FORT LAUDERDALE — Gun lovers flocked to Fort Lauderdale’s gun show on Saturday, knowing its days may be numbered.
This weekend’s event is the first high-profile gun show in Broward since the Feb. 14 massacre that took the lives of 17 people and left 17 more wounded at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. It also comes at a time when students from Parkland are leading a national push for gun control.
But at Saturday’s gun show, teens and even children as young as 7 were in the crowd, mirroring their parent’s keen interest in firearms of all kinds. Moms pushed baby strollers past tables lined with guns and knives. Dads walked hand-in-hand with their young sons and daughters.
“This is a family event — this is not an event where guys are running around in camouflage yelling,” said Jorge Fernandez, manager of the Florida Gun Show. “There is no Boogeyman here.”
The gun show, held seven times a year at the War Memorial Auditorium in Holiday Park, may have its last show in November, if city commissioners have their way.
Gun show owner Khaled Akkawi said Saturday he has the right to keep holding the show at War Memorial through 2025.
“This is an ongoing contract,” he said. “They can’t kick us out.”
But Fort Lauderdale commissioners say family-friendly Holiday Park isn’t the right venue for a gun show. They want it gone by the year’s end.
During an April 3 workshop, commissioners agreed informally that the gun shows will not continue past November, when the company’s license agreement with the city expires.
“I fully respect the right of people to own guns,” Mayor Dean Trantalis said on Saturday. “I just don’t feel we should have a gun show in the middle of Holiday Park, a playground where children play soccer, volleyball and baseball.”
The gun shows at War Memorial have drawn opposition for years, but the outcry has gotten louder since the shooting on Feb. 14.
“When our contract ends this fall with Gun Show, I hope we never see the words Fort Lauderdale-Gun Show-War Memorial again,” City Commissioner Heather Moraitis tweeted Thursday. “It’s time to think about different programming options at War Memorial in the heart of our city.”
On Saturday, Trantalis was stunned to hear that families were bringing children to the gun show, where firearms of all types were for sale, from tiny pistols to AR-15s like the semi-automatic rifle used in the Parkland shooting.
“Wow,” Trantalis said. “What can I say. I don’t know how to respond to that.”
The gun show usually draws a crowd of 5,000 people, Fernandez said, and he expected the trend to continue this weekend. Some have been waiting to attend since November, when the last gun show was held at War Memorial.
Organizers canceled February’s show at the request of then-Mayor Jack Seiler and “as a show of benevolence for the victims of the Parkland shooting,” Fernandez said.
Some firearms enthusiasts who walked through the doors on Saturday said they were there to buy guns to protect themselves, especially in light of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas.
“We are getting a .380 [pistol] and a revolver,” said Tamarac resident Diana Atienne, her 1-year-old son asleep in her arms and her 3-year-old daughter watching cartoons from her stroller. “As a parent, [the Parkland shooting] just makes me want to carry a firearm at all times to protect my kids. Who’s to say one of those people won’t walk up to us at Walmart?”
Ellen Opris, of Fort Lauderdale, came with 14-year-old daughter Charlotte in tow in search of a handgun and a holster.
“You have to learn about gun safety and this is a good place to do it,” said Charlotte, whose parents have taken her to a range to hone her shooting skills.
When she turns 21, she plans to buy a revolver for protection, she said.
Fort Lauderdale mom Ellice Howell-Francis was helping her daughter Janei pick out her first gun and take a course in gun safety.
“She just turned 21,” mom said. “I told her she needed to know the rules and get a concealed weapons permit before she got a gun.”
Pembroke Pines resident Modesto Gonzalez perused the aisles with his wife and 7-year-old son Alex, a gun show veteran.
“This is his third gun show,” Gonzalez said. “I’m looking to buy a handgun for myself and a little pistol for him. He already has his own rifle.”
Gonzalez ridiculed the anti-gun movement that’s taken the country by storm since the Parkland shooting.
“We take kids at 18 and send them to war,” he said. “Guns are a part of our lives and they always will be.”
The next gun show will be held on June 30 and July 1.
Fernandez expects a steady stream of gun buyers at that event too.
“Because of Parkland, the anti-gun rhetoric is more popular right now,” he said. “But firearms are part of the American way of life.”
One thing appeared to be missing from Saturday’s gun show: Bump stocks.
The devices make a semi-automatic rifle shoot like a machine gun. One was used last year in the shooting rampage that killed 58 people in Las Vegas, prompting a proposed ban from President Donald Trump.
“I haven’t seen any for sale here since the Las Vegas incident,” Fernandez said. “They may be going on the private market.”
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