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Support for Trump, the Second Amendment on display at 57th Annual Bel Air Gun Show

Curt Howard of the Izaak Walton League of America talks about how the annual Bel Air Gun Show helps the local IWL chapter. (David Anderson / The Aegis)

Gordon Williams wore a camouflage baseball cap, bearing the "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan of President Donald Trump, as he sold long guns, knives and sporting equipment Saturday at the 57th Annual Bel Air Gun Show.

"I'll bet you 99 people out of 100 here are [Trump supporters]," Williams, a Churchville resident, said, indicating the vendors and buyers spread over the gymnasium floor of the Bel Air Armory for the second day of the three-day show.

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The Republican Trump took 58 percent of the Harford County vote in last year's presidential election, not a surprise in a solidly conservative county where most local elected officials are Republicans.

Defending the Second Amendment right of Americans to keep and bear firearms is a big part of that conservative ethos.

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The annual gun show is a fundraiser for the Harford County chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, a nonprofit conservation organization, and visitors can purchase knives and gear for outdoor recreation as well as handguns, rifles and shotguns.

In recent year, the show has also been an indicator of the concerns of gun buyers and sellers in a state that has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. The show opened Friday and will close Sunday afternoon.

"There's no reason why a legal citizen with no [criminal] record shouldn't be able to protect himself," said Williams, who was taking part in his fourth year as a vendor at the show. He was selling pieces of his personal collection, including hunting rifles and ammunition, but he did not have the required state permit to sell handguns.

Maryland law requires background checks before purchasing a handgun at a gun show. Vendors can, however, perform those checks for buyers on site.

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Williams is a member of Maryland Shall Issue, a volunteer group that advocates for state laws allowing Marylanders to carry concealed firearms.

"People in businesses, people that are law-abiding citizens, that's your Second Amendment right – that's the way I look at it," Williams said.

Mike Horsmon, the president of the Harford County chapter of the Izaak Walton League and the co-chair of the gun show, said there hadn't been "a sense of urgency" among prospective gun buyers Friday and Saturday that he had noticed in past years.

Americans expressed concerns during the recently-ended presidency of Democrat Barack Obama that the federal government could confiscate citizens' guns – which did not happen under Obama, although he did push for stricter federal gun control laws following multiple mass shootings. People feared more anti-gun policies if Trump's Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, became president.

"If the election had gone the other way, maybe there would be a sense of urgency," Horsmon said.

He said the attendance seemed to be "on par" with the attendance in prior years – about 1,700 attended the three-day show last year.

"The vendors have all said they they're doing good business, so they're very happy," Horsmon said.

Horsmon said about 480 to 500 people attended Friday. The show is open Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, and students age 14 and under can get in free.

Proceeds from the show support the Izaak Walton League's scholarship program, through which five Harford County high school students each receive a $1,000 scholarship if they are studying environmental science in college. Proceeds also the League's local conservation projects.

Horsmon said the League has "long-standing community support, so we try to give back as best we can."

Alan Pfau, of Elkton, is the owner and lead instructor for the Peacock Training Institute, which offers firearms training courses.

The Army veteran, who was an infantryman and later a firearms instructor, was encouraging people to sign up to train for either a Maryland Handgun Qualification License or the Utah non-resident concealed carry permit – holders of the latter permit can carry a concealed weapon in multiple states, although not Maryland.

Maryland residents must obtain an HQL to "purchase, rent, or receive a handgun," according to a Maryland State Police web page on the license.

"I still see an urgency for both classes," Pfau said.

He said he disagrees with requirements such as background checks, and their associated costs, before buying a handgun, but he does support training.

"Before you do anything with firearms, it's always about safety," Pfau said.

Darlington resident Donald Blackmon Jr., who visited the show with his wife, 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, was looking for a small-caliber handgun that his children could use for self defense.

As a gun owner, he stresses proper safety and keeps his firearms locked up.

"They know how to respect the weapon," Blackmon said of his children. "They understand what to do and what not to do."

He also wants his children to be able to defend themselves if they are home alone, hence the need for a small-caliber weapon they can practice with at a firing range.

Blackmon said he supports concealed carry "100 percent."

"The thing is, would you mess with somebody when you don't know what they're carrying?" he noted.

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