Tulsa gun show bustles as uncertainty about laws grows
BY KELLY BOSTIAN World Outdoors Writer
Sunday, January 06, 2013
1/08/13 at 8:06 AM
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Whether you are referring to gun sales or ammo sales - commercially or privately sold - people are calling it "a frenzy," and the description fits.
At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, lines of gun-show attendees wrapped around the front corners of the 58,500-square-foot Exchange Center at Expo Square from the main doorway. To the east they waited to buy tickets; to the west they waited for the doors to the Metcalf Gun Show to open at 9 a.m.
Gun sales these days are not only through the roof, they are literally down the sidewalk and around the corner at gun shops, shows and sporting good stores.
People in the line commented about crowds at popular local stores such as Dong's, Sports World and Bass Pro Shops. Prices were high and supplies low as people made offers on firearms in the box before the shipper could deliver them inside the store. They were headed to the gun show to see whether the private sellers and smaller dealers might have something they've been looking for.
Many also were there because of the frenzy, looking to make a profit.
Just inside the gun-show entry, in his usual spot, Scott Murry of RJ's Gun Sales in Broken Arrow said he was "a little embarrassed" at his lack of inventory.
"It's just crazy right now," he said.
Murry said his "hole in the wall" shop is something he does in addition to his full-time job in computer support. Gun shows usually give him "a typical month's worth of business in a weekend," he said.
"Lately I'm doing a gun show worth of business every day at my little shop."
At least three people in the crowd agreed the lines were nothing compared to 1994. That's when the first assault weapons ban was pending.
In 2013, the future of gun sales and possession laws following December's school massacre at Newtown, Conn., has gun enthusiasts on edge.
Specific worries are hard to define, but there is uncertainty - especially about semi-automatics and large-volume magazines - and people are braced for a negative outcome.
Deserved or not, most draw a line of blame straight to President Barack Obama.
Gun-show owner Warren Metcalf declined an interview Saturday but did offer a suggested newspaper headline reflecting the scene at his show: "Obama's only stimulus that worked."
Tulsa is not only home to the largest gun-show venue in the world but also several shooting ranges, including the 90-acre U.S. Shooting Academy. The range is one of the nation's pre-eminent firearms training and competition facilities.
If a gun show represents a microcosm of the overall gun market, Tulsa is a good representation of the market nationally. After all, this is home to the biannual Wannenmacher's Tulsa Arms Show, the largest show of its kind in the world.
Joe Wannenmacher, 78, reflected last week, "In 2009, Mayor Kathy Taylor proclaimed Feb. 5 as Joe Wanenmacher Day in Tulsa in recognition of the economic contribution the gun show has made to the community. People spend a lot of money at gun shows."
The gun-show scene has changed markedly in the 45 years since Wanenmacher set up shop in 1968.
"I used to give away tickets through the radio shows, and people wouldn't pick them up," he said with a chuckle. Now a Wanenmacher weekend will feature more than 4,000 vendors and 30,000 to 40,000 people in attendance.
This weekend's Metcalf show is less than half that size, but it cycles through Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Lawton and Enid several times each year.
Gun shows are a point of discussion for new gun-control laws because of the so-called "gun show loophole" that allows sales of guns at the shows without a mandatory background check. Those sales are protected under law and considered no different than buying a gun from a relative or privately through a newspaper classified ad.
Wanenmacher has seen his share of change at gun shows and his share of gun-control debates. Restrictions requiring background checks likely would have a small impact on the gun show, if any, he said.
"Most of the vendors have a (federal firearms license) and do the background checks any more," he said.
"In the old days you had a lot more guys who were just hobbyists. You don't have that so much anymore. The (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) has really tightened up on who can get an FFL."
Likewise, firearms license holders at the gun shows keep an eye on other sellers and weed out the questionable traders.
License holders at gun shows generally have a good relationship with the law and report suspected violators, said Billy Magaoassi, ATF resident agent in charge for Oklahoma's northern and eastern district offices.
"Obviously people might be lined up at those tables because there's no paperwork and naturally that's a problem for the legitimate dealers who pay the fees and do the paperwork because that's their livelihood," he said.
Still, he said gun shows are a target for "straw purchasers," who are legal buyers looking to make purchases for criminals.
"They get turned down at one table and just go to the next," he said.
Licensed dealers know to watch out for these people.
"You just don't sell to them. You jack up the price so high they just won't buy or just say 'no,' " said Kaitlin Phillips at the Rijas Services booth.
Private sales of firearms that skirt the edge of the law may take place at the shows as well, but Magaoassi summed up the enforcement picture. "I have nine agents for my entire area," he said. "We have a lot of bigger fish to fry."
Whether a person needs a license to sell guns legally can be "a fine line," he said. "The key is whether you are engaging in a business."
At the Metcalf show it was hard to find a vendor Saturday selling guns who didn't have a license and thus was required to perform background checks.
Many attending the show were looking to sell or trade as individuals, however.
Tulsan Scott Brentlinger waited outside with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder. He said he got the semi-auto .223 for target shooting and hunting.
"I thought with everyone freaking out about ARs I'd come out and see what someone would offer me for it," he said.
He buys through gun stores but also attends a few gun shows. "I'll shoot something for a couple of years and get tired of it or want to try something different," he said.
His rifle is becoming a problem partly because the ammunition is hard to find and has become expensive, he said.
Gun shows are a handy way to sell and buy without having to place an ad and deal with strangers or pay a store to sell something on consignment.
"I prefer to sell to those guys so the gun stays on the books - beyond when I owned it," Brentlinger said. "As a legal gun owner, like most gun owners, I don't care if I have to go through the background check."
'Just walk away'
Tyler Nida stood in line near Brentlinger and echoed the view of several around that closing gun shows or restricting sales at these venues would have little impact on the gun trade. "People can still do private sales, they'll just do it somewhere else," he said.
Nida said any gun owner who sells privately should still be careful about who they sell to, get identification and keep careful records of each sale. "I won't sell my guns to just anybody," he said.
Inside the show Mike Richardson had his father's AR-15 with a "for sale" sign slung over his shoulder. Vance Remington walked the aisles with a Norinco SKS semi-automatic weapon, while Tom Richards had a tricked-out Smith and Wesson M&P (the company's version of the AR-15). Richards' gun featured an upscale scope, tactical light and a custom trigger he hoped to sell for $3,500.
All three said they know prices are high right now, that they preferred to sell directly to someone licensed and that that was what brought them to the show. Richards, from Grove, is a military veteran and avid shooter. "You can tell when someone's sketchy. You just walk away. You don't have to sell to them," he said. "We do a pretty good job of policing our own."
It took time to find a vendor at the Metcalf show with a table full of weapons all marked "private." Ryan Cooper, 22, of Enid said he had no license and said he really wasn't sure if he needed one.
"From what I've read online I don't think I do," he said. "You're not going to write something and get me in trouble are you?"
"All the frenzy after Connecticut" made him consider selling his guns for rent money, he said.
Cooper said he has bought guns over the years when he saw a good deal.
"They haven't been losing their value the past several years," he said.
Cooper had about 20 guns on the tables, half of which were AR-15 type semi-automatics, the rest were revolvers and semi-auto pistols. This was his second gun show, he said.
In the space of 10 minutes he sold an FN Five-seven - a full-sized lightweight polymer pistol that shoots a 5.7 x 28mm cartridge - to a man for $1,900 cash. He handed over the cash, and Cooper gave him the gun. No paperwork changed hands.
At the same time a man approached with "new-in-the-box" 9mm Sig Sauer 2022 with 300 rounds of ammunition, offering to sell it for $500 cash.
The man said he bought the gun two weeks earlier and was trying to trade up. He said he still had the receipt from his purchase of the gun two weeks earlier and offered to show it to him, but Cooper just checked the value of the gun online. They haggled for a minute, Cooper gave him some "presidents," and he handed over the gun.
"That will be my gun. One for me to use," Cooper said of the purchase.
The man asked for "a receipt or something."
Cooper borrowed a pen and scribbled out the model number, date, amount paid and his phone number on a scrap of blank paper.
"You always want to be safe, keep a record of who you're selling guns to," said the man, who asked not to be identified in the newspaper.
"Just call me Black Bart," he said.
Quick Guide: Federal requirements for gun transfer, ownership
It is illegal for people in any of the following categories to possess or receive firearms:
- Licensed firearms dealers must administer a transaction record known as the ATF Form 4473 during gun sales. The form includes questions asking potential buyers about their criminal histories and requirements for dealers to identify potential purchasers.
- Licensed dealers must initiate background checks of potential customers by contacting The National Instant Criminal Background Check System operated by the FBI. Firearm transfers cannot be completed until buyers pass background checks.
- People not "engaged in the business" of firearms sales, meaning they do not transfer firearms regularly for profit, do not need to obtain a license to sell a firearm from their private collections. Non-licensees do not need to administer transaction records or initiate background checks when making a sale. However, it is illegal to sell a firearm to someone the seller knows or has reasonable cause to believe federal law prohibits from receiving or possessing firearms.
Sources: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Department of Justice
- Drug users or addicts
- Illegal immigrants and immigrants under visas not admitting them for permanent U.S. residency
- Anyone subject to a domestic restraining order
- Anyone previously convicted for domestic assault
- Anyone dishonorably discharged from the military
- A person younger than 18 years old may not possess a handgun
Metcalf Gun Show
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Expo Square, 4145 E. 21st St.
Tickets: $13 general admission
World Staff Writers Curtis Killman and Casey Smith contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: Gun show bustles
Kelly Bostian, 918-581-8357
Brenda Moore (right) looks over an AR-15 rifle with her husband, Wayne Moore, at Expo Square in Tulsa on Saturday. She was among many who bought weapons at the gun show. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Drake Hinkle looks over a rifle during the Metcalf Gun Show at Expo Square in Tulsa on Saturday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Gun enthusiasts walk through the aisles during the Metcalf Gun Show at Expo Square in Tulsa on Saturday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Skulls and the phrase "let it rain" adorn a rifle at Expo Square in Tulsa on Saturday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World