CHANTILLY, Va. — The largest gun show in the D.C. area has raised its admission fee to help bankroll its fight against President Obama’s push for tighter firearm restrictions.
“Admission has gone up because we are using the money to fight so you can keep and bear your guns,” read the sign on the front doors to the gun show.
“We have already spent $25,000 this year to stop impending legislation by hiring lawyers, lobbyists, and writing bills.”
Entry lines stretching around the giant exhibition center resulted in waits of up to 30 minutes on opening day Friday afternoon as parked cars spilled over into the neighboring shopping plaza less than 15 miles from the resort where House Democrats at their annual retreat just a day earlier unveiled proposals for an assault weapons ban, a limit on magazine capacity, and universal background checks for gun buyers.
It was no mistake that out of the estimated 1,000 tables displaying guns, ammunition, scopes, and an expanse of other firearm-related products, the steadily paced stream of gun buyers slowed to a stop in front of the dealers hawking assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“Got to get them while you can,” said one man, who had just purchased an AR-15 assault-style weapon for $1,599 and a 42-round clip for $45. He did not want to be identified.
Also trying to cash in on the largely Democratic move to revamp the country’s gun laws, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was offering to cover attendees’ admission costs if they paid $30 for a one-year membership or $300 for a lifetime membership.
A spokesman for the NRA said it wouldn’t release the number of new or renewed members who signed up at the show until the end of the weekend. But the group has said its ranks have rapidly risen since the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December that killed 20 children and 6 adults.
Many gun rights proponents hold that gun violence will not be diminished by restricting people’s access to guns, but rather by increasing the number of responsible gun owners who can protect innocent people.
One woman’s t-shirt at the gun show read: “How do you stop a bad man with a gun? A good man with a gun.”
The majority of gun dealers who presided over tables with locked handguns, rifles, and assault-style weapons were seated behind a computer and a stack of clipboards with IDs and paperwork attached, running background checks that look for felony convictions or other red flags that could prevent someone from buying a gun.
But the gun show, like many throughout the country, also allowed for private sales, which don’t impose a sales tax and don’t require a background check.
At least a dozen private dealers meandered through the expansive exhibition center on Friday with secured assault-style weapons slung over their shoulders. Cardboard signs taped to rods stuck out of their gun’s barrel. One read: “AR-15, 5.56mm, Make me an offer!”
Many Democrats, the president, and some Republicans argue that it should be illegal to sell a gun without conducting a background check, even if it’s a private sale, in order to ensure that criminals, those with mental illnesses, or people otherwise prohibited from owning guns aren’t able to easily buy them.
The NRA and some gun rights groups worry that mandatory background checks for all gun sales would spur the creation of a government-run database, listing the personal identifying information of every gun owner in the country, which would infringe on privacy rights.
Signs at several gun tables cautioned potential buyers from purchasing a weapon with the intention of then selling it privately to someone forbidden from buying the gun: a process known as straw purchasing. The signs warned that such actions could carry 10-year jail sentences with them if the straw buyer is caught.
One of the only bipartisan pieces of gun-related legislation to emerge from the House and Senate this year focuses on straw purchasing and would increase the penalty from 10 years to 20 years.
Since 2008, the price of the D.C.-area gun show has been $12. This weekend the price was raised to $13 per day.