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Monday, February 18, 2013 - Page updated at 08:00 p.m.

Show of support: Yakima gun event draws large crowd

By Phil Ferolito
Yakima Herald-Republic

Yakima gun-show organizer Brian Kjensmo says his event is drawing record attendance this year, and he doesn’t have to think very hard about why that is.

Kjensmo said President Obama’s gun-control push is fueling gun and ammunition sales and even leading to an increase in first-time gun owners.

“If the government thinks you can ban something and it will simply go away, then they’re living in a dream world,” the 55-year-old from Billings, Mont., said Saturday.

He suspects the high attendance at the two-day show in Yakima is a reflection of the fear people have of losing their Second Amendment right. Other gun shows across the country have reported record turnouts.

Obama’s focus on gun control became sharp in December after 26 were shot to death, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Now Congress and many state lawmakers are considering increased gun-control laws, which has stirred the spirit of gun-rights activists.

“This morning, when we opened the doors at 9 a.m., there were probably 200 people lined up outside,” Kjensmo said, noting that he had a similar turnout at a show he organized last month in the Tri-Cities. “And it’s not just Washington — it’s like this all across the country.”

“Buying frenzy”

On Saturday, there was little room to walk through the show, housed in the Modern Living Building at the Central Washington State Fairgrounds. Long tables filled with rifles, handguns, bullets, knives and other accessories crowded the building, and buyers congested walkways and hovered over what vendors had on display.

Kjensmo said he’s never seen such a large crowd in Yakima during the 14 years he’s been in business.

“We’re maxed out on the tables — we can’t get any more in the building,” he said while looking over all the vendors. “I’ve never seen the buying frenzy that we are seeing today.”

He said he had 65 vendors, up from about 45 last year.

The number of paying customers was not available Saturday night, and the show continued Sunday.

Obama’s repeated calls to require background checks of buyers at gun shows — an issue known as the gun-show loophole — and ban high-powered assault weapons and large ammunition magazines has many Americans stocking up on both guns and ammunition, he said.

At gun shows, people are subject to background checks only when buying from a licensed gun dealer, not if they’re buying from a private party.

And with those kinds of guns in high demand now, prices are soaring.

“They’re probably up $600 in the last year,” said retired Army veteran Keith Gillette, who lives near Fort Hood, Texas, and has a civilian job working for the military. His job brought him to Central Washington last week, and he dropped in at the Yakima gun show after seeing it advertised.

Rifles priced at $2,400 could be bought for about $1,600 a year ago, he said.

“That’s a lot for a rifle,” he said.

Standing behind a long table, Dale Launer, 61, of Wenatchee, slid an AR-15 rifle — a similar model to that used in the shootings at Sandy Hook — into a black plastic case and handed it to a buyer.

“There’s a lot of interest in that right now,” he said of those types of rifles. “When you can’t have it, everyone wants it.”

But Launer’s focus, as well as that of many of the other hobbyists at the show, is on rare, collectible guns. His display featured some old Colt pistols and rare Luger pistols. Old wood stock, bolt-action rifles were also part of his inventory. He likes to trade and buy as well as sell.

“I’m just looking for stuff for my collection,” he said. “Trade and stuff — that’s what makes it fun. You’re looking for that rare find — that’s the fun part.”

Fun with guns

Chet Beutel of Shelton, Mason County, pulled a Springfield Armory .45 from his side holster and handed it to a vendor.

“You look like you’re into nice guns,” he said as he handed it over. He also had a Polish Tantal AK 74 rifle draped over his shoulder. He was looking to sell both guns. He wanted $1,350 for the pistol and $1,250 for the rifle.

A hobbyist, he came to the show to view a different set of vendors than those he sees at shows in Western Washington.

“I buy, sell and trade,” he said, clad in camouflage garb. “I have fun doing this.”

Gordon Martin, of Selah, Yakima County, and his son, Jeff, looked at an old 1893 Winchester takedown rifle that breaks into two parts for storage.

“I like to look at the older rifles, stuff you normally don’t see — that’s kind of interesting,” Jeff Martin said.

In contrast to the large number of gun enthusiasts inside the Modern Living Building, a small group organized a protest outside the fairgrounds.

Yakima Valley Peace Advocates Network members waved signs calling for peace and an end to the gun-show loophole, so that all gun purchases would require background checks.

Kjensmo said such a move wouldn’t reduce crime.

“The gun-show loophole isn’t going to stop anyone here in town from committing a crime,” he said. “They’re going to get an illegal gun somewhere else.”

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