Guns. They cause a multitude of emotions in people love and hate and, for some, fear. For those who love guns and all things gun-related, not much beats spending an afternoon at a gun show.
Nearly a half million people bought tickets to Crossroads of the West gun shows in Utah and four other Western states last year, more than other gun shows in America. Crossroads, finishing its 31st year in business, is owned by Bob Templeton and his family of Fruit Heights.
Bob and his wife, Lynn, started in the gun show business in 1975 when they owned a Salt Lake gun store, Guns Unlimited. "I started promoting gun shows and they worked out better than the gun store," Bob said.
After deciding to go full time with gun shows, the Templetons opened their first one in a National Guard armory, then a year later had three shows a year in the old Salt Palace. Today, they have 47 shows a year, making Crossroads of the West the largest show operator in the country, he said.
Besides Utah, Crossroads has shows in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and California, where firearms laws are more restrictive, but the Templetons have managed to survive the tough anti-gun environment. "There's a mandatory 10-day waiting period for guns in California," Templeton said. The 10 days before purchasers can take possession of guns makes it hard for dealers to sell. "Liberals would like California to be the model for the whole country and even go farther than that," he said. With the Democrats controlling Congress, Templeton is worried about the sanctity of the Second Amendment and the peoples' right to keep and bear arms.
One of the ways dealers at guns shows have adapted is by making arrangements with local federally licensed dealers to hold sold guns during the waiting period. However, California's restrictive guns laws make many firearms illegal and the result has been a lot of stores going out of business, he said. "People in the Bay Area, especially, tell me they don't let their neighbors know they have guns."
Whether California, with its draconian laws on firearms, will become the model for the rest of the country remains to be seen, but the firearm industry generally is in a decline as fewer Americans go hunting and fewer children grow up looking forward to the annual hunt. Even in Utah, much of the land that was wide open and provided hunting areas a generation ago is now filled with houses and that means hunters and shooters must travel further.
However, gun shows are wide ranging and not strictly focused on the sales of firearms. Ammunition is a large part of a show, as is the sale of reloading supplies for those who reload their own bullets. With the recent price increase in ammunition and components because of the rapid rise in base metal prices, such as copper, brass and lead, Templeton expects many of the attendees this month will be there to stock up on ammunition before it goes even higher. Shows also appeal to collectors and not just gun collectors. For instance, some attendees attend gun shows looking for obscure ammunition cartridges with certain head markings. Some people collect military web gear, and often gear from the mid-19th century can be found. Others collect paper items, including photos and books of the Old West as well as various wars. Some vendors specialize in medals and memorabilia from different wars and countries including Nazi Germany, but Templeton doesn't allow anything to be displayed or sold that glorifies the Nazis.
A small portion of any show's tables is allotted for non-gun items such as knife sharpeners, videos, books, jewelry, optics, including scopes and binoculars, clocks, hand-crafted items of wooden carvings and other materials as well as fine china. "We've tried to allow some vendors in that will attract families."
One of the trends Templeton has seen in recent years, he said, is the decline in the number of collector guns, although collectors still come to the shows looking for a particular gun or item to upgrade their collections.
"One of the most important things about gun shows is the opportunity to meet and greet for people with like minds to discuss gun rights," Templeton said. The National Rifle Association has a table outside the shows' entrances offering a free gun show ticket for people who join the NRA. Last year, the NRA sold 4,300 memberships at the shows, Templeton said.
Inside the shows, various groups can be found offering their particular views on gun ownership, the Second Amendment and other political causes such as hunting and fishing rights.
Utahns in general strongly support hunting and Second Amendment issues, Templeton said, adding he has a neighbor who has no interest in hunting or shooting, per se, but bought a pistol just to exercise his Second Amendment right to own a firearm.
Because of long traveling distances in the West, Templeton has no plans to expand the number of shows. "We have a dedicated cluster to dealers, and many of them travel long distances for the shows, and for that reason, we haven't considered traveling more. We're actually traveling a little more than we'd like to now."