- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

PHOENIX These aren’t exactly the photos you took with Santa as a child.

An Arizona gun club is offering a chance for children and their families to pose for photos with Santa while holding pistols and military-style rifles.

One image shows Santa in a wingback chair with a snowflake background, a Christmas tree behind him, and flanked by an $80,000 machine gun and a tripod-mounted rifle. Next to Santa are a man and a boy who is holding an unloaded AR-15 with an attached grenade launcher.

In another photo, Santa cradles a toddler dressed in camouflage, while a man and woman stand close by with rifles with foldable stocks. In yet another image, five beaming young ladies pose with an AR-15, an AK-47 variant, and other rifles as they surround old Saint Nick.

Ron Kennedy, general manager of the Scottsdale Gun Club, said the business got the idea for the photo op last year when a club member happened to come in dressed as Santa and other members wanted their picture taken while they were holding their guns.

“Our customers have been looking for a fun and safe way to express their holiday spirit and passion for firearms,” said Mr. Kennedy, noting people have used the photos for Christmas cards and Facebook posts. About 500 people showed up to the event Saturday to take a total of 150 photos when the first of two such events was held.

Mr. Kennedy, whose club offers guns for sale and rental and has a 32-lane indoor shooting range, said the event wasn’t aimed at children, but the club supports the right of parents to include their children in the photos and thinks that’s a personal choice.

The guns used in the photos aren’t loaded and have had their firing pins removed, and their chambers are regularly cleared to ensure safety, he said.

To buy a semiautomatic rifle in the U.S., a prospective purchaser must be at least 18 years old and cannot be a felon. The requirements for prospective buyers of fully automatic machine guns include being at least 21 years old, not being a felon and getting a special license from federal firearms agents.

State Rep. Steve Farley, a Democrat who proposed an unsuccessful ban on large-capacity gun magazines like the one used in the Jan. 8 mass shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others, called the gun club’s photo op inappropriate.

“To involve machine guns and Santa in a celebration in the birth of Jesus Christ is the worst kind of heresy I can imagine,” he said. “I would suggest that the people who created this read some of the New Testament.”

Mr. Kennedy said the club is simply trying to provide a safe holiday event that’s an expression of their passions. “It’s more of a celebration of their Second Amendment rights,” he said.

He said the club will hold the events in the future if there’s a demand from customers for them.

This is the second year the club has offered its “Santa and Machine Guns” photo opportunities. The club plans another opportunity with Santa on Dec. 10.

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