The sign at a gun show table Saturday said, “Get it before Obama does!”
The sign lay beside a black .308-caliber rifle with a pistol grip and collapsible stock that uses a 20-round magazine. It is the kind of rifle, people at the gun show said, that could be banned or regulated in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting last month.
The man selling the rifle, at a table in the Cessna Employees Activity Center on George Washington Boulevard, wanted $2,000 “or best offer” for the gun and two magazines. About 100 people stopped to look at the gun. He ended up selling it for $1,800, several hours before the show closed for the day.
“Before Connecticut, you could buy it for $1,100,” said the seller, who like others at the show asked not to be named, out of concern that their identity as a gun owner could make them burglary targets or because gun control is a touchy subject now.
Dealers said Saturday they have never seen such high demand for particular rifles. Saturday morning, customers patiently waited in the bitter cold outside the Activity Center to get in. Inside, it was orderly but crowded as lines snaked by tables offering not just guns and gun accessories but also knives, purses, pink camouflage gear and mounds of cashews.
The show, which continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, offered a window into some of the gun-debate issues that have arisen since the school shooting.
Officials in Washington disclosed this past week that a White House task force has been compiling recommendations that include improving background checks on gun buyers, promoting gun safety and restricting high-capacity magazines, according to a McClatchy Newspapers article.
Gun-sale activity appears to have surged around Kansas and across the nation. The number of federal background checks in Kansas jumped to 35,545 in December, by far the most for any month in 2012.
One man at Saturday’s show said he drove 250 miles from western Kansas because the kind of rifle he wanted has sold out everywhere around his home. He checked with sources from Colorado Springs to Wichita and learned that what he was looking for might be found at the Activity Center show.
By 10 a.m. he had it in his hands, bought from an individual — a .223-caliber AR-15 that uses a high-capacity magazine. It is similar to the rifle used in the Connecticut school shooting.
He felt he had to buy it now because he thinks it could be banned under future gun-control measures.
There’s so much demand for that kind of rifle, he said, “You can’t buy it from a gun store.”
Because he bought it from an individual, not a federally licensed dealer, the rifle changed hands without a background check. He paid $1,200.
Some gun-control proponents view gun show sales from individual to individual as being a loophole that should be closed.
The man who bought the rifle said he plans to use it to control prairie dogs on his land. The prairie dogs eat grass that should go to cattle and dig holes that injure horses, he said.
What to call it
Especially in the current environment, after the school shooting and other mass shootings around the nation, gun terminology gets contested.
To some people, the gun just bought by the western Kansas man might look like a military-style assault rifle; it uses a 30-round magazine. But to many people at the gun show, “assault rifle” is a term that is most often misused, that should apply only to rifles that have fully automatic firing rather than semi-automatic firing.
Many of those who sell and buy what typically gets referred to in media accounts as “assault rifles” say the term they use is “sporting rifles.”
But that term gets contested, too: Some hunters say there’s nothing sporting about a rifle that can pop off 30 rounds without reloading.
The man from western Kansas doesn’t think the rifle he bought should be a target because of mass shootings.
“We shouldn’t be punished for some idiots out there,” he said.
At another table at Saturday’s gun show, this one run by a federally licensed dealer, a buyer handed over his driver’s license and gave information so the dealer could call in a background check that taps into a federal database. The check took a couple minutes.
The dealer will retain — he says for the rest of his life — a six-page federal form that asks the buyer questions including whether he has been convicted of certain felony crimes or misdemeanor domestic violence, whether the buyer is illegally in the United States and whether he uses or is addicted to marijuana “or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.”
Another question asks the buyer if he has “ever been adjudicated mentally defective … or have ever been committed to a mental institution?”
After passing the background check, the man paid $1,650 for an AR-15 .223-caliber rifle with a collapsible stock, similar to the one used to kill the schoolchildren and staff in Connecticut.
He paid $500 more than he paid for a similar rifle right after the Connecticut shooting.
He also was looking for high-capacity magazines, generally defined as holding more than 10 rounds. With the talk that high-capacity magazines could be restricted, he said, “Everybody I know is looking for them now.”
He plans to use his new rifle for target shooting.
“I’m a total liberal on everything but the Second Amendment,” he said. “I believe it’s there for our protection … against thieves … muggers. And I don’t like the idea of them limiting what rifles people can buy based on crazy people.”
The Connecticut shooting greatly upset him, but many of the gun-control ideas being touted aren’t the answer, he said.
What he would accept, he said, is more gun-safety training and requiring that guns be safely secured. Speaking of the school shooter, he said: “If his mom would have had that gun locked up … And she knew he had problems.”
Back at the table with the sign saying “Get it before Obama does!” the man trying to sell the .308-caliber rifle with the 20-round magazines explained that although he is not required to, he has buyers fill out a form, which he keeps. It includes identifying information and questions nearly identical to those on the federal background check form.
“I don’t have to do this, but I do this for my own protection” against civil liability, he said. “And for my own conscience, my own peace of mind. I do what I can to know that I’m selling it to someone who is in compliance.”
Because he is not a federally licensed dealer, he doesn’t do background checks or have the ability to do it because he doesn’t have access to a database to check someone.
Because he is a so-called private seller, he said, half-joking, “The only thing that’s legally required is cash.”
Then he turned serious: Referring to the gun-show crowd around him, he said, “Everybody here has kids. They don’t want something … to happen like in Connecticut.”
Down another aisle, another private seller said he worries that the government could begin requiring him to do background checks. It would hurt his sales, he said. Some buyers don’t want to go through a background check out of principle, not because they have something to hide, he said.
He doesn’t think more regulations is the solution. “All the rules in the world don’t affect the bad guys.”
He is a Vietnam veteran, and having guns is a right he fought for, he said. Still, he said, he won’t sell to anybody.
If someone seems nervous, acts “weird,” smells of alcohol or seems desperate to buy, he won’t sell to them, he said. Because, he said, he doesn’t want one of his guns getting into the wrong hands.