Gun show packs 'em in as enthusiasts fear showdown with government

Published: Saturday, Jan. 5 2013 7:20 p.m. MST

Tim Wilkes, right, sights down the barrel of a hunting rifle at the South Towne Expo Center during the 2013 Rocky Mountain Gun Show, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013.

Ben Brewer, Deseret News

SANDY — Outside, the lines were long and it was bitter cold.

Inside, it was hot and shoulder to shoulder — sometimes belly to belly — as people threaded their way through the Saturday crowds.

Many at the Rocky Mountain Gun Show said they were there to snatch up their freedom before the government gets a chance to take it away — and that “freedom” lined table after table after table.

The South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy offered a bit of just about anything for anyone who wanted to bring home their Second Amendment right.

There were dainty pearl-handled Cobra Derringers, small enough to conceal in an embroidered evening bag, a black 1890 Sharps rifle sporting an octagon barrel for display on a wall and the pricey Colt AR-15 assault rifle.

But the biggest lines were crowded around the ammunition tables, with four cash registers steadily ringing up purchases for people willing to wait it out for as long as 90 minutes.

“The ammunition lines are insane,” said one gun owner, toting away his bounty, which included a few Remington Bucket O Bullets piled on a dolly.

Not far away, a sign warned of a 2,000-round limit on all calibers.

“We expected a large crowd,” said show co-promoter Mitch McKinlay. “A lot of this has upped the people.”

What is “upping” gun enthusiasts across the country and in Utah are serious efforts to take aim at the nation’s laws on who can own a gun, and what kind, how much ammunition is permissible to buy, and how those purchases can be made.

The first day of the new Congress had barely gotten under way Thursday when reform legislation began peppering legislative headquarters.

Proposals are on the table to put outright bans on assault rifles or high capacity magazines. Measures are calling for more thorough background checks and tighter controls on gun shows like those put on by the Davis County residents behind the Rocky Mountain Gun Show, which stages in multiple locations in Utah, as well as Las Vegas and California.

The debate over gun control and how much is needed lies in the shadow of December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed last month.

Like a continuous loop of tragedy, it follows the mass shooting in an Oregon mall the same month and a Colorado theater shooting in July.

Normal places where normal people should be safe — an elementary school, a shopping mall, a midnight screening of a much-awaited superhero movie. When a society’s vulnerability is peeled open because of events like these, masses cry for change so it doesn’t happen again.

And all sides in the gun debate have picked up the bull horn, with the National Rifle Association urging armed guards be stationed at elementary schools and their ardent critics insisting that only police and the military be armed.

There’s not a lot of gray in the discussion.

Stan Holmes was one of a handful of picketers outside the gun show early Saturday morning. He took the glares with good nature, even smiling when one man growled at him and said, “You guys are in the wrong place this morning.”

Their signs said that real hunters don’t need assault rifles and that the NRA once stood for safety.

“We’re just a circle of friends who decided after the Connecticut shooting that enough is enough,” he said, adding that reaction by gun show attendees was mixed.

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