MANKATO — You’d have been hard-pressed to find a busier place Saturday and Sunday than the Mankato Gun and Knife Show.
Gun show coordinator Jim Wright wouldn’t disclose how many people came through the doors, but there were easily more than 1,000 people Sunday. And on Saturday …
“You should have been here yesterday,” one dealer said. “You could barely move in here.”
“In here” was the Mankato National Guard Armory. And it was the sight of a gun show that has been hitting Mankato for several years.
This gun show was different, though.
“I think people are really worried,” said Tony Cornish, local gun lover and, as a state representative, one of the most-often quoted pro-gun advocates.
Gun shows around the nation like this one, hosted by Crocodile Productions out of the Twin Cities, are seeing big attendance numbers since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, in which Adam Lanza shot 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life.
In the aftermath, many have called for tighter restrictions on gun sales, including President Obama, who has made it a priority of his second term to tighten gun laws.
That’s what has prompted big gun show attendance. People are worried about new gun laws that will make it hard to purchase certain guns, such as the kind of weaponry used by Lanza. In Minnesota, it is unlikely this session that bans on assault-style weapons or large-capacity magazines will be passed. And it’s too soon to tell where any federal legislation might go.
That kind of uncertainty, though, was enough to get people out for the gun show, including Bruce Francis of Owatonna.
“I’m scared too,” he said.
He sees the potential for a couple of new restrictions to turn into something else.
“I think it’s just a stepping stone,” he said.
“To taking our guns away,” he said.
Gun dealer Steve Shane of Fairmont was luring curious eyes to his table with a $3,000 sport rifle decked out in red lights.
“It’s our Christmas special,” he joked.
He said he has no problem with the proposal to standardize background checks for everyone selling guns at a gun show. Currently, only licensed dealers require identification and perform background checks, collectors who choose to sell at gun shows do not.
“The background checks are fine,” he said. “It’s going that way anyway. I think the dealers would just as soon see it that way anyway. It levels the playing field.”
He doesn’t think, however, that it would make any difference in crime.
“History has proven that criminals aren’t going through background checks anyway,” he said.
Ed Pohl, in a National Rifle Association hat and selling old-school military knives, handguns, army helmets, etc., said figuring out why the gun show is crowded is simple.
“As soon as you have your government coming after the 2nd Amendment,” Pohl, a former school administrator in Red Wing, said, “you’re going to have people saying ‘Hey!’”
The NRA has in the last few weeks outlined its objections to the idea of so-called universal background checks.
On the issue of background checks, NRA Executive Director Chris W. Cox says: “While the term ‘universal background checks’ may sound reasonable on its face, the details of what such a system would entail reveal something quite different.”
He goes on to write that such a system would riddle simple gun exchanges among law-abiding family with unnecessary regulations.
“It would criminalize all private firearms transfers,” he said.
Plus, his letter says, the current system makes even the best background checks somewhat sketchy. The databases used for those checks rely on states submitting data to the national database, and some states simply don’t do it.
Cornish says part of the reason so many gun owners and gun enthusiasts are worried is because they simply don’t trust the politicians who want to regulate it.
He said he was in the Capitol building in 1975 for hearings on legislation that would ultimately be the basis for the most of the gun laws on the books in Minnesota now.
“DFLers said, ‘You’re paranoid and delusional. We’ll never come after your long guns,’” Cornish said.
When asked if a packed house at a gun show — full of people who are there admittedly because they’re worried about having their guns taken away -— could also be considered paranoid, Cornish disagreed.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “As I’ve been talking to people in the area, I’m getting a lot of support for the things I’m talking about. I was at the Mapleton Muni last night and a guy wanted to buy me a drink.”
Wright said it’s ironic that legislators who want to tighten gun laws have never come to one of his shows. He says that, for 25 years, he’s held two shows annually within spitting distance of the Capitol, yet he has never seen them come through.
But while lawmakers may not be adding to his attendance numbers, Wright says business, at $5 a head, has been booming.
“That says to me they want to pass laws they don’t know anything about,” he said.
He says he wants people to know about the fundraising he does for veterans. They take up a collection at the door and use the money to purchase grocery store gift cards for struggling veterans.
To date, they’ve purchased $95,000 in gift cards.
“All that money comes from these evil people at gun shows,” Wright said.