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A sign is posted for an upcoming gun show, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, in Leesport, Pa. Gun advocates arenít 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)
Gun shows face new scrutiny after school shooting
Weapons » Organizers succumb to pressure from opponents of military-style assault weapons.
First Published Jan 04 2013 11:54 pm • Last Updated Jan 05 2013 08:36 pm

Saratoga Springs, N.Y. • Missing from the gun show here next weekend will be some of the most popular guns.

Show organizers, facing pressure after last month’s elementary school massacre in Connecticut, agreed to bar the display and sale of AR-15 military-style semiautomatic weapons and their large-clip magazines.

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"The majority of people wanted these guns out of the city," said Chris Mathiesen, Saratoga Springs’ public safety commissioner. "They don’t want them sold in our city, and I agree. Newtown, Conn., is not that far away."

Though gun advocates aren’t backing down from their insistence on the right to keep and bear arms, heightened sensitivities and raw nerves since the Newtown shooting are softening displays at gun shows and even leading officials and sponsors to cancel the well-attended exhibitions altogether.

The mayor of Barre, Vt., wants a ban on military-style assault weapons being sold at an annual gun show in February. Mayor Thom Lauzon says he supports responsible gun ownership but is making the request "as a father." The police chief in Waterbury, Conn., just a few miles from Newtown, has halted permits for gun shows, saying he was concerned about firearms changing hands that might one day be used in a mass shooting.

In New York’s suburban Westchester County, officials decided against hosting a gun show next month at the county center in White Plains, about an hour’s drive from Newtown. County Executive Rob Astorino had brought back the show in 2010 after a ban of more than a decade following the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, but he said the show would be inappropriate now.

Three additional shows in New York’s Hudson Valley and Danbury, Conn., were listed as canceled on the website for Big Al’s Gun Shows. A man who answered the site’s contact number said it was the venues that canceled the shows, not the promoter.

In Houston, transportation officials temporarily stopped using electronic freeway signs for public safety traffic updates near firearms-related events amid complaints following a gun show the day after the Dec. 14 school shooting. State-level transportation officials overruled the decision.

And on Wednesday, the Saratoga Springs City Council urged organizers of a downtown gun show Jan. 12-13 not to display military-style weapons and the high-capacity magazines "of the type used in the Newtown tragedy." The vote came after about a dozen people gave impassioned pleas at the meeting.

Show organizer David Petronis, of New Eastcoast Arms Collectors Associates, agreed to the limit.


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"I don’t think it’s fair that we’re taking the brunt of the problem," Petronis said, "but I can understand the reaction of people in doing so."

Petronis said his group is a "nice, clean family-oriented ... arms fair" that brings in thousands of visitors and a lot of money for the city. He stressed that buyers at his show undergo background checks, as per New York state law.

Gun dealers around the country are reporting a spike in sales of semiautomatic rifles amid renewed talk of a federal ban on assault weapons. The possibility of tighter gun control has also pumped up attendance at gun shows in several states.

Marv Kraus, who helped organize a weekend gun show in Evansville, Wis., said business has been especially strong lately.

"The gun sales have been crazy. They are going through the roof," said Joel Koehler, a gun dealer who operates shows in Pennsylvania. While a few dealers have dropped out of this weekend’s show in the Pocono Mountains, Koehler said, it’s "because they have nothing to sell. They are out of inventory."

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.

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