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Ryan Johnson, Published January 05 2013

Fargo gun show busy, but no landslide

FARGO – Attendance was up Saturday at a 36th annual gun show here, but event manager Bill Braun said there wasn’t the “landslide” of enthusiasts some gun shows and stores around the country have seen in the weeks since the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“Fargo is a good, conservative city,” he said. “People up here are pretty realistic about things, and we don’t make a big deal out of what is, of course, a tragedy.”

He said more than 2,600 people had stopped by the Civic Center show by 3 p.m. on its first day, putting the event on pace to break its usual attendance of about 3,000 over the course of two days.

But Braun, as well as many of the attendees and 150 dealers on hand for the show, said there is plenty of concern that the Sandy Hook shootings that left 27 people dead could prompt politicians to crack down on guns, restricting access or outlawing certain models or ammunition as the country tries to deal with the tragedy.

“I think the concern is that it’s not the weapon that’s at fault; it’s the person that’s at fault,” said Mark Skansgaard, a Moorhead resident who likes to visit the annual gun show here to get hunting ammo at a discounted price. “The gun is just a tool.”

Watertown, S.D., resident Bob Lee and his wife, Lori, follow the Dakota Territory Gun Collectors group to sell merchandise at the 14 shows around North Dakota and South Dakota each year. He said turnout was good Saturday, and he was having a busy day selling to the customers making their way through the event’s 500 or so tables of merchandise ranging from guns and ammo to knives, furs, food and other goods.

But Lee said it seemed like people were just buying the things they “absolutely need” and weren’t stocking up in case gun laws are changed, a trend that some sellers around the country have reported since Sandy Hook became a household conversation.

“People around here, they use it for their hunting and target shooting and things that they need to do,” he said.

Still, Lee said the topic of gun control seems to “resurface” whenever there’s a bad accident or tragedy involving firearms.

Ernie Bakke, who was selling a few dozen guns from his personal collection on Saturday, said hunters, target shooters and gun enthusiasts are concerned now because they don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming months.

“Anytime there’s a disaster or unfortunate incident, there’s people that want to take advantage of that and pass more laws, as if more laws solve any kind of problem,” he said. “The people who are breaking laws are lawbreakers, so why pass more laws for lawbreakers?”

Bakke said the cities with the most restrictive gun laws – Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles – also have some of the country’s highest rates of murder and violent crime.

“It has no effect on the criminal because a criminal, by definition, breaks laws,” he said. “What it does do is affect people who like guns because they like to shoot them or they like to collect them or some people who feel they need self-defense.”

Fargo resident Joan Dockter, a hunter and shooter for most of her life, said she’s also concerned about possible changes to gun laws. Still, she said there’s room for leaders to look at gun issues and make adjustments, if necessary – as long as they don’t overdo it.

“Not allowing our country to have the freedom to have a weapon is not a good idea,” she said.

Mike Pella, who was at Saturday’s gun show looking for older Colt revolvers, said everybody connected to guns is worried about what might happen. But much of the tough talk from politicians could be political posturing similar to what officials have done after other tragedies, he said.

“I think it’s the same as in the past,” he said. “You’re always going to deal with the Second Amendment, and that’s the right to bear arms. That’s going to be pretty tough to change in my view.”

The Dakota Territory Gun Collectors show will continue today at the Civic Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children 12 and under.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587