Gun show a huge draw

Thou­sands at­tend event one week af­ter mass shoot­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID NAKA­MURA

Thou­sands stream into the Pima County Fair­grounds for the event.

tuc­son — At the “Cross­roads of the West” gun show Satur­day, Uni­ver­sity of Ari­zona ju­nior Kiely Katz opened her plaid Burberry shoul­der bag, took out a wal­let shaped like a Ja­panese an­i­mated cat and plunked down her credit card for a $549 Glock 31 semiau­to­matic hand­gun.

“I’ve been want­ing one for a while; I’ve been shoot­ing since I was lit­tle,” Katz, 21, told Steve Zacher of Glock­meis­ter, a gun deal­er­ship in Mesa, Ariz. The com­pany’s slo­gan — Got Glock? (the ques­tion mark re­placed by a gun bar­rel) — was writ­ten on the dis­play case near “ Team Glock” base­ball caps.

Katz was among the thou­sands of pa­trons who streamed into the Pima County Fair­grounds, a 10-mile drive south­east of Tuc­son, ex­actly one week af­ter 22-year-old Jared Lee Lough­ner al­legedly opened fire on a crowd out­side a Tuc­son gro­cery store, killing six and wound­ing 13. He al­legedly used a semiau­to­matic Glock 19.

The ram­page has reignited the na­tional de­bate about gun laws. Crit­ics have called for stiffer reg­u­la­tions, while gun rights de­fend­ers counter that the shooter was an out­lier whose reck­less be­hav­ior should not re­strict re­spon­si­ble firearm own­ers.

“ The events at the Safe­way store were tragic and un­prece­dented, but they weren’t about law­ful gun own­er­ship,” said Bob Tem­ple­ton, the pres­i­dent of Cross­roads. “It was about a men­tally ill per­son who gained ac­cess to a firearm he shouldn’t have.”

Al­though the tim­ing of the Tuc­son gun show was “un­for­tu­nate,” he said, or­ga­niz­ers de­cided af­ter speak­ing with county of­fi­cials and the deal­ers that the show should go on. They held a moment of si­lence and Tem­ple­ton told the crowd: “As we con­tem­plate the tragic events of a week ago, our hearts go out to the peo­ple im­pacted.”

Or­ga­niz­ers put out a do­na­tion box to col­lect money for the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.

Tem­ple­ton or­ga­nizes 35 shows a year in four states — Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada and Utah — and he es­ti­mates that 600,000 peo­ple at­tended his events last year. At the fair­grounds, 200 deal­ers with names in­clud­ing Gun­tec USA and Desert Tac­ti­cal dis­played their wares: guns, ri­fles, knives, cross­bows, mag­a­zines, bul­lets, body armor, cam­ou­flage, hol­sters, scopes, tar­gets and more. Loaded weapons were not al­lowed.

At the Glock­meis­ter booth, Zacher and an­other em­ployee served a steady flow of cus­tomers in­spect­ing more than a dozen Glock mod­els. Ben Purich, 28, a for­mer Army medic, walked away with a Glock 19. He said that he and his girl­friend of­ten do out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in re­mote desert lo­ca­tions and that he needs a weapon for pro­tec­tion.

Fed­eral gun-buy­ing laws have been blamed by au­thor­i­ties for lead­ing to move­ment of guns to con­victed felons and other pro­hib­ited pur­chasers. Al­though pa­trons must fill out pa­per­work and be cleared through an FBI data­base to buy a gun from a reg­is­tered dealer, or­di­nary res­i­dents are al­lowed to sell guns to one an­other at gun shows with­out any back­ground checks.

Tem­ple­ton said un­der­cover FBI and agents from the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives reg­u­larly at­tend gun shows look­ing for il­le­gal sales to non-U.S. cit­i­zens.

For Katz, who al­ready owned a Rem­ing­ton 870 shot­gun and a Wes­son .38 cal­iber snub-nosed re­volver she some­times car­ries around town, buy­ing the Glock was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion. She has been tar­get shoot­ing since she was 15, af­ter be­ing in­tro­duced to the sport by her step­fa­ther in Westch­ester, N.Y.

A few months back, a man with a gun robbed a fast-food res­tau­rant that was two doors from a Star­bucks where an armed Katz was buy­ing cof­fee.

“Ev­ery­one was freak­ing out, in a panic,” she said. “But I was pretty — you know, I felt like if some­thing had come up, if some­thing had hap­pened, I would have shot through my pock­et­book” at the gun­man.

naka­mu­rad@wash­post.com

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