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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Gun Shows Are Coming!

Fall is here and winter is just around the corner. This is my favorite time of year for a lot reasons (I'm not sweating while being eaten alive by insects all of the time, mainly) but somewhere up towards the top of the list is the return of the gun shows. Around here, most of the gun shows are held during the winter months in small-town meeting halls, but some take over fairgrounds or empty stores. Some shows are put on by large event organizers and can have 400-500 tables, but the majority are run by a small local organization and take place in a VFW hall or community center.

Why do they hold the shows in the winter? I live in farm country, and if you want to sell something to a farmer, you have to wait until he gets paid. Harvest season usually runs from late September to late November around here, so most of the farmers and people who work in related industries are too busy to take time off for shopping for those three months. Once the crop is in, the farmers get their annual paycheck (think about that when you run out of money before the end of the month!) and spend most of December paying bills and budgeting for the nest year. Bank accounts are (with luck) replenished, and this is when gun shows are most likely to move inventory.

Legalities
Despite what the anti-gun folks bleat so often, there is no such thing as a “gun show loophole”; a licensed dealer has to go through the same procedures and checks at a gun show as he would if you were making a purchase at his shop, with background checks and federal forms applied at both locations. 

There is a slight chance that you may see a private individual selling a firearm, usually trading it in at a dealer's table for something “better”. If you can offer more than the dealer is willing to pay, you may be able to buy it from the individual. This is legal in most states (check your local laws -- they're too confusing for me to try to list here), and is no different than buying a firearm from a friend (also legal in most states). Be prepared to show your carry permit or purchase permit (if your state has such things) to prove you're not a felon or an undercover cop. If you're the one selling, make sure you ask for something like this to cover yourself.

Bargains
The first rule of buying anything, anywhere, is that if it seems too good to be true it probably isn't true. Most folks have a rough idea what their property is worth, so if you run across a “steal” it might not be worth even the low price. I've seen a dealer trying to sell physically broken guns at a discount (that one got tossed out of the show without a refund), and I've seen more than my fair share of cheap junk. The ones that bother me the most are the jackals that try to sell a gun made from spare parts as a collectible (Garands, Mausers, etc.) at full price. The collector's market is an area of specialized knowledge that I don't have, but I can tell when parts don't match in color or fit/finish.

Dealers know what they have to get out of their inventory to stay in business, so don't expect to find huge discounts. The rare private seller mentioned above may not ask as much for a firearm as a dealer, but but neither is he trying to stay in business.

Etiquette
Gun shows are crowded, so be respectful of the others around you.

  • You're going to bump into people and have them bump into you; expect it, and don't take offense at minor contact. 
  • The aisles between table are normally too narrow for three people, so don't stop and chat with a friend in the middle of an aisle. 
  • I don't have an issue with the occasional wheelchair I see at local shows, but the baby strollers are generally obnoxious. My grand-kids ride on our shoulders when we take them to the gun show before they can walk; pushing a stroller through a crowd is not a good way to make friends and influence people. 
  • If your urchins are uncontrollable, leave them at home. Sharp objects and fragile goods are commonly display on open tables and you are responsible for your kids' actions.
Most dealers will have signs up if they don't want you touching their wares without permission, or they will have everything in glass cases or cabled down. They do this with the smaller items to prevent theft, and they do it with the collectible items to prevent greasy fingerprints. If there is any doubt, ask before you touch.

Prices
I have been going to gun shows for a long time (close to 40 years). I have seen the influence our politicians can have on the availability (and hence the pricing) of firearms and related goods. The law of supply and demand is very strict at gun shows:
  1. If there is only one dealer with a supply of powder or brass, he will increase his prices to match the demand. 
  2. If there is a shortage of a particular item, expect prices to be high. 
  3. If there is a glut on the market of a particular model or caliber, price will come down. 
  4. The smaller dealers will generally have lower overhead (less rent on a shop, fewer employees, etc.) and thus have lower prices, but will have less inventory for you to choose from. 
  5. Larger dealers can buy in bulk and get a better price from their distributors and may pass it on to you.
Negotiations are sometimes possible. I have talked a few dealers down from the amount listed on their price tags (I dislike haggling - just a personal quirk) and buying more than one item will often lead to a discount on one or more of the items. Most of the dealers are at a show to make a buck, so don't expect them to lose money on a sale just to make the sale.

If you have a smart phone, checking prices online will let you know how badly the dealers are treating people at the show. Some shows are good; others seem to attract hyenas trying to over-charge for everything. You'll figure out which is which pretty quickly if you have a way to compare pricing. Just walking through a show you'll often see the same firearm offered at different prices, so make a trip around the tables before buying anything that you don't know is a real bargain. I've seen dealers buying goods from other tables and marking up the prices to sell on their own tables, so shop around.


It looks like about three weeks until the next big gun show around here. This one is an annual event that fills an old Target store, so it's huge. There's usually a fair selection of survival gear mixed in with the guns and bullets, so I'm looking forward to going back. I'm at the point where I don't need much, but it's always nice to spend a day around like-minded people and maybe I'll see something I want to add to my collection of supplies... if the price is right.

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