly for the Boulder Township Justice Court. Been there 21 years. So I had a lot of contact with attorneys. I don't take the case if I think the guy is guilty.

Question: Have you testified in some interesting trials?

Answer: In one case, two guys get drunk and go out shooting in a school soccer field with a pistol. They get in a fight, and one is found face down with two bullet wounds in the back of his head.

The prosecutor says (the victim) was lying down and someone shot him in the back of the head. I said that didn't happen. (The victim) was standing up when those rounds were fired.

When a bullet hits the skin at an angle and there's bone underneath, the bullet puts a skid mark on the side of the wound. Look at that picture, and you can see.

Also, if I point a gun at you in anger, you are going to (duck and turn away). It's a schoolyard reaction. You want the kid to hit you in the back instead of the nose. If he had been lying on the ground when those shots were fired, they probably would have gone completely though. (The bullets didn't.) If you're standing up, you are going to move with the bullet. It won't penetrate as far.

The guy was convicted of second-degree murder, but it wasn't a first-degree case with a death penalty. It wasn't a murder where you plan to go kill somebody.

Question: Do you have a favorite gun?

Answer: You're talking to the guy at Disneyland and asking him, "Which is your favorite ride?" He's going to tell you the one that doesn't break down.

My favorite gun is the one that I can sell at a reasonable price, goes bang every time and doesn't come back broken. I carry Glock pistols when (I am working as a bailiff).

Question: What is the secret of your success?

Answer: If you treat people fairly, the world will beat a path to your door. Many years ago, an old man bought a .22 pistol, and it didn't work. We sent it back to the manufacturer, and it was supposed to be fixed. He came back a week later and said it still doesn't work. I said we'll send it back and get you another gun.

He said, "Son, I gave you my money." And I said: "And I'm giving you you're money back right now."

That old man, without knowing it, taught me how to be a retailer.