Thousands attend Columbia gun show

mlucas@thestate.comJanuary 20, 2013 

— On Saturday, National Gun Appreciation Day, a rally at the South Carolina State House drew a couple of hundred people. But several thousand showed up for a gun and knife show at Jamil Temple.

Hosted by the South Carolina Arms Collectors Association, an NRA-affiliated club, the two-day show drew so many people it surprised dealers and veteran show-goers alike.

“Everybody knew it was going to be a big turnout,” said Darrell Ward, 56, of Newberry.

Still, Ward – a hunter and gun collector who says he tries to “hit all the shows” – said he was surprised when he got to the event at 7 a.m. to find a line had already formed and snaked more than a 100 yards across the parking lot to the edge of the woods next door.

The show, held on a day designated by numerous pro-gun rights groups to stand up in defense of gun rights across the country, comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s package of proposals designed to tighten ownership laws.

The proposals, which follow in the wake of last month’s Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre, include stricter background checks on all gun sales and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Many who attended both the show and the protest held at the State House said the sharp increase in gun sales and attendance at such events were in direct response to the president’s proposals.

“It’s been busy – a lot of questions,” said Cindy LaFave, who helps out in her boyfriend’s Sandy Run business, Barron’s Clips & Collectibles. Both LaFave and Barry Turner, a licensed firearm dealer, had a wide variety of guns and related items spread out across multiple tables at the show.

Along with general information, many who stopped by their area wanted to know why prices were so high.

“It’s because you can’t get the inventory,” she said.

Fearing a ban on certain weapons such as AR-15s or other semi-automatic rifles – known lately as “black guns” because of a possible ban – many Americans have begun snapping up those particular weapons at retailers and gun shops within the last few weeks, she and others said.

While Turner fielded a steady stream of inquiries Saturday morning, LaFave ran background checks on potential buyers. LaFave is in favor of the checks because it makes her feel better to know she isn’t “selling to a felon.”

“I want to know if I shouldn’t sell to you,” she said.

But not everyone at the show Saturday was performing such checks.

In South Carolina, it is not illegal for private individuals attending gun shows to sell to each other, whether at the show, in the parking lot or afterward.

Many have said it’s time to examine laws governing these “person to person” transactions that many call the “gun show loophole.”

“It is a known fact that gang members go to gun shows and that they buy guns, ammunition and magazines at these shows,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

Lott supports the idea of closing the loophole and said background checks need to be performed on all sales at the shows.

Lexington County Sheriff James Metts said he would support a requirement for background checks at gun shows but wonders how much it would tax law enforcement, especially if local departments had to get involved.

Others, especially many who attended Saturday’s State House rally, said it’s these types of restrictions that infringe on their right to bear arms.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, who spoke at the rally, said his office has been “bombarded” with emails this week from constituents concerned over the president’s actions.

Bright, who has reintroduced a bill that would exempt firearms made in South Carolina from federal regulation and supports “open carry” gun laws that do away with concealed weapons permits, said the president’s plan was nothing more than a “power grab from Washington.”

Reporter Noelle Phillips contributed to this story. Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.

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