Marion Hammer: Gun shows and the attempts to shut them down


Lee’s note: This is a companion piece to the Op/Ed submission by USF executive director Marion Hammer. It’s also the best history of gun shows I have ever seen.

Gun Shows and the Intentional Attempt to Shut Them Down

by Marion P. Hammer

Gun shows are a tradition in America.  The gun show is really an off-shoot of the historical  “rendezvous” associated with the fur trade from the early days of the pioneers and mountain men who carved this nation out of the wilderness.

A mountain rendezvous was usually held once a year in the wilderness, organized for men Gun showand women to come together to buy and sell goods.  Although the original purpose for a rendezvous was the selling of furs to the big fur companies, it provided an opportunity for  trappers — when they had money — to buy and trade for other goods.

Merchants sold and traded dry goods like flour, sugar and coffee to trappers.  And gun makers sold, traded and took orders for guns.  Trappers and settlers replenished their supplies and bought guns, lead bullets, gunpowder, handmade knives, handmade blankets, clothes, etc.  Rendezvous were where people could go to find goods they wanted or needed – all in one place.

There are modern re-enactments of the original rendezvous, although over the decades, gun shows emerged as the modern day replacement.

Gun shows got their name because they were places people could go and “show off” their collections. They could buy, sell, and trade guns to enhance their personal collections and find particular firearms that best suited their needs.

It was a place you could find older guns and used guns that you couldn’t find in retail gun shops.  In those days, there were essentially no new guns at gun shows.

A gun show is sort of like big craft shows at fairgrounds, or shows for other kinds of hobbies or collectors.  People go there because they can find a wide variety of goods n one place—many of which they can’t find in retail stores.  And dealers set up to sell there because the people who come to those shows, come there for the convenience of shopping. It’s no different with gun shows.

The sale of guns at gun shows was traditionally restricted to collectors and private citizens.  Gun shows were and are “events” complete with vendors selling fast food and firearms instructors teaching safety classes.

For many years, licensed gun dealers with retail stores complained bitterly because on weekends when there was a gun show in town, customers went to the gun show instead of hanging out in their shops.  It is not unlike local retail merchants complaining about losing customers during craft shows or big shows.  I have heard local merchants curse these events for years and, trust me, some of them would shut down events if they could. It is no different with gun shows.

For years, federal law prohibited licensed firearms dealers from selling firearms at any location other than their licensed premises — their store front shops. Consequently, they couldn’t sell guns at gun shows.

Complaints about “unfair competition” were many.  Dealers complained because they had overhead to pay and they couldn’t compete with the inventory.  They wrote and called their congressmen and raised a ruckus.

Then in 1986 when the Firearms Owners Protection Act was passed, Congress simply included a provision that allowed licensed firearms dealers to set up and sell guns at gun shows. Congress gave dealers what they SAID they wanted.

However, some dealers were stunned.  That wasn’t what they wanted at all.  Some simply wanted to shutdown gun shows, to eliminate their competition.  They wanted people to buy from them and not have gun shows.  They had not been careful about what they wished for. They got what they said they wanted – fairness.

Congress would not destroy an American tradition so it changed the law so dealers could set up tables and sell guns at gun shows.

That’s when things changed. That’s when those dealing in new guns came to gun shows.  Now, they aren’t competing with collectors and private citizens who only sell collectibles and used guns; they are also competing with other licensed dealers selling new guns.

Fast forward to today.  Licensed gun dealers dominate gun shows. I have bought several guns at gun shows over the past year.  I bought every one of those from a licensed dealer and a background check was done on every purchase.

So let’s look at why I made purchases at a gun show.

The guns I was looking for were not available in gun shops locally.  I tried to buy from gun shops, but none had what I wanted.  Then, they either wouldn’t bother trying to order it for me, or tried to order it and couldn’t find it at any distributor.

There are actually very few private sales that take place at a gun show, but dealers still complain that it’s unfair for them to have to do background checks when collectors and private citizens don’t.  Is this beginning to sound familiar?

It is important for you to understand that private citizens and collectors already have many of the same legal obligations as dealers when selling a gun:

It is a federal felony for any private person or collector to sell, trade, give, lend, rent or transfer a gun to a person they know (or reasonably should know) is not legally allowed to own, purchase or possess a firearm.

The penalty for knowingly selling a gun to a person who is a convicted felon, adjudicated mental incompetent, or drug abuser is a 10-year federal felony.  That’s now, today, with no changes to the law. And it’s anytime and anywhere.  No exceptions.

If a county passes a county ordinance to require a background check before a collector or private citizen can sell a firearm, the highest penalty a county can impose is a misdemeanor.

Some counties want to treat law-abiding people like criminals and use up law enforcement resources for something that is an imaginary problem.

Some gun dealers want gun shows shut down completely.  They don’t want the competition.  They don’t like having to set up at gun shows to face the competition; they want gun shows to go away.

But most dealers don’t fear competition.  They want their customers be able to buy what they can’t get anywhere else.  And they know that when we buy guns somewhere else, we’re still going to buy ammunition and accessories from our local gun store.

That’s the basic history of gun shows — an American tradition that dates back to the formation of our nation.  Florida counties should not carelessly destroy them – just because they can.

Marion P. Hammer is a past president of the National Rifle Association and Executive Director of Unified Sportsmen of Florida.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.