The clash, renewed since the massacre at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., last month, caused gun sales to spike, said Bob Pucci, promoter of the show at the La Crosse Center.
"Twenty tables of FFL (federal firearms license) holders canceled because they're out of guns and can't get them," Pucci said. "One is the biggest ammo dealer in the Midwest. The guys who are manufacturers can't get parts.
"If this continues, the shows will get smaller," he said.
Some shows are disappearing altogether, such as four within an hour's drive of Newtown that have been canceled out of sensitivity to the 20 first-graders and six staff members slain at Sandy Hook.
The La Crosse show, which began Friday and ends today, is drawing elbow-to-elbow crowds that Pucci said are bigger than last year's turnout.
The 135 vendors are selling everything from hunting rifles and shotguns to collectibles, handguns to knives and outdoor accessories, and novelty items such as bumper stickers.
Some vendors and shoppers declined comment on the gun-control fracas, while others criticized it as an attempt to curb individual rights. Still others insisted that episodes such as Sandy Hook are mental health issues rather than a gun problem.
"What drives me nuts is that the same day those 20 kids were killed in school, probably 100 kids were killed in gang violence across the country," said Pucci, of Janesville, Wis., who also heads the National Take a Kid Hunting Foundation.
"But that was an affluent area, and these other kids are Hispanics and blacks and nobody cares," he said.
One vendor whose guns appeared to include semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity clips replied with a brusque "no comment" when asked about the weapons.
Another vendor who declined to give his name said, "We're from a part of the country where guns don't have a bad name. We want them for hunting and target shooting. There's a different mindset in urban areas, where kids see violence on TV, and think that's the way it should be."
Martin Brunner, owner of The Trip Wire military antiques in Delavan, Wis., disputed the idea that a loophole allows people to buy weapons unchecked at gun shows.
He displayed the form for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that licensed dealers are required to use at shows. But private sellers are not required to follow that protocol.
"The issue that's not being addressed on the gun law is mental health," he said, because federal officials do not have access to mental health records for background checks.
Three agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were policing vendors at the show, Pucci said.
Most of those attending appeared to be outdoor enthusiasts just browsing or looking for hunting, self-defense or target-shooting weapons. Others focused on older, collectible guns.
Carol Dybvik and her husband, Allan, of rural Decorah, Iowa, were shopping for a small handgun for her to carry for protection.
The couple felt the need to carry guns after having a flat tire on a rural road and becoming worried about their safety when people slowed down to check them out, she said.
Several criticized President Barack Obama's pressing for bans on assault weapons and other gun control measures after Sandy Hook.
"Obama is our greatest gun salesman," said Charlie Bragdon of Viroqua, a retired serviceman staffing the booth of the Chaseburg Rod and Gun Club. "He's known to be anti-gun, so everybody and his brother bought guns."
Background checks and waiting periods to get guns "don't help anybody because criminals don't buy guns from dealers," Bragdon said.
Stephanie Dikeman, 20, of Tomah, who was checking out rifles, said she hunts deer, squirrel, rabbit -- "anything and everything."
She has hunted for about five years, even though her dad, Frank Dikeman of Cashton, "never thought I'd do it because I'm an animal lover."
"It's a shame so much violence is going on, but I can't do anything about it," she said.
Melissa Loughan of Onalaska, accompanying her dad, Frank, as he shopped for a sheath for a knife, said, "I can see both sides of the issue ... but I favor the concealed carry law. Somebody will not attack if they fear you'll defend yourself."
Stan Richason of rural Holmen, leaving the show empty-handed, said Obama's pressure for gun control has caused prices to spike in the rush to buy amid fears that the right to own will be curbed.
"I came to look and to buy if I got a deal," said Richason, a hunter-safety instructor with the Holmen Rod and Gun Club.
Finding none, he said, "I don't think it's right to punish law-abiding gun owners for what a few crackpots do."
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