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Gun Show Common Sense

by Michael Z. Williamson

April 11, 2003 -- In 2002, there were three accidental shootings at gun shows. One of them was fatal. While any death is horrible, a teenage sportsman dying at a show is also a PR nightmare.

Note: that’s three shootings. There’s no count on the number of accidental discharges. I do know of two that took place at one show on the same day. The first was the assistant to a licensed factory armorer, who used a LOADED magazine to test a weapon. It worked, discharging as the slide dropped. The second was also a dealer, “demonstrating” to a potential buyer how to load a .45. He managed to discharge it. He was injured by concrete chips. A bystander was also injured by an enthusiastic dive for cover into a concrete pillar. To make it worse, he was subletting his tables without permission from the show promoter. To make it worse yet, he was arrested because he had no FFL and was a felon.

Now, the promoter had done everything possible to ensure safety. They had warning signs, police officers on site, requirements for tied and cased guns, no ammo, dealers checked in, the works. They run a good show. I recall two attempts at theft at that series of shows. Both perpetrators were caught and arrested in short order, and the goods returned. So it’s not the promoter’s fault. The fault is with people who were negligent of basic safety, courtesy and rules. They figured that they “knew what they were doing.” Well, they didn’t.

You might imagine that it doesn’t take many incidents like this to jack show insurance rates through the ceiling, which, if you are a dealer, is why your table rates went up this year. Someone screwed up, and we’re all paying for it. You also might imagine that it won’t take many incidents like that in our litigious society before the insurance companies run screaming in fear. From there, you can probably deduce (especially after the recent nightclub fire in Rhode Island) that no venue will rent space for a gun show, if there isn’t a few billion dollars worth of liability coverage visible. We still have insurance, because there are underwriters who believe as we do and are willing to take a risk over it. But they can’t afford to settle too often due to negligence and stupidity.

Let me put this in plain language: If it happens much more, we will ALL pay the price, because there will be no more gun shows. None. Nada. Forget legislation; simple business requirements will accomplish it for us, and no complaining, petitioning or voting will change it. We will lose a valuable source of sales (or purchases). We will also lose a valuable tool to help exercise our 1st Amendment rights to meet and speak, which does more for us politically than anything else. Our opponents hate that we do that. They’re doing everything they can to stop us. They’d give a standing ovation if this happened without their hands having to get dirty, with themselves above any blame, because they weren’t involved. I think I can state categorically that no one is going to rent a huge hall, no one is going to pay $5 or more, to show up at a place where firearms are prohibited and just talk about them for a weekend.

The upshot of this is we have to abide by show rules. The foremost is that one mandated by insurance, “NO LOADED GUNS IN BUILDING.” Yes, we all know you have a 2nd Amendment right (and 9th Amendment). No, we are not “selling out” or “insulting your competence” or “being puppets of the UN conspiracy” or whatever else you want to call it. We are simply doing everything possible to avoid a headline like “TWO YEAR OLD GIRL DIES AFTER BEING SHOT IN HEAD AT GUN SHOW,” or any other event that will cause insurance coverage to be yanked, or our opponents to shout, “SEE? They’re DANGEROUS!” 

Yes, you have a 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The venue owner, promoter, and underwriter respect this, and also have a right, on private property, to tell you not to do so. And a rented hall is private property. If you don’t like this rule, do not attend. It’s that simple. It only takes one mistake, one slip, one idiot, who may not even be you, but someone handling your weapon. I’ve seen a customer grab a revolver off a table and “clickclickclickclickclickclick” dryfire every chamber, put it down, grab another and repeat, then a third, before the dealer stopped him. Think he wouldn’t have mistaken a customer’s gun laid down for appraisal as merchandise? I won’t take that bet. Think someone won’t be stupid? I didn’t think so. Think some anti-rights activist, like the one in Colorado who trashed tables at a show, won’t maliciously try to take someone’s gun to “prove a point”? As we can’t impose a rule that only affects stupid people, we have a rule that affects all.

Do not smoke in a non-smoking hall. Yes, the chances of setting propellant on fire are slim. But what of the chances of someone allergic having a severe attack? What of an antsy fire marshal wanting to shut a show down and finding that as an excuse? It’s happened. What of some activist snapping photos and filing suit? If you can’t abide by this rule, do not attend. Do not sit behind your table, hide in the corner, sneak into the bathroom and get a guilty grin on your face when caught. And do NOT blow smoke in the face of someone objecting and say, “Too bad.” It’s bad for business, it’s rude, and it could get us all shut down.

Don’t drink at shows. Don’t point muzzles of weapons at people at shows, even if the bolt is removed and the breech clear. Don’t try to make straw purchases at shows. Don’t try to solicit illegal merchandise at shows, whether an automatic weapon or an automatic knife (where prohibited). Don’t hand out literature you’ve been asked not to or sell books the locals don’t like. The place to fight these battles is in court with lawyers, not at our gun shows with the police and mayor.

Failure to abide by gun show rules could get you noticed. How would you like to be remembered across the Web and at gatherings in people’s living rooms as “(your name here), that jackass who killed gun shows”?

Rights are necessary and fragile. There are reasons and places we need to stand on them to keep ourselves free. Protests and courtrooms are places to do so. Someone else’s halls, which we are renting as guests to conduct business, are not.

© 2003, Michael Z. Williamson. You are encouraged to distribute this article, provided the author’s copyright notice and contact are attached. Mr. Williamson’s novels “Freehold,” “The Weapon,” and “Hero” (with John Ringo) are pending from Baen Books. “One Shot, One Kill,” “Scope of Justice” and “By the Book” are pending from HarperCollins. Other gun- and freedom-related articles from Williamson can be found here:


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