Despite Capitol Hill controversy, Philadelphia Gun Show vendors report record attendance and sales

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Two days after Mayor Michael Nutter voiced his support in Washington, D.C. for U.S. Rep. Dianne Feinstein’s bill reinstating a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, the Philadelphia Gun Show opened shop at the National Guard Armory in Northeast Philadelphia.

Despite the controversy on Capitol Hill, or in part because of it, vendors reported record attendance – and sales.

“I heard one person say more than 1,800 firearms have been sold since Friday,” attendee and NRA member William Lennon said on Sunday. “This causes a hysteria, [lawmakers] talking about a ban on assault rifles. People have been coming in and buying whatever they can because they’re afraid they won’t be able to get the firearms soon. They’re running it all up on their credit cards.”

One vendor said that, as of early Sunday, his sales had already doubled from the year before. Another vendor, who referred to the pending legislation as a “stimulus package” for gun retailers, estimated that 6,000 people stopped by on Friday alone.

He said manufacturers of semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines are jacking up prices to as high as twice the going rate – and people are paying. The show on Sunday was packed, with the line to enter at times winding around the building.

Inside the hall was nearly filled to capacity, with long waits forming at both background check stations and checkout lines.

“Will this stop someone?” an elderly woman doubtfully asked a cashier as she weighed a semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun in her hands. “Ma’am,” the vendor replied. “That will kill someone.”

Nutter fires off on assault weapons

The state’s largest gun show, the Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show scheduled for Feb. 2, decided this year to omit assault rifles, causing some sponsors and vendors to opt out and ultimately resulting in the show’s cancellation.

But the Philadelphia Gun Show made no such provisions, offering 75-round drum magazines and a selection of the now-infamous AR-15 rifles, the same model used in the Newtown school shooting.

“Citizens have been killed on Philadelphia’s streets by handguns with high-capacity magazines, as well as assault rifles,” Mayor Michael Nutter said on Thursday. “This needs to end now.”

He presented a letter sent three days after the Newtown shooting signed by 210 mayors. “Listed first among our recommended changes is enactment of the legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines being prepared by Senator Dianne Feinstein and others,” he said.

Much ado about nothing?

Lennon said he’s not confident that this round of federal legislation will make a real change when it comes to gun violence.

“Take it from someone with experience – I’ve been through this three times,” said Lennon, referring to the now-expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban initially passed in 1994 and a crackdown threat following the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. “I’ve three times seen the threats – and the hysteria that follows.”

The hand-wringing from both politicians and purchasers has never, in Lennon’s experience, amounted to much, he said.

Lennon said he hasn’t fired a firearm in ten years but feels his participation in the NRA is a Constitutional obligation. But he doesn’t always agree with the organization’s stance. “As far as the assault weapons – and I have some,” he said. “I don’t think they should be able to fall into the wrong hands.”

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