Locals line up for Columbus gun show

It was a good day to buy.

With talk of increased federal gun control legislation amplified by the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn., shoppers crowded into the Columbus Convention & Trade Center's south hall Saturday for the Eastman Gun Show, each adult shelling out an $8 admission.

Possible changes in gun laws have been spurring business for firearms dealers.

"She's just nuts!" exclaimed one vendor Saturday afternoon as a passerby described a senator's proposal to limit the number of rounds a weapon's magazine can hold.

"I just wanted you to know what could happen," the gentleman describing the legislation replied. They decided such a bill might pass the Senate, but not the Republican-controlled House.

On sale Saturday were guns, knives, ammo, T-shirts, holsters, antique weapons and novelties, and a Diablo flashlight stun gun designed to disable an assailant long enough for the owner to get away -- as long as the owner didn't accidentally stun himself by triggering the device in his pants pocket.

The flashlight has a safety switch that must be slid into position and pressed simultaneously with a second trigger button to activate the electrical current, which like a Taser momentarily causes the target to lose muscle control.

The event sponsored by Eastman Gun Shows of Fitzgerald, Ga., attracts some regulars who stop in to purchase bulk ammo or dicker over a deal.

Huddling against a brisk winter wind as he headed in without a coat, George Gordy of Columbus said bartering with vendors is an advantage gun shows have over retail enterprises with set prices that aren't negotiable.

A gun show vendor will take less than the posted price, if the offer's tempting enough, Gordy said.

A gun show's also a good place to get a reduced price on bulk ammunition, he said, and that may attract more customers this year with gun owners fearing the government might limit how much ammo a customer can buy or keep on hand.

Unlike retail establishments, gun shows feature independent dealers who rent exhibition booths to peddle their goods. They do not have to have a federal firearms license to conduct business, and no immediate criminal background check is required for an on-site purchase.

As Eastman Gun Shows explains on its website (eastmangunshows.com), a gun buyer must be at least 18 to purchase a rifle or shotgun and 21 to buy a handgun.

"Federal law also restricts selling a firearm to a person who is not a resident of the state in which you live," it says. "It is suggested you check a person's driver's license to make sure of age and state residence."

The "gun show loophole" is what gun-control advocates have dubbed the lack of a federal law requiring instant criminal background checks for buying firearms at such gatherings, and they want to close it. Any federal legislation arising from recent mass shootings likely will include such a provision, for which polls show broad support.

"Individual-to-individual sale is for all intents and purposes not covered under federal law," said Jim Kessler, co-founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank. Kessler said Congress should act to encourage all gun sellers to transfer weapons responsibly, or face legal consequences.

"If you're selling a gun to somebody without a background check and that gun is later used by that person in a crime, you're more liable in our view than the bartender who is selling more drinks to a drunk person and handing them keys to their car," Kessler said.

That policy, sold slightly differently, could appeal to gun rights advocates, said Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association and a former political director for the NRA.

If sellers who perform a background check are shielded from liability, just as federally licensed sellers are, "then there's an additional incentive. The gun owners get something out of it," Feldman said. The provision would be a way to "protect and preserve gun shows," he added.

An Eastman representative at Saturday's show said he was not allowed to speak to reporters about the issues now making headlines.

The gun show continues today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It has safety rules about what weapons people can bring in. They're allowed to bring their own firearms to trade or sell, but only if the gun is unloaded. Loose ammo also is not allowed.

"The safety rules are followed closely by our facility insurance underwriter," says eastmangunshows.com.

-- Melanie Mason of the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this story.

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