Gun show attendance doubles over 2012

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, January 20, 2013

— Whether it’s panic, demand or both, crowds at the Janesville Gun Show this weekend have more than doubled compared to last year, show organizer Bob Pucci said Saturday.

Here’s what else has doubled: Prices for assault rifles and related equipment, vendors at the show said.

Amid President Barack Obama’s plans this week for a potential federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, gun enthusiasts were plentiful at Craig Hall at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds in Janesville on Saturday.

The Obama proposal is a response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., during which 20 students and six adults were shot dead.

Pucci, who runs Janesvillebased Bob and Rocco’s Gun Shows out of Janesville, said crowds were on pace to top 3,500 people at the gun show this weekend. Compare that to about 1,500 who came to last year’s show.

Elsewhere in the state, gun show crowds were also reported to be popular. Pucci said he was told that a show this weekend at Fond du Lac had lines of hundreds of people out the doors waiting to get in.

“It all started when (President) Obama started talking,” said Pucci.

And though throngs of people were lining up to buy and sell handguns and rifles Saturday, few customers were buying the dozens of semiautomatic assault rifles displayed at the show.

“It’s sticker shock,” Pucci said while he fed part of a barbecue sandwich to his Labrador retriever, Rocco.

Prices on AR-15 model rifles—the most popular and versatile civilian assault rifle—have shot through the roof. Some of the AR-15 rifles on display Saturday strarted at about $1,500, with some priced at $2,000.

Compare that to $850—the cost of a mid-grade AR-15 about a year ago, according to Pucci.

Pucci and others at the show said there has been an run on assault rifles in recent weeks as talk has heated up about bans of the guns.

Scott Kuhl, who owns Armageddon Supplies, builds and sells custom assault rifles out of a shop on Highway 14 in Janesville. He said sales have blown out for him. He’s moved “five or six” AR-15 assault rifles a week for the last couple of months. He’s only got 12 of the rifles left.

Demand is so high that he’s now on a three-month waiting list for gun parts.

“You can’t get any more guns or parts right now. I actually might have to close the shop,” Kuhl said.

Gun enthusiasts like AR-15s, Kuhl said, because they’re lightweight and versatile. He said they can be used for hunting practically any small or medium-sized game and they’re also favored by rural residents for home protection.

But AR-15s are among the rifles targeted by the Obama administration under a proposal to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines sold as accessories for the assault rifles and other guns.

Some states have recently banned high-capacity magazines. In New York, people are allowed to have magazines that hold a maximum of seven rounds. It’s a new state law, and it even applies to police.

Some high-capacity magazines hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition, but most vendors selling high-capacity magazines at the show Saturday had clips that would hold 30 rounds.

Alex Hammel, a gun owner from Hartford who owns an assault rifle, said people use high-capacity magazines during target shooting, mainly because “it’s fun to rattle off a bunch of shots in a row.”

Pending a ban on high-capacity magazines, he said he was considering “buying a bunch of them.”

Hammel came to Saturday’s show with an AR-15 he was considering selling or trading. But he was worried about making a potential deal at this time. He bought his rifle about six months ago for $600. Now the same gun lists at $1,200.

Amid the specter of rising prices and a potential ban on assault rifles, he’s worried his AR-15 might not be replaceable any time soon.

Saturday, vendors selling guns to customers had to conduct federal and state-mandated background checks on the spot.

Any Wisconsin resident at the show this weekend can walk in, buy an assault rifle, and walk out with the rifle—provided they pass a phone background check with the FBI, which dealers conduct over the phone. Handgun purchases require a 48-hour waiting period.

Kuhl said at a gun show in Evansville earlier this month, a convicted felon tried to buy a gun from him. The man apparently didn’t pass the federal background check Kuhl conducted on the spot.

It later led to the man’s arrest, Kuhl said. Kuhl said he believes background searches at gun shows work well to screen candidates.

“It works if you do things the right way,” Kuhl said.

But some private owners were walking around with guns slung on their backs, sale prices on flags stuck in the barrels.

The law loosely allows gentleman’s agreements on person-to-person sale or trade of guns, show organizers said, although it can be illegal to sell guns at a profit without proper gun dealer licensure, according to a vendor at the show.

Obama’s plan also calls for banning armor-piercing ammunition—bullets which can pierce a three-quarter-inch-thick steel plate from distances of 300 yards, said Pucci.

Pucci said he didn’t see anyone selling armor-piercing rounds at the show on Saturday, but he saw one man trying to sell .50-caliber incendiary rounds. Nobody was biting; they cost about $6 a bullet.

Last updated: 8:01 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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