Gun show mafia: Part 2


Thanks, folks.

Your response to Wednesday’s print column was, in a word, overwhelming.

Allegations of improper business practices and possible price fixing by Suncoast Gun Shows seem to have touched a nerve – especially among FFL holders.tix

Many of the emails you sent were focused on legal issues, such as whether the promoter’s tactics violated federal law. Suffice it to say I’ve called some federal folks and am still awaiting their response.

One reader asked if it was okay to print the story and share it with other gun show patrons. By all means, please feel free to share anything I write. That’s what it’s for.

One reader summed things up so well, I had to share his comment: “We can be our own worst enemy by our selfishness. When Clinton managed to shut down three-fourths of the FFL holders in the nation by doing away with most of the hobby’ dealers, he did it with the full support of the manufacturers and the ‘stocking’ dealers.  That elimination of competition has had an effect on the prices we all pay.”

Trenchant advice, that.

I still haven’t heard anything from Suncoast’s owners, who can call me 24/7 at (941) 284-8553 if they would like to comment. I think they owe their longtime patrons an explanation.

Here’s Wednesday’s print column, a cut and paste, for those of you who may have hit a paywall:

Gun Column: ‘Gun show Mafia’ trying to put the squeeze on small vendors

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 12:40 p.m.

They say the “gun show Mafia” never forgets those who violate Omertà, its code of silence.

Suncoast Gun Shows, one of Florida’s largest gun show promoters, has threatened to ban any of their exhibitors who attend another promoter’s show.

In a mass email sent to their exhibitors in August, an official at Suncoast, Erica Began, claimed that attendance and purchases were down at their six venues because “several small gun show promoters have popped up and are trying to make what they think is some quick, easy money.”

“For this reason, we are now enforcing a new policy,” Began wrote. “If any exhibitor sets up at another promoter’s show within the same metropolitan area and within a four-week time period, before or after our show, we will not accept any future reservation for you.”

Her threat excluded shows sponsored by local shooting clubs, but only if they’ve been in business for more than 10 years.

“Many of you don’t understand the ramifications of what these smaller shows can do to the longevity and profitability of the long-standing shows,” she wrote. “The outcome is that everyone has to work twice as hard for the money.”

Began’s threat was followed by a not-so-subtle warning that Suncoast will be watching: “We have in the past and will continue to have representatives walk through the other gun shows, so please make your choices carefully.”

“This is America!” one dealer yelled. “I should have the right to sell my guns wherever and whenever I want. Who the hell do they think they are?”

Began declined to comment about her email.

“I sent your message over to management,” she said. “If they want to comment, they will be contacting you soon.”

No one from Suncoast “management” ever responded to calls or emails seeking comment.

Other dealers are outraged that Suncoast, which hosts shows in six cities, was trying to snuff-out the much smaller competition. But there’s more at work here, they say, than just questionable business practices.

The dealers accused Suncoast of price fixing, and they say the public — the end users who patronize Suncoast shows — is getting screwed.

One dealer told me dozens of vendors have been banned by Suncoast over the years. Some got the boot simply because they sold firearms cheaper than their larger competitors.

Suncoast charges exhibitors $95 per table, so a dealer who reserves 50 tables has much more influence with the promoter than a guy who only requires five tables to showcase his wares.

“If you do anything to upset the big guys, you get banned,” one dealer said. “Suncoast is supporting price fixing.”

As you can imagine, none of the dealers I interviewed were willing to allow their names to be used for this column.

It’s sad, but I suppose their concerns have some merit. If they’ll ban a five-table dealer for selling guns at another venue, anything’s possible.

I’ve gone to gun shows all my life, but I won’t be attending any more Suncoast shows, although now I doubt they’d even let me in. I’ll be supporting my hardworking local dealers instead. Prices are cheaper, there are no lines and I don’t have to pay $9 to walk in the door.

If we don’t run into each other at the range, you can reach me at (941) 361-4975, by email at or by regular mail, 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can also follow me on social media at or

Copyright © 2014

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.

1 Comment

  1. Great work Lee. My last visit to one of there shows was a huge disappointment. Everything was way overpriced I thought, from ammo to simple .22 rifles. Won’t go back. I really enjoy visiting Brock and Fran, to look and decide what’s next. America was built on the free enterprise system. It works so how does Suncoast think they can capture a market and force feed that on us? I will not attend another and I suggest if we as 2nd amendment supporters stay away, they will realize the ill of their ways. Oh well, see you Saturday at the range.

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