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Saratoga Springs is a quiet town of about 27,000 people in upstate New York. It's known for its historic racetrack and its healing spring waters. But the usual winter calm has been broken by a spirited protest over a gun show scheduled for this coming weekend. Dale Willman has more.
DALE WILLMAN, BYLINE: Saratoga is the kind of town tourists visit and never want to leave. In winter, there are skiing and snowshoeing. And, of course, in summer, there's the horse racing season. But this idyllic town in the foothills of the Adirondacks is facing a bit of a crisis over the Saratoga gun fair, a regular event held several times a year at the city's public exhibition space.
DAVID PETRONIS: We started the shows in Saratoga in 1984.
WILLMAN: David Petronis is the show's promoter.
PETRONIS: I opened up the City Center with an antique show in August. And September, we did our first gun show. This coming up show in January 12th and 13th will be our 90th affair at the City Center. I've got to say, we got to be one of the oldest and best customers that they got.
WILLMAN: Petronis says the show has been a good event for Saratoga, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city. But now, the show's tenure is being challenged. Not long after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Saratoga resident Susan Steer learned about the show.
SUSAN STEER: I couldn't believe it. I was thinking, you know, haven't we had enough with guns? Isn't it time to maybe just take a step back?
WILLMAN: So Steer started an online petition on the website Change.org, asking that the show be canceled and that there be a community conversation about future gun shows. To date, some 1,300 people have signed the petition.
It didn't take long for another petition to be started - this one in support of the gun show. Written by Robert LeClair of nearby Hudson Falls, New York, it talks about what it calls the sudden knee-jerk need to ban a perceived threat by the uninformed, ignorant few. That petition has gotten about 1,800 signatures. Despite the petition's sometimes harsh language, LeClair says he agrees that something needs to be done about gun violence.
ROBERT LECLAIR: But what exactly. We can't make the decisions that need to be made at a point like this when everybody is still emotional, everybody is still very upset about what happened, and there - it continues to happen.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We have to firm up the details for the gun show...
WILLMAN: While the gun show has gone on for years with little notice, now it seems almost everyone is talking about it. Twelve people spoke about the show during last week's city council meeting, all but one in favor of it being canceled. And last Saturday, about a dozen people gathered at a local hangout to plan a street action. Members of the Saratoga Peace Alliance say they support legal gun ownership - two members are gun owners - so their activity this weekend is not a protest. Rather, Linda LeTendre says they want to ask gun owners to help them figure out how to end gun violence.
LINDA LETENDRE: Well, you go to the gun show because that's where the gun owners are, and that's where we need to work together to address - really address the problem of gun violence so that it has a real impact.
WILLMAN: While some gun shows scheduled for towns close to Newtown have been canceled since the shooting, others haven't. Rochester, New York, hosted a show, even though the site was less than 25 miles from the town of Webster where two volunteer firefighters were fatally shot on December 24th as they responded to a house fire. David Petronis, the Saratoga gun promoter, was exhibiting a few tables of guns in Rochester this past Sunday.
PETRONIS: Busy place here. AR-15s all over the place. Everybody's happy. Nobody went home, shot anybody.
WILLMAN: Rather than cancel his show in Saratoga, Petronis has agreed to a compromise request from the city council to not display or sell weapons similar to those used at the Sandy Hook school, so he says exhibitors won't have some semiautomatic weapons or high-capacity magazines for sale at this show. But he hopes all the attention will end soon so his exhibitors can get back to offering their full array of guns and accessories. For NPR News, I'm Dale Willman in Saratoga Springs.
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