January 4, 2013

Gun shows face new scrutiny after school shooting

Gun shows are one place where someone can buy a firearm without going through a criminal background check.

The Associated Press

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A sign is posted for an upcoming gun show, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, in Leesport, Pa. Gun advocates aren't backing down from their insistence on the right to keep and bear arms. But heightened sensitivities and raw nerves since the Newtown, Conn. shooting are softening displays at gun shows and even leading officials and sponsors to cancel the popular exhibitions altogether. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Koehler said he has felt no pressure to cancel his shows in Pennsylvania.

"The shows are going on," he said. "Nobody's said to us that we can't have them."

The gunman in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December used an AR-15 to kill 20 first-graders and six educators in the school. The gun belonged to the shooter's mother, but it's not clear where it was purchased. The shooting has led to calls for stricter regulation of assault weapons, though the National Rifle Association has steadfastly opposed such measures.

President Barack Obama has urged Congress to vote rapidly on measures that he says a majority of Americans support: a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons; a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines; and required criminal background checks for all gun buyers by removing loopholes that cover some sales, such as at gun shows in states that don't currently require checks.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett on Friday said he would consider a radio-show caller's suggestion that gun shows be banned on publicly owned property, such as the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. But he also noted that the complex is open to all businesses.

While government officials take a harder look at gun shows, organizers remain adamant that they run safe, legal businesses. There is no central government database on how guns used in crimes are obtained.

The Brady Campaign, which advocates for stricter state and federal gun laws, has long pushed to close the so-called "gun show loophole" by forcing every state to require background checks of buyers at the shows. They note that three of the weapons used in the Columbine attack were bought by someone who went to a gun show that didn't require a background check. Seventeen states require an extensive background check, according to the campaign.

Kraus said there was never any reason to consider postponing or canceling the Wisconsin event, which runs from Friday through Sunday. One of the few vendors there with semiautomatic weapons, Scott Kuhl of Janesville, Wis., bristled at any suggestion that he temporarily stop selling semiautomatic weapons because of the Connecticut shooting.

"When a plane crashes, should they shut down the airline for six months?" Kuhl said. "This is my business; this is my livelihood."

Jared Hook, 40, who came to the show looking for a .223-caliber gun for coyote hunting, said he was glad vendors did not back away after Newtown.

"If anything, there's a lot more interest in guns now because of the shooting," Hook said. "People want them for protection, and it's good that they still have access to them."

On the other side are an emboldened group of advocates, like Susan Steer of Saratoga Springs, a 46-year-old married mother of three who started a petition seeking to cancel the local gun show. Steer said she'll continue to push for banning gun shows at the taxpayer-supported venue.

"For many of us," she said, "the shooting in Sandy Hook was the tipping point for taking some action."

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