Gun enthusiasts line up for the 9 a.m. opening of a gun show at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday, the first in Maine since the Newtown, Conn., shooting deaths Dec. 14 generated debate on tighter controls.
AUGUSTA - Hundreds of gun enthusiasts waited up to an hour Saturday to enter Maine's first gun show since President Obama unveiled a sweeping gun-control proposal last week, which, among other things, calls for an expansion of background checks to include gun show sales.
It was also Maine's first gun show since the shooting deaths of 26 people -- 20 of them young children -- at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school Dec. 14.
"Gun shows get really packed -- it happens with every incident," said Bill Letellier of Berlin, N.H., who came to the show to sell or trade his Remington double-barreled shotgun.
Letellier said he opposes Obama's gun control proposal, saying, "It's not going to stop an insane person from doing something crazy."
The line to get in the show stretched across the parking lot at the Augusta Civic Center, where guns, ammunition and accessories were being bought and sold by dealers and private owners. Unlike the scene at some other gun shows held around the country since the Newtown shootings, there were no protesters outside the civic center Saturday morning.
"I enjoy gun shows and I believe in the Second Amendment," said Sid Strom of Norway. "I'm surprised by the turnout. It's even more than I expected." Dealers said people started to gather outside the Augusta Civic Center as early as 7 a.m for the 9 a.m opening.
Besides expanded background checks, Obama's proposal would ban the sale of military-style assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
All of those interviewed at the show said they are against a ban on assault rifles, but some said they are not opposed to expanding background checks.
"What's the big deal in having a check? It might stop a gun from getting into the wrong hands," said Bill Beaulieu of North Monmouth.
Still, he was against much of Obama's proposal, saying the sweeping package was put together too quickly.
"It doesn't make sense. Let's have a real discussion," he said.
Others said existing gun laws are sufficient.
"I'm not for taking our guns away at all," said Barry McLean, who went to the show to sell some antique rifles. "There are enough gun laws. We should just enforce the laws we have."
Ned Savage of Sidney said Obama's proposals and the public outcry about gun violence "have motivated people for a while. It got me motivated" to buy a gun. He came to the show looking for more magazines for his PM-11/9 mm semiautomatic rifle.
The gun show featured handguns, rifles, antique firearms, ammunition, knives, Tasers and even Avon ladies promoting a fundraiser for U.S. troops.
Will Melcher of Bowdoin was trying to sell an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle -- the type of weapon used in the Newtown shootings -- on the sidelines of the show. He needed money to buy a car and thought he'd find a buyer because of fears that the sale of such weapons might soon be banned. But a person standing next to him was also trying to sell an assault rifle, and two others were on display at dealers' booths nearby.
Melcher said an AR-15 can fetch between $800 and $3,000, depending on its age and condition.
Jonathan Brock of Sanford attended the gun show on his way to the Guns Across America rally at the State House. Thousands of gun advocates gathered peacefully Saturday at state capitals around the U.S. to rally against stricter limits on firearms, with demonstrators carrying rifles and pistols in some places, The Associated Press reported.
About 35 people gathered at the rally in Augusta, holding signs and waving flags as supporters honked while driving by.
"I'm showing up for firearms rights. There's not one demographic for gun owners -- they're respectable everyday people," said Brock.
Dealers at the civic center said the heavy turnout wasn't a surprise, given the shootings and efforts to tighten gun-control laws. Some said they were getting more browsers than gun sales, but that ammunition for all types of firearms was selling well.
"People need to walk around the show a few times to get a sense of what's here and what prices are. When you have someone stop by three times, then you know they're interested," said Steve Dalzell, who does gunsmithing and repairs in Arundel.
Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:
Ned Savage from Sidney says he was looking to find and buy extra ammunition clips for his PM-11/9 mm semiautomatic rifle.
Sid Strom from the Oxford County town of Norway hopes to trade his .223-caliber hunting rifle at the event.