Possible restrictions, safety concerns drive up sales at Virginia gun show

Out of fear, interest, observation or education, throngs of gun enthusiasts streamed into the Dulles Expo Center on Sunday for the final day of the Nation’s Gun Show, putting to rest any remaining doubt that the issue of firearms control — no matter which side of the argument — is at the forefront of the nation’s collective concern.

Gone were the protesters shouting down the National Rifle Association a couple days earlier, as well as the wraparound lines to enter the sprawling exhibit hall in Chantilly, but attendees packed themselves in among tables weighed down by ammunition, pistols, rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

“Friday was the busiest show we’ve ever had, and it was a five-hour day,” said Jerry Cochran of Trader Jerry‘s, a Virginia-based gun dealer. “We were selling at a rate of 1.8 guns a minute.”

Mr. Cochran, 56, said the driving force behind the record-breaking sales was the fear of any sort of ban on weapons.

Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people, all but six of them young children, were killed with a semi-automatic weapon by 20-year-old man, a number of state and federal leaders have suggested a range of potential solutions. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, wants to introduce a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has suggested that maybe school officials should be allowed to carry weapons.

The mindset, Mr. Cochran said, is, “Oh, my gosh, I need to protect myself with what I want, and I won’t be able to get that.”

Since the Sandy Hook shootings in mid-December, the issues of gun control, gun violence and treatment for mental health problems have been forced into the limelight and, in some cases, polarized Americans on the subject of license to carry.

At the expo, however, hundreds of people signed postcards addressed to various state and federal representatives, with messages stating “No More Gun Control!” and “Arm School Officials” created by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

Sporting a purple Baltimore Ravens jersey, Nolan Williams, 45, said he came to the gun show because he was considering purchasing another gun. The Columbia, Md., resident said he wouldn’t be one of the many customers walking out with a purchase because he would have to wait until his gun is shipped to an authorized dealer in Maryland, where he could then pick it up.

“I kind of know what I want, but life is about having a budget,” Mr. Williams said. But with talk of gun control and potential bans in the news, he said “it’s something to consider.”

Perched on a stool behind a glass case filled with pistols, a Gainesville, Va.-based gun dealer named Debbie, who asked that her last name not be used, said weekend sales volume was the best her company had seen.

“We did more business the first night than we do in a whole weekend,” she said. “People were literally running down the aisles on Friday.”

Debbie said some gun buyers talked about the Newtown shootings, but many expressed concern about how people “don’t know what’s going to happen with the ban.”

Perusing Trader Jerry’s 9 mm pistols with a friend, Britney Littleton, 26, said she had been to gun shows before, but her trip to the Dulles show was the first time she had gone with the intent to buy.

The Arlington woman said she was in the market for a gun for “personal protection” and had looked at a pistol several weeks ago after taking a concealed-carry course.

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