Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gun shows bow to public pressure

Forsaking military arms or cancelling

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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.

"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 centre 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, Connecticut, were listed as cancelled on the website for Big Al's Gun Shows. A man who answered the site's contact number said it was the venues that cancelled the shows, not the promoter.

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.

"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 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 semi-automatic 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. Koehler said. While a few dealers have dropped out of this weekend's show in the Pocono Mountains, he 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 Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 5, 2013 A22

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