A recent spate of planned gun shows has ignited controversy following the deadly mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., last year. A few shows planned in the northeast have been canceled. But in other parts of the country, local officials are considering permanently banning the popular shows, a move that is angering gun owners.
A 1994 law made it illegal to carry guns on any city property in Asheville, N.C. But Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell says a gun show that’s taking place this weekend at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center is proof that the law is not being enforced.
“I have no power at the city level to block all gun shows in the city of Asheville. The only place we regulate is where people can possess weapons,” said Bothwell.
Bothwell says the city has a responsibility to enforce the current law on the books and keep guns off city property, even those that are on display for sale. And the simple existence of guns at the The Land of the Sky Gun Show is a violation. He also says residents have contacted his office, requesting that city officials do what they can to keep gun shows out of town.
“We have been hearing a lot from citizens since the Newtown massacre wanting us to do more, to regulate guns in the city,” Bothwell said.
But gun show promoters and dealers say Bothwell is misinformed and the city does not have jurisdiction to ban the gun show. Mike Kent, owner of MK Shows, says documents show that the Agricultural Center is owned by the State of North Carolina and not the City of Asheville.
“The state owns the building here, they own the facilities, they own the land and we have signed contracts,” said Kent. “We are obviously going to proceed with our gun shows as we usually do.”
While attorneys sort out who actually owns the building, gun owners are upset that some federal, state and local lawmakers are targeting gun sales. They say banning gun shows or the sale of semi-automatic weapons is not the answer to preventing attacks like the one in Connecticut that left 27 people dead.
“It’s a tragedy in Connecticut and I have prayed for the families,” says Phil Flack, of PF Custom Guns, about the Newtown tragedy and shooter Adam Lanza. “But the kid stole the guns, he brought them into a gun-free school zone – that was a violation of federal law -- he broke into the school and then he killed people. All four of those things are already illegal.”
Kent says the City of Asheville might run into another roadblock in its attempt to ban gun shows. The North Carolina Constitution restricts local governments from singling out gun shows when passing zoning requirements and laws. Bothwell says he understands that restriction, but cities do have the right to restrict where weapons can be carried.
“We don’t allow guns at our Christmas Jam. We don’t allow guns at our craft shows. We don’t allow guns at any other shows, so not allowing guns at gun shows is not differential regulation, it’s the same rule,” said Bothwell.
The backlash against the sale of semi-automatic weapons and gun shows since the Newtown shooting has been growing across the country. Gun shows have been canceled in upstate New York and Connecticut while a similar effort to restrict gun shows is being proposed by a city councilman in Austin, Texas.
Promoters say the push to restrict gun ownership and sales is having the reverse effect. Gun shows across the country are seeing record attendance numbers and the FBI recently reported that the number of applications for background checks in December increased by nearly 50 percent from the previous year.
“This is the first show we've done in 20 years where people are actually waiting in line at 6:30 in the morning even though we didn't open until 9 o'clock,” said Kent. “It's just your local population telling the city of Asheville, ‘you can't push us around and tell us what to do with our guns.’”