First-time buyers and veteran gun enthusiasts alike flocked to the Cullman Civic Center Saturday for a weekend gun show, some fearing they’ll lose their rights to own guns in the wake of President Barack Obama’s call for stricter requirements on gun sales.
Gun dealers said they were happy to cash in on the surge of new customers — many of whom were looking for AR-style rifles and other tactical firearms — despite their concerns Obama’s executive order this past week will make it more difficult to do business and with little faith it will curb illegal gun sales.
“All it’s going to do is drive gun sales to the gas stations. People are going to be buying guns in the parking lot at Jack’s over coffee and off of Craigslist. It does nothing to stop these straw purchases or keep a felon from buying a gun,” said Paul Hughes of Pickens County. “You can compare it to moonshine. It’s going to drive it underground.”
Pickens was an exhibitor at the Valley Productions Inc. gun and knife show and said many attendees were looking for military-style rifles, fearing government regulations will be enacted, making them illegal.
“If it’s black, it sells,” Hughes said. “A lot of these people are first-time gun buyers. You have people buying ARs that don’t even know how to load it. It’s like when the power goes out and everybody runs to the store and buys bread and milk.”
Black Friday 2015 set a record for background check requests in a single day when the FBI processed 185,345 of them.
Stephanie Arnold and her husband, James, made the drive up from Blountsville, and she picked out a petite .22 caliber handgun to carry for protection.
“I already have a .38, but I don’t carry it on me,” she said.
When asked how many bullets her new pistol could hold, the dealer, Dwight Patterson Christian III with Masters Enterprises of Snead, said, “Two.”
“But you only need one,” she added.
Christian said he’s seen a 100 percent increase in the number of women buying guns, and he echoed what many dealers said were popular items: AR-style guns and 9 mm concealable handguns. He credited Obama’s executive order with helping his business.
“Obama is a good salesman; I owe him a commission,” he joked.
John Wilson with Masters Enterprises said the new restrictions on how guns are sold will make his job more difficult but it’s also made it more lucrative.
D. Brent Oliver with Valley Productions Inc. said he’s hosted gun shows in Cullman for the past 7-8 years, and Saturday’s crowd was twice to three times the usual size. Forty vendors set up shop around the civic center, with everything from shotguns, handguns, holsters, knives and jewelry. Guns had to be unloaded or zip-tied to make them inoperable.
“The crowds are up and down, but it always seems to be up during election years,” Oliver said.
Hughes voiced his concerns about inexperienced gun owners stocking up on military-grade weapons with little to no training.
“Buying an AR as your first gun is like buying a Ferrari and not knowing how to drive a stick shift,” Hughes said. “I saw a young guy buy three, and he didn’t even know how to take it apart to clean it. The gray-haired guys you see at these shows, they’re buying the shotguns and vintage rifles because it’s like they’re fulfilling their daddy and granddaddy’s dream. Something to put up on the mantle and pass down to the kids.”
He pointed to a rise in accidental shootings due to novice gun owners not knowing how to properly care for and store their guns. Like many vendors, Hughes said the government should enforce the existing gun laws, including prison time for convicted felons caught with them.
Another vendor, who declined to give his name, was selling gun accessories and muzzle-loaded replica rifles. He didn’t think tougher restrictions on gun sales would work either.
“We already have background checks, but they won’t do any good until they allow us to check people with mental health issues. But you can’t do that because of HIPPA laws,” the vendor said.
Background checks are conducted by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can inspect federally licensed gun dealers’ records once every 12 months, but the agency’s 629 inspectors were only able to look at 10,429 of the more than 141,000 dealers — roughly 7 percent — in 2014.
The unidentified vendor added: “Most gun dealers are not against background checks. We’re just leery of the federal government when they said ‘We’re here to help you.'”
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