Note highlighted text near bottom.
Larry Cadden points to the black Beretta semi-automatic handgun on
sale for $375 and explains why somebody might want to buy it.
"It's a self-protection gun. It's got a 10-round clip and it shoots
as fast as you can pull the trigger," he says.
"That gun has no sporting value at all. It's for killing people.
That's what self-defence is all about . . . Cain killed Abel with the
jawbone of an ass. We're a violent society and it's not about to
During the week, the bulky Mr. Cadden works as a private
investigator, but on the weekends he moonlights in sales. Today, in
his green polo shirt and camouflage hunting cap, he has rented a
couple of tables at the C & E Dixie Gun and Knife Show and set out a
dozen firearms, including brand-new rifles still in their shipping
If you have cash or a cheque, a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver or that
nifty Beretta can be yours, no questions asked.
Under U.S. federal law, he is not considered a full-time firearms
dealer so there's no requirement that he conduct a background check
before selling a handgun to ensure that the buyer doesn't have a
criminal record or is not subject to a restraining order for domestic
The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) says Mr. Cadden is
simply selling guns from his private collection, and, in any case,
Americans have an unfettered right to bear arms under the Second
Amendment of the Constitution.
Two hundred kilometres north of Richmond, the District of Columbia's
long-time ban on handgun ownership was dealt a serious blow this
month when an appeals court ruled that the Second Amendment, ratified
in 1791 to shield state militias, protects an individual's right
today to keep a handgun at home. The NRA celebrated.
Gun-control advocates see it differently. They want access to guns
limited and they consider C & E Dixie and the estimated 4,000 other
such shows held in the United States each year to be "Tupperware
parties for criminals."
"It's a flea-market environment for guns," says John Shanks, director
of law-enforcement relations at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun
Violence, a Washington-based lobby group. "Any weekend, in any state,
you can find a gun show somewhere." The centre was founded by Jim
Brady, the one-time presidential press secretary who was shot and
seriously wounded during the assassination attempt on his boss, the
late president Ronald Reagan, in 1981.
"The people walking in there buying and selling guns are kind of
scary," adds Mr. Shanks, a retired police officer. "They are gang
members, people who look like gang members, organized criminals and
kids." And if you buy from someone like Mr. Cadden, you can be just
out of prison, under a restraining order for domestic violence or
planning to smuggle it into Canada -- and still walk out of the show
armed to the teeth.
Because of the loophole allowing private purchases with no strings
attached, firearms bought at shows often end up north of the border
-- something that Canada's Criminal Intelligence Service has called
"a serious threat" to this country's continuing effort to control
In January, two men from Washington State received long prison
sentences after pleading guilty to smuggling guns, most of them
bought at shows, into British Columbia in return for marijuana,
ecstasy and cocaine.
And just last month, Mark Nelson, a former policeman from Columbus,
Ohio, was sentenced to 10 years after he and members of his family
illegally bought more than 500 weapons and then sold them at shows,
in hotel rooms or out of the trunks of their cars.
Several of the guns have been traced to violent incidents, including
a Raven .25-calibre pistol used in a Brooklyn, N.Y., shooting and a
Ruger 9 handgun discovered on a man charged with crack possession in
Another of the guns, a loaded Taurus PT-111 pistol, was found
strapped to the body of Mohammed Dirie, a Somali-Canadian arrested
with his friend Yasim Mohamed as they tried to cross the Peace Bridge
at Buffalo back into Canada in August, 2005. Agents also found a
second pistol on Mr. Dirie as well as an ammunition clip and bullets.
His companion was found with a gun under his waistband.
The two were sentenced to two years in prison for gun smuggling.
Then, last June, they and 15 others were charged with taking part in
an alleged Islamic plot to attack public buildings in Toronto and
import weapons for terrorist purposes.
Yet Mr. Cadden doesn't believe there is a gun-show loophole. "Any
sportsman knows where he can sell a gun. I probably know 50 or 75
people I could sell a gun to by just calling them up on the phone,"
he says. "I've travelled from Louisiana to New Jersey, and in any of
those states I could buy a trunk load of guns without going to a gun
He's probably right. A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms (ATF) just laughed when asked how many guns are now in
private hands, calling it "an impossible figure." But Philip J. Cook,
an economist and professor of public policy at Duke University,
estimates the total at about 250 million, with at least one weapon in
one-third of all U.S. households.
However, says Prof. Cook, even though the number of guns is steadily
rising, the firepower is being concentrated as more women become
heads of households. They are far less likely to bear arms.
It's impossible to say if there are any criminals or angry former
husbands trolling the aisles of C & E Dixie, but it's certainly
crowded with gun lovers. Organizers expect about 5,000 visitors to
pay $7 a head to attend; admission is free to new NRA members.
"We do between 60 and 70 shows a year," says organizer Steve Elliott.
"The first quarter is usually the busiest time. They aren't out
hunting -- and I guess there's tax refunds as well."
A little extra money comes in handy for such impulse buys as a
tear-gas launcher or the Russian-made SKS semi-automatic rifle one
patron is carrying around with a "For Sale" sign stuck in its barrel.
The event is being held at The Showplace, a poor man's exhibition
centre located in a grimy former discount store in suburban Richmond.
It's the kind of place where people gather on other weekends to swap
baseball cards or search for bargain antiques.
But today there are rows and rows of tables -- almost 700 in all,
rented out at $60 apiece -- stacked with every kind of handgun,
rifle, holster and ammunition available. There are bayonets, pieces
of Nazi memorabilia, "gang-banger" semi-automatic machine pistols,
walk-in gun-storage vaults and tiny, bubble-gum-pink .22 calibre
rifles for pre-teen girls.
The parking lot is jammed with pickups sporting "We Support Our
Troops" bumper stickers. Inside, the crowd is dominated by paunchy
middle-aged men, but there are also many women and even some families
with small children.
At the entrance, the NRA and more extreme groups, such as the
Virginia Citizens Defense League, which calls the bearing of arms "a
fundamental human right," are pitching their views and signing up new
"We strongly believe that every human being has the right to defend
themselves," says Leonard Harris, a 34-year-old website developer
who's manning the Libertarian Party's table.
Mr. Harris is packing a Kahr P9 semi-automatic handgun, which he is
wearing on his ample hip. He explains that he doesn't conceal his gun
because it's too uncomfortable to hide it under his clothes.
The Libertarians claim theirs is the only party that opposes any
restrictions on gun ownership, including any form of gun
registration, waiting periods and taxes. "We know that guns are not
the cause of America's rising tide of violence," reads a party
pamphlet. "In fact, they are one of the solutions. We believe that an
armed society is a polite society."
Mr. Harris says only the Libertarian Party has enough nerve to turn
up regularly at gun shows. "Republicans will show up close to
elections if they're desperate for votes. Democrats, since they're
anti-gun, don't usually get a good reception here."
Kim Barton has come to the show with her boyfriend. Despite what
Prof. Cook says about women and guns, she's in the market for a new
pistol as well as a leather handbag with a secret compartment in
which to hide it. The 40-year-old financial analyst has a permit from
the State of Virginia that allows her to conceal her handgun rather
than being forced to carry it in the open.
The long-haired Ms. Barton says she needs to be armed. "I'm not very
big at all," and carrying a gun "means I can sleep well at night and
I can move about during the day with a little more security."
Does she consider Richmond a particularly dangerous city? "Anywhere
is dangerous . . . It takes 15 seconds for somebody to cross a room
and kill you and 10 minutes for the police to get there."
She doesn't accept the idea that it's better to avoid a confrontation
and simply hand over whatever a robber wants. "What if they want to
rape me or beat me up? And if they rape me and they're infected with
something, it's potentially a death sentence."
She spots a Smith & Wesson revolver and gets the feel of it in her
hand. "I would use it for home defence but it's a little bit of
overkill. It's a .44 but a .357 would do the trick." She mulls buying
a semi-automatic but worries about what would happen if it jammed
just when she needed it. "I may not have the strength to fix a jam --
but with a revolver, I just go to the next chamber."
Even in gun-loving Virginia, Ms. Barton complains, not everybody
appreciates the value of a firearm, including her employer. "I can't
take a gun to work. They don't allow it in the building, and it gets
me very upset. I can't even keep it in my vehicle on company
property. If I had a car breakdown, I'd like to have one available."
But for her, owning a gun is more than just a matter of
self-protection. She loves the social scene, including the people she
meets at the shooting range. "It's a fun hobby. A lot of very nice
people are involved in it. And I enjoy learning about these kinds of
Her boyfriend, an engineer named Joe Ligon, says that he doesn't see
the point of controls like those adopted by most industrialized
countries, including Canada, because they offer no guarantee.
"In the U.K., they banned handguns, and a guy went into a church
armed with a sword," he explains, referring to a 1999 incident in
which a naked 26-year-old Londoner burst into a Catholic church and
slashed 11 worshippers with a samurai sword, injuring four
critically. A court later ordered him detained indefinitely due to
Chet Szymecki agrees with Mr. Ligon. The 39-year-old project manager
from nearby Yorktown, Va., believes in being ready if a gunfight
should break out at the mall or he is threatened by a bad guy when
pumping gas. "The only way to stop a crime," he says, "is to meet it
with equal or greater force."
Except perhaps when he's in the shower, Mr. Szymecki carries a gun
everywhere -- although, like all visitors to the Dixie show, he has
had to have it disabled at the door with the help of two local
policemen. (One of the cops, Wayne Lloyd, is trying to sell a
Remington 12-gauge shotgun, which he has displayed alongside the pink
plastic ties he is using to disable the guns. "I've got the box and
everything for it in the car." Asking price: $550.)
"If I'm out mowing the grass, I've got a firearm on my hip," Mr.
Szymecki says. "If I'm changing the oil on my wife's Suburban, I've
got a firearm on my hip."
He is so accustomed to carrying a hidden gun that he avoids driving
through jurisdictions such as Maryland because it has stricter gun
laws and doesn't permit concealed weapons.
Although he grew up in Erie, Pa., not far from the Ontario border,
"unfortunately, I can no longer visit Canada," he says, arguing that
the Canadian ban on handguns means he can't protect his wife and
children north of the border. U.S. visitors can bring rifles if they
are on a hunting trip but, except for competitions, handguns have
long been outlawed.
Gun-lovers such as the NRA contend that there should be no
restrictions on individual gun ownership because of the
Constitution's Second Amendment, which was passed shortly after the
country gained independence and reads:
"A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free
state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be
Gun-control advocates insist that the amendment was passed to protect
the collective rights of states to maintain armed militias, but the
NRA believes it guards the gun-owning right of individual Americans,
an approach the courts have, until now, been reluctant to back. But
two weeks ago, gun advocates were given a huge boost when an appeals
court struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handgun
possession in private homes, citing the Second Amendment.
The NRA greeted the decision as a major victory, but Washington Mayor
Adrian Fenty says the ruling has hurt efforts by the District to
reduce its high rate of gun violence. He vows to do "everything in
our power to get this decision overturned," and the case is expected
to go the U.S. Supreme Court, which hasn't ruled on the Second
Amendment in almost 70 years.
Mr. Szymecki fully embraces the view that self-protection is the only
way to safeguard personal security. He likens his gun to the seat
belt in his car, saying: "The fact is that crime has always been
around . . . I'd rather have a gun and not need it, than need and not
In the hope of developing a love and respect for guns among his
children, who are 13, 11 and 9, Mr. Szymecki takes them frequently to
the shooting range and recently bought an assembly kit for an AR-15,
the civilian version of the M16 semi-automatic rifle that's standard
issue for U.S. infantry in Iraq and elsewhere.
"We assembled it on the dining-room table," he says.
Justin Krauss is surrounded by piles of ammunition -- projectiles of
all shapes and sizes imported from Russia, Serbia and Argentina,
wherever the price is cheapest. For the ecologically minded, there
are even some lead-free bullets that were made in Canada.
Every Friday, the 24-year-old Mr. Krauss loads a van at his
employer's headquarters in Ohio and heads out on the gun-show
circuit. "I'll do 40 shows a year," he says. "`I like shooting,
myself, and I like talking to people about what's new."
Working on commission, he sells anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000
worth of shells in a weekend. "If we go to a big machine-gun shoot,
those guys will eat up a lot of ammo. Some guys are shooting 600 to
800 rounds a minute at 25 cents a round."
What's his biggest offering? He reaches for a yellow-tipped
.50-calibre cartridge, a lethal-looking shell the size of a ballpoint
pen. Patrons looking to put this one to use need only visit the
nearby display of Rabbit Ridge Enterprises, a licensed gun dealer
where pride of place is reserved for a Barrett .50-calibre,
single-shot sniper's rifle. A favourite of U.S. forces in Afghanistan
and Iraq, the weapon can rip through tank armour or knock down an
aircraft from a distance of 2,000 yards -- almost two kilometres.
Owning a Barrett will set you back a cool $3,999. "It's a beautiful
weapon," a salesman gushes.
The easy availability of such a powerful firearm frightens
gun-control advocates such as Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center.
"It's easier to buy a .50-calibre, anti-armour sniper rifle than it
is to buy a handgun," he says. "Just imagine the potential targets
that the rifle is capable of defeating, from helicopters to landing
and taxiing jets and tanks full of toxic chemicals." Some fans use
the Barrett for long-range target shooting at special ranges. A
favourite activity: blowing up propane tanks.
Gun shows came under special scrutiny after the 1999 Columbine High
School shootings in Colorado when 12 students, a teacher and the two
shooters were killed, with another 23 people wounded. It turned out
that the student perpetrators, who were both minors, had acquired
three of their guns from a private vendor at a gun show with the help
of an 18-year-old friend.
On the heels of Columbine, the U.S. Senate passed legislation
requiring background checks for all sales at gun shows, but that
measure attracted the ire of the NRA and failed to pass in the House
"You can forget about any meaningful gun control in a Republican
Congress," says Kristin Rand, legislative co-ordinator at the
Violence Policy Center. Because shows make buying so easy, she
contends, licensed dealers are encouraged to ignore the law and
either keep certain weapons off the books or sell to friends of
people not allowed to buy. "It's an atmosphere that encourages
In 2004 and 2005, agents from the ATF, along with state and local
police, descended in large numbers on gun shows in the Richmond area
after discovering that 400 guns bought at the shows had been involved
Tracking sales, the agents found that buyer use of false addresses
was rampant, but gun aficionados objected to the operation, and a
congressional hearing was called to examine the exercise of such
Organizer Steve Elliott says he doesn't believe that events like his
Dixie show are a problem. "We don't draw a big crowd of undesirables.
Crime guns don't come from gun shows or pawn shops. They come from
family and friends and other means. It's much easier for a criminal
to buy a stolen gun than to go here and go through a background
check," he says, overlooking the fact that such checks aren't
required when buying from private sellers.
According to Mr. Elliott, "it's perfectly legal for somebody to
dispose of his own private property. I've got 150 or so guns, and I'm
not in the business of buying and selling guns. But when I get ready
to sell, I'm going to sell them here or somewhere else."
Given attitudes like that of Mr. Elliiott, gun-control advocates are
pessimistic than much will change soon. "The NRA has millions of
dollars and a huge grassroots army of people who will fight the
slightest tightening of the laws," says Ms. Rand. "Our side can't
"The NRA consistently pushes the idea that, if you allow any
restrictions on guns, the ultimate aim is to confiscate all guns.
They are completely paranoid."
As for Mr. Cadden, he has no pangs of conscience about possibly
placing a lethal weapon in the hands of somebody who may decide to
shoot up his neighbourhood or slaughter his family.
"If your daddy kicked you around when you were a kid and you're going
to buy a gun and kill somebody, that's not my problem."
Do you think Ms. Rand mistakenly gave up a little too much information here? Perhaps, as the gun grabbers say, they don't have the majority of America behind them?????