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Bel Air Gun Show draws steady crush of buyers, visitors of all ages

Personal Weapon ControlFirearmsGun ControlInterior PolicyLaws and Legislation

As people of all ages made their way between the exhibit tables, passing through crowds with barely any elbow room, vendors of firearms, knives, collectible and antique weapons and outdoor gear pitched their wares on the floor of the Bel Air Reckord Armory.

By Saturday afternoon, about 1,200 people, some from as far away as Western Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, had visited the 54th annual Bel Air Gun Show at the armory.

The three-day show, which began Friday evening , is sponsored by the Harford County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, a nationwide nonprofit organization that promotes conservation and outdoor recreation.

In recent years the show has taken off to another level, largely because of the gun rights and gun control debate that tends to escalate with each new public shooting incident, such as the one just week earlier at the Mall in Columbia in Howard County, where two mall workers and the shooter died.

Many of those who come to the show in Bel Air are hunters or competitive shooters. While they overwhelmingly support Second Amendment rights and aren't bashful about giving their views about so-called government gun grabs, most of those attending the show Saturday seemed more interested in looking over what was for sale or talking about hunting, rather than engaging political rhetoric.

"It seems to be doing pretty good," show chainman Jim Lagan said. "They're coming in here; [we'll] see what happens [later] today."

Mike Horsmon, who represents the Harford County Izaak Walton chapter at the state level, said about 340 people attended Friday and 860 came had through by around 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The show opened Saturday at 9 a.m.

Harford County Executive David Craig, who is running for governor of Maryland, was walking through the show around 11:15 a.m., speaking with people at the different exhibits. He appeared to be the only politician in the building.

Some of the vendor exhibits were set up by firearms retailers, while others were manned by vendors who mainly sell through shows similar to Bel Air's.

A number of families walked through the aisles, including a man carrying a small child, and many fathers and their older children tried out the array of rifles and shotguns that were stacked high on racks.

Jake Dow, 10, of Bel Air, stood next to his father, Donald, as he handled a black muzzleloading hunting rifle with a scope on top.

"It's nice to compare prices, and you can see what's available," Donald Dow said. "If you don't want to buy today you can go back to the shop."

Dow said he hunts deer, turkey, "pretty much everything."

He said his son is interested in the AR-15 semiautomatic rifles on display, and noted his primary interest was in the knives.

Jake said he likes to "carve and whittle."

Some tables were laden with handguns, and many visitors stopped to look at them.

Vendors had federal firearms license paperwork at their tables for buyers to fill out before they could purchase a firearm.

"Everything is legal, just like when you go to a gun shop," Lagan said.

Once the paperwork was completed, vendors then had to report the information to the Maryland State Police for approval before the sale was finalized and the buyer could walk out with a firearm.

"Everything is legal going out of here," Lagan said.

Craig Antley, of York County, Pa., who came to the show Saturday with his wife, Faith, said his father would regularly take him to gun shows as a child.

"If I see one I have to go," Antley, a Harford County native, said. "You just kind of stop in and check everything out."

He said "it would take something pretty spectacular" for him to consider a purchase, however.

He noted Pennsylvania's gun laws are not as strict as those in Maryland, where more controls on assault type rifles and possession, transport and sale of firearms were passed last year in the wake of the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in late 2012.

Provisions of the 2013 Maryland law, which took effect Oct. 1, include limiting firearms magazine capacities to 10 rounds and requiring state residents to get a Handgun Qualification License before they can purchase, rent or receive a handgun.

Antley noted he would have to get any firearm he purchased at the Bel Air Gun Show registered in Pennsylvania.

Faith Antley said her interest in the guns was not as great as her husband's.

"I'm just here for the company," she said.

Glenn Smit of Wolf's Knives in Aberdeen had an array of knives on display in glass cases.

Smit said he has been a vendor at the gun show for about 15 years, and sales are usually solid, but things had been slow for him Saturday morning.

"Sales haven't been real good, but I've been doing a lot of sharpening," he said.

The gun show is a major fundraiser for the Izaak Walton League's Harford chapter.

Ron Hill, chapter treasurer, said five $1,000 college scholarships are given out each year to Harford County public and private high school seniors. He said the chapter has distributed about $54,000 in scholarships since the early 1990s.

"That's what most of this gun show funds, is the scholarships," Lee Single, chapter president, explained.

Single said chapter officials are also putting together a youth shooting team and said any leftover Gun Show proceeds not put toward scholarships will support that team.

"This is pretty much our biggest fundraiser of the year, and we appreciate everybody that comes out to it," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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