As gun control talks heat up in Washington, more than 1,000 people lined up Saturday morning outside the exhibit hall at Jim Miller Park in Cobb County for the Eastman Gun Show.
Many hoped to walk away with assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines they fear may soon be outlawed.
“This is awesome,” said Kevin Law, a gun enthusiast and surveyor from Woodstock. He attended the show with his brother Keith Law. “We knew it was going to be like this. People want to protect their rights.”
Like many in line in the freezing temperatures, the Law brothers had planned to attend the show before the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 claimed the lives of 26 people, most of them children. The rampage revived gun control talks on Capitol Hill.
But the shifting political landscape had those in the Cobb County line bracing against more than just the cold.
“This happens every time Obama gets on the television,” said Jeff Crisp, a knife vendor at the show. President Barack Obama said his administration has received an outpouring of support for stricter gun laws since the shootings and he plans to offer proposals in January.
Crisp, whose wares were not in as high demand Saturday, said popular AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and the ammo that goes with them were going to disappear faster than the crowd.
Early attendees left the show wheeling cases of ammunition, while individual gun owners worked the long line arranging private sales of assault-style weapons.
To a man — and to an occasional woman — the crowd dismissed calls for stricter gun laws as wrong-headed.
“If they are going to commit a crime, they will find a way to get a weapon to commit a crime. The only thing they are doing is disarming the law-abiding citizens,” said Scott Burt of Paulding County.
Apart from the shows, gun shops around the nation have been swamped with customers seeking to get a jump on a feared federal crackdown. Scott Austin, owner of Tucker Gun, a shop on U.S. 29 in Tucker, called it “the apocalypse of gun control.”
“You’ve got nothing to lose now. The Democrats always want to take your guns,” he said.
Austin, who stocks assault-style weapons and owns one himself, said he does not see the need for such a weapon, but that’s not the point.
“We don’t need the government telling us we don’t need them,” he said. “This is America. You buy what you want.”
But Austin said there are some restrictions even he could live with, such as closing the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows individuals who are not licensed dealers to exchange guns without any paperwork or a criminal background check.
“I’ve been saying that needs to go for 20 years,” he said. “If they did away with gun shows altogether it wouldn’t bother me. Then they’d have to come to me.”
With few exceptions, Georgia gun owners do not have to register their weapons, but they do have to get a license if they intend to carry a handgun. From 2002 through last year, probate court judges issued nearly 730,000 such licenses, with demand peaking at 101,684 licenses in 2008.
Flags flew at half-staff in recognition of the Newtown shootings, but those in line were firm that restricting legal access to high-powered weapons and oversized magazines would not have saved the victims.
“It’s godawful what happened, but it wasn’t the gun’s fault,” Burt said. “God forbid, we should infringe the rights of some sick individual, but to penalize all the law-abiding citizens? We’ve got to pay the penalty for it? That’s not right.”
Obama has tasked Vice President Joe Biden with overseeing administration efforts to curb gun violence. The president has not outlined any specific measures.
On Friday, National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre responded by calling for every school in America to be protected by armed guards.
Groups that advocate gun control, such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, denounced the NRA’s statements and urged Congress to enact new restrictions. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is one of a dozen Georgia mayors who are part of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition.
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