Staff Photo: John Bohn Daniel LeBlanc, left, of McDonough discusses the features of an AR-15 carbine to George Brown of Tucker during a gun and knife show held at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on Saturday. The show attracted a very high number of attendees.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Outside a gun and knife show at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on Saturday, a line of customers stretched hundreds of people deep into the parking lot. Inside, gun enthusiasts bumped shoulder-to-shoulder browsing the 300 tables.
While an event organizer admitted the crowd was "above average," he said crowds for winter shows are typically busier as people look for weekend entertainment. But at least one vendor and several customers estimated the crowd to be several thousand people by early afternoon.
For $10 per adult and $3 for children, RK Gun Shows and Gun Shows of the South Inc., allowed gun buyers and sellers to browse antique and modern firearms of all types, from rifles, to shotguns and handguns, event manager Bill Abner said.
"In the wintertime we always have a larger crowd, but I guess with everything going on in the media, it has everybody in an uproar," said Abner at the show, which continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. "We really don't know what's going to happen. Everybody's trying to buy and see what's going to happen."
Vendor George Mazzant of On The Square Guns in McDonough said the flow of customers was a little better than average, and most customers were first-time gun buyers. Mazzant said he's the son of the company owner, and his company is the largest on the gun show circuit in Georgia and, with two rows, accounted for about 20 percent of this weekend's show.
"We haven't sold the first (assault rifle) yet and we have 50 on the table," Mazzant said. "Prices are up on them, but we have them, but they're not selling. What's selling is handguns, shotguns and ammo. People want self-defense. Every day they have on TV this person shot that person. If they put every car wreck on TV that there was a death, you would watch nothing but people wrecking in cars. Now they're putting every shooting there is on TV, so people are getting more afraid."
Mazzant said his customers ranged from all legal ages to all walks of life, from a gas station employee to a company executive.
"It's not that they're stockpiling, they just want decent self-defense," he said. "And some guys can afford to spend more than others."
Mazzant and Abner said each vendor is required to have a federal firearms license, and require each buying customer to fill out paperwork and pass a background check prior to the purchase. The "gun show loophole" comes in, Mazzant said, when a customer is denied purchase by the FBI, a customer could turn around and buy a gun from another customer, without paperwork, which happened at least once on Saturday, he said.
"In our state, they need to do background checks on everybody, because criminals know you can go to a gun show and get a gun, if you've got cash," he said. "People should be allowed to sell their guns, but they must be a licensed FFL dealer and do the paperwork."
Mazzant said the combination of the media, politicians and supply and demand has led to a spike in gun sales recently. Mazzant said sales went up the same day that President Barack Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a gun control task force.
"It was like they dropped the bus off at the front door with customers," Mazzant said. "Thank you Mr. Obama. People quote him as Salesman of the Year. That man is Salesman of the Decade."
The last spike in sales came shortly after the 2008 presidential election, Mazzant said.
Mazzant compared the supply and demand to so-called gas shortages that cause people to fill up their cars, and severe weather that leads people to grocery stores for bread and milk. If French fries were outlawed, Mazzant said there wouldn't be a deep fryer or potato left in the country.
"If they do outlaw it, like they say they're going to, you need to get it before they do," Mazzant said.
George Ruiz of Conyers purchased a Kel-Tec SU-2000 on Saturday because he said there hasn't been many of that model available lately. Ruiz also noticed a much larger crowd than normal.
"A lot of people are interested in picking up weapons before the bans go through," Ruiz said.
With a concealed weapons license, Ruiz said his paperwork process was smoother and faster than someone who doesn't have one.
Ruiz said he's also noticed a difference in the price of guns. One that cost $500 five years ago now costs $2,000, he said.
"They're just not out there, the supply is drying up," he said. "And the manufacturers just aren't keeping up with demand.
The only end in sight, vendors and gun enthusiasts agree, is if and when laws are passed.
"If the gun bills aren't passed, there isn't going to be as big a rush as there is now," Ruiz said. "Right now everybody is anticipating (the) worst-case scenario."