Shooting Hangs Over Tucson Gun Show

This weekend, Tucson plays host to a major gun show. It is just one of a number of shows that come through the city each year. We find out how gun dealers and enthusiasts are responding to last weekend's violence.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Five times a year, a company called Crossroads of the West plays host to a gun show in Tucson. It's one of a number of cities where the company operates. A show was scheduled for this weekend. And just a week after the tragic mass shooting in that city it attracted an unusually large crowd.

NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS: Rick Krieger(ph) got to the Pima County Fairgrounds at 7 A.M. to be first in line for tickets to the Crossroads of the West Gun Show. He said he rarely misses one of these shows.

Mr. RICK KRIEGER: You know, I like to come out here and look just like other people like to go shopping at Wal-Mart. I like coming here. They have more things that I like to look at.

ROBBINS: Krieger works at a Veteran's Administration Hospital pharmacy. He said he believes the old saying that guns don't kill people, people kill people. Instead of blaming the availability of guns for last weekend's massacre, Krieger blames the mental health system for failing to flag the accused gunman.

Mr. KRIEGER: Mentally ill individual, very troubled individual that unfortunately slipped through the cracks somehow. And I think thats what we need to look at, is how did this fellow get missed.

ROBBINS: As he waited to go in, Rick Birch(ph) echoed a common worry here -that the violent act will result in strict gun control laws.

Mr. RICK BIRCH: when they ban the guns or if they ban the guns, only the criminals will have them. At least this way, we know that the law-abiding citizens that are armed will be able to protect themselves and thats what our Constitution allows us to do.

ROBBINS: As people entered the hall they passed a box for donations to the Tragedy in Tucson Victims Fund. Next to the box, a sign for the NRA, above, a flag at half staff.

(Soundbite of the "Pledge of Allegiance")

ROBBINS: After the "Pledge of Allegiance," shoppers mingled among tables filled with handguns, hunting rifles, military weapons, knives and accessories, including extended magazines - the kind Jared Loughner allegedly used to fire 31-rounds before reloading. The fear is that they may be banned.

Gun show promoter Bob Templeton said sales of firearms and ammo in general have been brisk. Templeton agreed that people are buying firearms because they fear politicians will use the shooting to push gun control.

Mr. BOB TEMPLETON (President, Crossroads of the West Gun Shows): Attempt to capitalize on that tragedy and push forward their personal and political agendas to limit or restrict or eliminate private ownership of firearms in America.

ROBBINS: One dealer had small pictures of President Obama with the words Manchurian Candidate attached to the price tags of assault rifles. The pictures disappeared later in the morning. That dealer and others wouldn't talk on tape. At least one seemed laid back in applying the basic federal records check. He coached a man buying a pistol on how to fill out the form, while admitting he shouldn't.

Unidentified Man #1: Technically, Im not supposed to help you with them but...

Unidentified Man #2: Thats fine.

Unidentified Man #1: ...the print is so small there. Obviously you're not a felon.

Unidentified Man #2: No.

ROBBINS: Other dealers stressed the need for firearms training and for the use of good judgment when selling guns or ammo to individuals.

Shortly after 10 A.M. - the time the shooter started firing last weekend in front of a grocery store 25 miles from here - activity at the gun show stopped for a moment of silence to honor the victims.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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