Thousands of prospective firearms purchasers flooded a Florida gun show in the wake of a school shooting that reignited the national debate over gun control. The wave of business for the exhibition underscored the pattern of gun owners racing to purchase new firearms in the wake of mass shootings.
On Feb. 24, nearly 7,000 people passed through the Florida Gun Show in Tampa, Florida. The massive influx of customers marked just the first day of the weekend exhibition, WTSP reports.
The gun show followed a horrific mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida. A gunman armed with an AR-15-style rifle killed 17 people at the school. Several of the surviving students organized a social media movement to call on lawmakers to legislate stricter gun laws, including a ban on the AR-15 and closing the “gun show loophole.”
The latter provision would prohibit customers from purchasing firearms at gun shows without undergoing a background check.
The Florida Gun Show manager George Fernandez asserted that the loophole would not be a factor during his exhibition, noting that 95 percent of the vendors were licensed dealers who were required to run background checks. The remaining five percent were private citizens who could sell firearms without a check, although several state counties would require them to do so.
Fernandez added that the Parkland gunman was able to pass a background check when he purchased his rifle.
“This was a mental health issue,” Fernandez said. “This is someone who should have been identified from the beginning by law enforcement.”
Several customers and vendors during the gun show acknowledged that business was booming over the weekend as a direct result of the Parkland massacre.
“It’s sad to say, but whenever there’s a shooting, business only goes up because people are afraid of losing their right to own a certain weapon,” vendor Quaidman Woody told The New York Times. “So even if they don’t need another AR, they’ll buy another AR or pieces of it.”
Overall, gun sales have dragged since U.S. President Donald Trump assumed office. In 2017, the FBI found that the number of background checks conducted in the U.S. fell by eight percent compared to 2016, even though it was marked by a series of high-profile mass shootings, CNN Money reports.
Professor David Studdert of Stanford University said that firearm sales were lagging after Trump entered the White House because gun owners were less concerned with new gun restrictions amid a Republican president and a GOP-majority Congress.
“In the year since the Trump administration took office, there’s no serious discussion about gun control,” Studdert said. “This shooting may prompt some people to buy guns, it’s unlikely to create the same kind of sales spike we saw following shootings during the Obama administration.”
19-year-old Austin Nichols, a gun show customer, asserted that the Parkland shooting had a unique impact on gun show turnout because it was followed by an unprecedented gun control movement.
“I think it’s the protests,” Nichols told the Tampa Bay Times. “It feels different this time. I think more people are concerned they might do something.”
Responses to the Parkland shooting have been varied, with some advocating for tighter gun regulation and others opting to adapt to a trend of school massacres. Gun show customer Juanita Stafford shelled out $199 a pop to purchase bullet-resistant backpack plates for her eight grandchildren.
“We don’t want to be the people going to funerals and saying coulda, woulda, shoulda,” Stafford said said. “We’re putting our money where our mouth is.
One booth operator, Lindsay Potter, said she was a supporter of the National Rifle Association (NRA) but still welcomed tighter background checks and federal audits for gun sales.
“We are under a lot of scrutiny,” Potter said. “And we should be.”