continued Critics of the gun shows focus more on the activities of the private collectors than on the licensed dealer. The latter have a recorded inventory, easy to track, and a lot to lose. The private citizen who rents a table and sells at these shows could deal under the table, or as critics suggest, "out in the parking lot." Barring a sting, no one is the wiser. The number of guns sold by private citizens at these shows has been estimated as high as 50 percent of the total.
Luis Tolley, of Handgun Control Inc. in Los Angeles, says: "A private citizen who's an unlicensed gun dealer can go to gun shows in Arizona [where there are fewer restrictions], buy the popular guns, then take them to a gun show [in California] and sell them to buyers who can't legally buy at a gun shop. That's where the profits are. These handful of unscrupulous people make it very easy for criminals to get guns." Tolley did acknowledge the "benign side" of the equation, that the great majority of sales by private citizens at gun shows were done by legitimate collectors.
Bob Templeton, 60, is the owner of Crossroads. For the past two years, he says, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department has maintained a significant presence at his Del Mar shows, and he welcomes it. He smiles and says that the first year they showed up, they manned some towers at the racetrack so as to monitor any gun violations in the parking lot. Templeton points out that he and his trade association support a pending California bill that would permanently fund the U.S. Department of Justice to do stings at gun shows.
Crossroads of the West is a family business, based in Salt Lake City; at the vendors' registration table, free copies of The Book of Mormon are available to anyone interested. "We're in San Diego five times a year. Our next show is October 9. We also do shows in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, about 50 a year in all. There are 250 to 300 vendors at a show, and 600 to l000 tables." According to Templeton, only about 35 of the 250 or so vendors will be selling firearms, and about half of those would be private citizens. Everyone else is offering accessories like holsters, scopes, and clothing. Because of the mounting restrictions in California, the number of gun vendors at shows has declined in recent years. "Their places are taken by people selling T-shirts," says Templeton.
His Del Mar event is attended by around l0,000 people over the gun-show weekend. "A lot of people in San Diego like guns. Part of it is the military aspect of the town. You'll see the Marines and Navy people in here, dads and sons, and women as well. A cross-section of people. We're sensitive to the needs of the community. We're part of a community too, in Utah. We insist that no one under l8 come to a show unescorted. They can't buy guns legally. We're concerned about that. We make sure our dealers are in compliance. I can't remember that we've had any guns [sold at one of these shows] reported being used in a crime in the 25 years I've been in the business." Only once in the past two years, he says, was a vendor arrested at his event, an out-of-state dealer who got caught selling an assault rifle he didn't know was illegal in California.
Templeton explains that both out-of-state licensed dealers and private citizens must, in California, go through an on-site "transfer dealer" when they sell a shooting iron at a show. A transfer or local dealer is federally licensed; he fills out the paperwork (for a fee of about $25) and holds the gun for the ten-day period until the buyer comes to pick it up.
Detractors of the shows point out that because such shows bring together like-minded people -- some interested in buying and others in selling -- the potential for mischief remains. "We do, in fact, bring together like-minded people," Templeton responds. "I think that's what bothers those people who are enemies of the Second Amendment. It is indeed a town meeting of the people who believe in the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. That's important to remember. It's not just about buying and selling guns and ammunition. It's about the freedom to get together to exchange ideas. It's about the First Amendment as well as the Second Amendment."
Ken Baker of San Diego is one of those who enjoys that aspect of gun shows. Under a large, hand-lettered sign -- CHEAP GUNS $10 -- he was laying out four or five old Mausers, German-made rifles from the World Wars, and a few handguns, all from his private collection. In the past four years he's been a seller at the Del Mar show five times. The Mausers he priced at $75 and $150, a Sauer .357 Magnum at $200, and a "Saturday night special"-type handgun at $10. He'd purchased the rifles at a police auction in San Diego, kept the best of the lot, and took the rest to shows.
His first time at a show he'd sold 40 of the rifles in under two hours, including some to other dealers who proceeded to resell them at twice the price. With just a few pieces left, he knew he wasn't going to earn much at the recent show, but he doesn't come just to make money.
"It's a hobby. It's fun. I enjoy it. You get to meet others who enjoy the sport as well, and you get to go around and shop." Baker acknowledged there may be a few problems at times with illegal activities at the show, "but not any more than would happen at some guy's garage down the street. By putting more restrictions on gun shows, all these transactions will be pushed underground. Illegal stuff is less likely to happen here than at gas stations or somebody's backyard, because of all the plainclothes cops walking around."
Later, Bob Templeton came by and made Baker take down his CHEAP GUNS $10 banner, explaining that such signs projected the very image that gun shows were trying to overcome.