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At Miami-Dade Gun Show, Steady Sales And Clear Consciences After Colorado Massacre

The father picked the gun off the table and held it up for his son to see. "This is a shotgun," he said, pointing it into the small crowd walking past the table. "You remember this one, right?" Then he pretended to cock the gun and pull the trigger. "Blam! Just like that!" He bent down and put the gun into the boy's hands. At roughly three feet tall and maybe seven years of age, the child struggled to hold the seven-pound gun level. But eventually, he got it pointed into the crowd, smiling.

It was a hot and humid Saturday afternoon at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition, just about a week after James Holmes killed 12 and wounded 58 more in a Colorado theater with three legally purchased guns.

The massacre has sparked a new wave of debate over gun rights (at least on the Internet; neither Obama nor Romney have wanted to come within a Winchester of that hot potato) in a country that seems perpetually at odds over what to do about weapons and the people who purchase them.

Gun dealers nationwide have reported a spike in sales in the wake of the massacre; Florida also made news last month as the first state to grant more than a million concealed carry licenses.

Given that context, I decided to take Miami's temperature on gun rights at the fair. The verdict: No one was particularly eager to talk about Colorado -- and to the dealers' credit, no one was explicitly using the crime to sell guns -- but the killing spree certainly didn't seem to hurt sales, either.

Inside the E. Darwin Fuchs Pavilion at the Fairgrounds, a man in a red shirt with a beard and a thinning head of brown hair gingerly unzipped a bag containing his newly purchased AR-15 assault rifle, the same kind of gun Holmes allegedly used in the shooting spree. The red-shirted man had purchased this gun for $1,500 and was looking for magazines.

I asked him if what had happened in Colorado had influenced his purchase. "Colorado made want to buy one more gun," he said.

A dealer who introduced himself as Whiskey said that sales had not changed in the week since James Holmes' spree. "People are people," he said by way of explanation. When I first approached his table, with assault rifles racked in neat lines and pistols lined up for purchase, he asked if I were interested in buying a gun. I told him I had never even been to a gun show before. He smiled. "Then there's two things I want to know." I figured he was going to ask me if I were a felon or mentally fit. Instead, he leaned in close: "What caliber you're comfortable shooting with, and how much money you have." And then he laughed.

 

There will always be lunatics, another dealer said. His name was Keith, and he was from Pompano Pawn. His arms were covered in tattoos and his glistening bald head, accessorized with a droopy mustache made him look like the leader of a walrus motorcycle club. "Colorado hasn't spiked anything," he said. The only thing that had bumped up sales was the current presidential administration, Keith said, which he believed was waging a war to take away his guns.

"What no one understands is, we've had what, 275 years of open gun laws? It's not going to stop," he said. "Don't take the rights away from legal, law-abiding citizens."

Several themes came up over and over: Holmes bought his gun in accordance to the laws. Millions of other people have guns and don't murder people, dealers said. You can't predict the future. Everyone, Whiskey said, has the potential to be a James Holmes.

Florida, with its million permits, is the national leader in allowing you to carry a concealed gun, and Miami-Dade County leads the state with close to 90,000 permits.

At this particular gun show, for roughly $200, you could sign up and take a class on how to get a concealed weapons permit and then fill out a form to receive one. Twenty feet from that booth, you could watch ice cream sundaes made in front of you at a Cold Stone Creamery display. If you took your ice cream and walked 50 feet to another booth, you could buy a trigger modification to let your assault rifle fire off 900 rounds in a minute.

"This is America," Whiskey said, gesturing toward his wares. "This is the last piece of Americana."

In addition to military-grade semi-automatic machine guns, there were booths dedicated entirely to self-defense and protection -- stun guns, pepper spray, mini-safes and magnetic gun locks and safes that look like they were dragged out of a bank from 1934.

At one booth, two men demonstrated specially designed hidden safes that popped open with magnets. "People are really interested in protecting their stuff nowadays," the safe inventor said.

Gun sales had spiked, dealers said, because people were afraid that the government was going to take away their rights. Rifles were bought for protection. If one person in that theater had a gun on them, Keith asked, would Holmes have been able to get away with his massacre?

"The whole world is in a bad state," Keith said. "It's scary to think what direction we're headed in." He glanced over at a father pushing a stroller with a young girl sitting in it. "I don't know how you bring a kid into this world."

A couple of hours later, ten feet away from Keith's booth, a family of five crowded around a pair of strollers as a fat man in khaki shorts and an oversized t-shirt gingerly opened a box labeled "RUGER." Inside was a pistol, .22 caliber, purchased for $350. The man smiled as though it were Christmas morning. The woman standing next to him bent down to a little girl of no more than eight or nine years. "You're never to touch one of those," she said.

Then they strolled out of the gun show, newly armed.

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