Visitors flock to local gun show

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Strict rules were in place for the Gun and Knife Show at Mason-Dixon Auto Auction, but they did not deter the crowd. Cody Shank, Marion, served customers at the table for his business, Franklin Arms Co.

The cancellation of the 2013 Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in Harrisburg this week caused ramifications for other businesses. Some benefited while some were hit financially by the ripple effect from the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Attendance at a gun show in Greencastle was "unbelievable" on Saturday, Feb. 2, and a steady flow of visitors followed on Sunday at Mason-Dixon Auto Auction, the venue site. John Lamplegh, owner of Appalachian Promotions, sponsors gun and knife shows in Pennsylvania two or three weekends each month. He scheduled shows in Greencastle four times this year.

The popular Harrisburg show at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, set for Feb. 2-10, was postponed indefinitely after enough vendors pulled out because of an administrative decision. The organizer banned the display or sale of military-style assault rifles this year due to the national controversy surrounding the debate on gun ownership. The Sandy Hook killer had used a semi-automatic rifle. The show was expected to attract 1,000 vendors and 250,000 visitors.

The Greencastle event undoubtedly picked up traffic as a result of that decision.

"Ammunition and semi-automatic rifles are flying off the shelves," said Lamplegh.

Clients were hunters, gun enthusiasts and an influx of Maryland residents, he added, "because their governor is not exactly gun-friendly."

In his State of the State address a few days earlier, Gov. Martin O'Malley called for requiring a license for all handgun purchases, and a ban on the sale of military assault weapons.

Booming business

Bob Seebach, owner of Bonnie's Guns in Chambersburg, was at the Greencastle show. He sold home protection pistols, semi-automatics, hunting rifles, shotguns and military-looking rifles.

"We sell guns, not weapons," he said. "People can decide to make them weapons."

His friend Grant Cauffman saw that folks were worried about arguments for tighter gun control. The two wondered how the government would stay in line if the citizens were disarmed.

"The Second Amendment is not about hunting," Cauffman declared. "It's about tyrants. And gun control doesn't work. Criminals have no trouble getting guns. They don't come to our store to buy them."

He had seen the frenzy before. After every shooting that made the headlines, he would think, "Here we go again."

Cody Shank, owner of the new business Franklin Arms Co. in Marion, sold Class 3 items, handguns and shotguns, online transfers and merchandise. Though it was a small gun show, he was "swamped". He was having difficulty keeping anything in stock, and had sold half his inventory at another show two weeks earlier. The weekend of the Sandy Hook massacre, he was at a large show that had people waiting 40 minutes in line to enter.

"My wholesalers are sold out," he said. "I can't keep up."

The vendors also found that people didn't negotiate on price. If they found what they wanted, they bought it.

Hurting business

Not all vendors sold guns or knives. Johnny and Mariana Schickerling flew to the United States from Namibia, Africa to promote their company, Agarob Safaris. They sell photography and hunting safaris. The couple typically spent six to eight weeks in the country each winter, traveling to sporting shows. They were in a Harrisburg hotel when they got the news that the Eastern Show would not take place. They were fortunate to find the Greencastle event to initiate contact with potential customers.

"We do a lot of business in Harrisburg," said Mariana. They would try to contact the people who had visited their booth in past years, but knew email addresses could have changed. Sometimes they had to woo customers for years before they could commit to a trip halfway around the world.

Since Americans booked in advance, Johnny said they would be fine this year, but would suffer in the future if Harrisburg did not host the show next winter. The couple had invested much time and money in putting the city on its list of stops in the U.S. It was the only show that canceled, so they were still able to promote in Minneapolis, Denver and other cities.

"The thing was bigger than just canceling the show," Johnny said. He knew other vendors lost money on their trips to Pennsylvania, and the hotel and rental car industry was also hit.

Various analysts said the loss of commerce from the cancellation affected the Harrisburg area by $80 million.