"You tell Americans they can’t have something, and they want it more,” says John Lamplugh. Last weekend, that contrarian streak worked in his favor.
Lamplugh owns Appalachian Promotions, which runs gun shows at the Philadelphia National Guard Armory six times a year. The energy at the show, the first of 2013, was charged — to say the least.
“You’d better have visible identification on you; things can get out of hand in there,” warned Lamplugh, a 26-year veteran of gun shows in and around Pennsylvania. He was not wrong. Lines snaked out the door; all told, more than 1,000 people attended, from senior citizens to children under 11, who were admitted free. Lamplugh credited the rise in attendance to recent national efforts to enforce gun-control laws, adding that assault-rifle sales had increased “tenfold” since President Obama was re-elected. More than 400 vendors set up tables to take advantage of the renewed demand.
While most attendees came for the guns, they were easily distracted by the plethora of gun-themed accessories, century-old hunting knives, T-shirts that read “When I Snap, You’ll Be the First to Go” and a table where passersby could test out Tasers.
The biggest draws for gun enthusiasts, however, were the modern sporting rifles and the assault rifles, which were recently banned at Pennsylvania’s largest annual gun show, partially out of respect for victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. The ban — imposed by the British company that runs the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, which was to take place in Harrisburg in February — resulted in a boycott by more than 100 vendors, the largest of which was sporting- and hunting-goods big-box Cabela’s. The boycott, in turn, resulted in the indefinite postponement of the show.
For many dealers and attendees at the Philadelphia Gun Show, the ban reflected a national push for stricter gun-control laws (which right-wing state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe is already working to ensure won’t be enforced in Pennsylvania). “People are going after guns because they can’t go after [Adam Lanza’s] mother,” said Jeff White, a dealer from Greencastle, Pa. Lamplugh agreed: “She’s probably the biggest to blame. For them to take [assault rifles] away from law-abiding citizens is just wrong.”
Others refused to engage in a debate over gun control, choosing instead to stick to their guns, so to speak. One dealer lifted his shirt to reveal three handguns that are strapped to his belt at all times, explaining that his choice to own guns is just a matter of “protection.”