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The 56th annual Bel Air Gun Show was held at the the Bel Air Armory. Many in the crowd seemed most intersted in home and self-defense weapons according to several vendors. (Bryna Zumer, Baltimore Sun Media Group video)

Firearms dealer Bill Murphy, who runs Talbot Arms, in Sherwood, Talbot County, was a first-time vendor at this weekend's 56th annual Bel Air Gun Show at the Bel Air Armory, and said he'll definitely be returning.

He and several other vendors said many of the estimated 3,000-plus visitors who strolled the crowded armory floor from Friday night through Sunday afternoon were particularly interested in home and self-defense weapons, handguns or shotguns, not just firearms for hunting or target shooting.

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"Most of what I have been selling recently is for self-defense or home defense," Murphy said Sunday, as two women peppered him with questions about some small guns in his display case.

"That's a big change, too, is more women," Murphy observed, explaining at least 50 percent of customers were women.

"I'm glad," he continued, "because it's a pretty known fact that people who protect themselves don't get bothered as much as people that don't."

"It's been a great show," he said.

The 105 tables filling armory floor were staffed by about 40 vendors, including newcomers like Murphy and many who have been coming to the show for decades to offer people everything from shotguns, rifles and handguns to hunting gear and antique firearms.

Jess Bays, with J&K Associates Inc., based on Route 40 in Havre de Grace, echoed Murphy's views. J&K has been a vendor at the show for about 30 years.

"This is probably the best turnout we've ever had," Bays said. "It's been a good show, lot of excitement about buying guns right now, trying to please the public."

Bays said Saturday was "extremely busy" and Super Bowl Sunday also saw "a great turnout."

"A lot of people are looking for home defense and also firearms they may not be able to get in the future," Bays said. "That's changed in the last two or three years, yes it has. I've seen a big difference."

J&K does about five shows each year, "mostly local between Harford and Baltimore County," and Bays agreed with Murphy that more women seem interested in guns.

"There's quite a few more women who are looking for home-defense firearms. I guess they feel like in the future they won't be able to get them," he said.

Warren Smith, of Linthicum, said he is a retiree who represents the "prepper" community, focused on survivalist planning for a doomsday scenario. He was offering gear in line with that.

"Compared to the Timonium and Howard County [shows], this is one of the best shows around and people here are more gun-oriented and more outdoorsy," he said, explaining that he grew up on a farm where a firearm was a tool to keep predators and nuisance wildlife away.

Smith said he divides the world into people who like guns and those who don't.

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"If you live in a rural area and you have to protect your food, you like guns," he said.

He was posted next to Larry Simpkins, owner of Bel Air's Francis Bannerman Son, which offers antique U.S. military goods.

"The crowds were great. We had a lot of people Friday night," Simpkins said. "The economy hasn't restored itself, so not everyone has thousands of dollars in their pocket, but they are looking and they are interested."

The onset of Super Bowl 50 didn't seem to put any damper on attendance at the show, which is traditionally held over the first weekend in February and is older than the big game, anyway.

"This is actually our biggest fundraiser of the year," Mike Horsmon, who co-chairs the event with Jim Lagan on behalf of the show's organizer and principal sponsor, the Harford Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, the internationally known conservation organization.

The league, which is based on eight acres in Abingdon and owns the 350-acre Bosley Conservancy in Edgewood, promotes conservation and outdoors education, including hunting safety.

The gun show "allows us to fund five $1,000 scholarships for local high school students," Horsmon said. "The show this year is going very well. We've had a lot of interest."

The show was especially packed Friday night, Horsmon and others reported, but a steady stream of visitors continued to come through even as the show prepared to wrap up Sunday.

"Everyone's like, 'Oh, it's Super Bowl Sunday, but we end at 3 p.m., so, plenty of time to come and check out the gun show and see the Super Bowl later on," Horsmon noted with a smile.

Murphy, the Talbot County dealer, was impressed by both the event and the town of Bel Air, which he saw for the first time after driving up from the Eastern Shore for the weekend.

"This is the first time I have done this show and I have already signed up for the next one," said Murphy, who does about two shows monthly.

He said the show's sponsors were very helpful, and he also was impressed that plenty of people were still strolling the aisles Sunday afternoon.

"It's more people than I ever thought would be here," he said.

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