- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2012

Out of fear, interest, observation or education, throngs of gun enthusiasts streamed into the Dulles Expo Center on Sunday for the final day of the Nation’s Gun Show, putting to rest any remaining doubt that the issue of firearms control — no matter which side of the argument — is at the forefront of the nation’s collective concern.

Gone were the protesters shouting down the National Rifle Association a couple days earlier, as well as the wraparound lines to enter the sprawling exhibit hall in Chantilly, but attendees packed themselves in among tables weighed down by ammunition, pistols, rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

“Friday was the busiest show we’ve ever had, and it was a five-hour day,” said Jerry Cochran of Trader Jerry‘s, a Virginia-based gun dealer. “We were selling at a rate of 1.8 guns a minute.”

Mr. Cochran, 56, said the driving force behind the record-breaking sales was the fear of any sort of ban on weapons.

Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people, all but six of them young children, were killed with a semi-automatic weapon by 20-year-old man, a number of state and federal leaders have suggested a range of potential solutions. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, wants to introduce a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has suggested that maybe school officials should be allowed to carry weapons.

The mindset, Mr. Cochran said, is, “Oh, my gosh, I need to protect myself with what I want, and I won’t be able to get that.”

Since the Sandy Hook shootings in mid-December, the issues of gun control, gun violence and treatment for mental health problems have been forced into the limelight and, in some cases, polarized Americans on the subject of license to carry.

At the expo, however, hundreds of people signed postcards addressed to various state and federal representatives, with messages stating “No More Gun Control!” and “Arm School Officials” created by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

Sporting a purple Baltimore Ravens jersey, Nolan Williams, 45, said he came to the gun show because he was considering purchasing another gun. The Columbia, Md., resident said he wouldn’t be one of the many customers walking out with a purchase because he would have to wait until his gun is shipped to an authorized dealer in Maryland, where he could then pick it up.

“I kind of know what I want, but life is about having a budget,” Mr. Williams said. But with talk of gun control and potential bans in the news, he said “it’s something to consider.”

Perched on a stool behind a glass case filled with pistols, a Gainesville, Va.-based gun dealer named Debbie, who asked that her last name not be used, said weekend sales volume was the best her company had seen.

“We did more business the first night than we do in a whole weekend,” she said. “People were literally running down the aisles on Friday.”

Debbie said some gun buyers talked about the Newtown shootings, but many expressed concern about how people “don’t know what’s going to happen with the ban.”

Perusing Trader Jerry’s 9 mm pistols with a friend, Britney Littleton, 26, said she had been to gun shows before, but her trip to the Dulles show was the first time she had gone with the intent to buy.

The Arlington woman said she was in the market for a gun for “personal protection” and had looked at a pistol several weeks ago after taking a concealed-carry course.

“I wanted to have something to carry,” she said.

Several tables down from Ms. Littleton, T.J., a 28-year-old military man who asked not to be identified further, was examining his first-ever gun purchase, a dark black pistol.

“I’ve been wanting one,” the Florida native said. “It had nothing to do with the [Newtown] shooting. I started talking to a guy I worked with, and this was the right time.”

T.J. said he had looked at purchasing a semi-automatic gun, but the prices, he said, were “obscene.”

Robert Starer, 72, owner of the Historic Arms Corp. in Cape Charles, Va., said sales at the Chantilly show were “unbelievable” compared to past years, an observation shared by fellow dealers as well as exhibit attendees.

“Every bit of it is self-defense,” said Mr. Starer, who is also the chief firearms instructor for his company. “We as a society have come to expect the government to take care of us if we’re sick, to take care of us when we’re old and feeble. We’ve stopped taking care of ourselves.”

Mr. Starer’s company hosted a series of classes throughout the weekend, including a concealed-carry course. About 200 people went through the course during the three-day gun show. He also said his company at one point over the weekend had sold a dozen of its AR-15 rifles in an hour.

A growing desire from people wanting to take their personal protection into their own hands is what he attributed to the uptick in business, whether it was worry of a gun ban passed by government leaders or another mass shooting.

“It maybe won’t solve the problem” of gun violence, Mr. Starer said, “but it will change the odds.”

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