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How Obama's Proposals Are Playing Out At Gun Shows

Attendees at a gun show in Miami have mixed feelings about Obama's executive actions.
Greg Allen
Attendees at a gun show in Miami have mixed feelings about Obama's executive actions.

Hundreds of people were lined up when the gun show opened at the fairgrounds in Miami. It was mostly men, but there were quite a few women and even some kids. Winter is a busy time for gun sales in Florida. But this gun show was busier than usual.

Even before President Obama announced actions aimed at tightening controls on gun purchases, sales were up — partly in reaction to terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino.

Gun dealers say the president's initiatives have also spurred sales. At the same time, polling shows more than two-thirds of Americans support the president's proposals — including a majority of gun owners.

Will Reynolds owns Leadfeather Guns and Archery. He had several tables in the middle of the exhibition hall, with an array of expensive-looking handguns. He goes through some of his inventory.

"We primarily just specialize in firearms. We love Sig Sauer, we carry a lot of those," Reynolds says. "We have the FNX Tactical, Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Walther, all the quality stuff."

Reynolds says he hasn't read through the president's proposals but is leery some of the rules may put new burdens on federally licensed dealers like him. But, Reynolds says, Obama is good for business.

"Anytime he seems like he talks about firearms, attendance goes up. Anytime there's a mishap or an accident or something like San Bernardino, people are scared, petrified and they want to protect themselves. At the same time, they feel like they don't want to lose their rights," Reynolds says.

Obama's executive actions are partially aimed at tightening rules of selling guns at gun shows.
Greg Allen / NPR
Obama's executive actions are partially aimed at tightening rules of selling guns at gun shows.

Among President Obama's proposals this week were some aimed at closing what he called the "gun show loophole." Right now at gun shows, federally-licensed firearms dealers like Reynolds conduct background checks on all sales.

But looking around the hall, Reynolds says there are many here selling guns with few questions asked.

"There are people that are walking around here that can come in and pay the entry fee and sell three, five, six, 10 guns if they want to. And they're not getting background checks. It happens right here. If you stand around long enough, you'll see people doing cash transactions on this floor today," he says.

The president is proposing requiring many more people who sell guns to get federal licenses and conduct background checks. The rules still have to be written. The White House says they're not aimed at collectors, but notes that even a few transactions combined with other evidence may qualify someone as a dealer.

Alfredo del Portillo is a gun owner and collector who was walking around with three semi-automatic rifles. He says the president's comments have created uncertainty now about how informal sales and trading can be conducted.

"Some people are telling me that I got to go through a dealer right now," del Portillo says. "Other people are saying, 'No not yet.' Nobody seems to know. Who says who's a casual, occasional seller?"

That's a question even more important to the hobbyists and collectors who pay $100 to rent a table and buy, sell and trade at weekend gun shows — people like William McDowell. He says he's not a full-time seller.

"Well, I've got an archery shop. But I do gun shows on the weekend. If we do sell a gun, by law right now, it's not required that we do a background check," McDowell says.

McDowell says his customers — looking to buy, sell or trade vintage firearms — aren't the ones likely to cause trouble. But if required to do background checks, "I don't have a problem with that," he says.

Another collector, Ron Wires, says he's worried new federal regulations will make his hobby of trading in old guns and knives a lot more expensive.

"You take a private collector like me, I'm retired. I'm on Social Security, trying to make a couple of bucks. If I have to get licensed, how do I do a background check? Then it's cost prohibitive. I can't even collect anymore," Wires says.

With the high volume of sales at Miami's gun show, customers were lined up waiting for clerks on computers to complete their background checks. Checks that should take a few minutes were taking an hour or more. But it didn't seem to be hurting business.

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As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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