In Tucson, thousands attend gun show one week after mass shooting
Saturday, January 15, 2011; 11:16 PM
TUCSON - At the "Crossroads of the West" gun show Saturday, University of Arizona junior Kiely Katz opened her plaid Burberry shoulder bag, took out a wallet shaped like a Japanese animated cat and plunked down her credit card for a $549 Glock 31 semiautomatic handgun.
"I've been wanting one for a while; I've been shooting since I was little," Katz, 21, told Steve Zacher of Glockmeister, a gun dealership in Mesa, Ariz. The company's slogan - Got Glock? (the question mark replaced by a gun barrel) - was written on the display case near "Team Glock" baseball caps.
Katz was among the thousands of patrons who streamed into the Pima County Fairgrounds, a 10-mile drive southeast of Tucson, exactly one week after 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner allegedly opened fire on a crowd outside a Tucson grocery store, killing six and wounding 13. He allegedly used a semiautomatic Glock 19.
The rampage has reignited the national debate about gun laws. Critics have called for stiffer regulations, while gun rights defenders counter that the shooter was an outlier whose reckless behavior should not restrict responsible firearm owners.
"The events at the Safeway store were tragic and unprecedented, but they weren't about lawful gun ownership," said Bob Templeton, the president of Crossroads. "It was about a mentally ill person who gained access to a firearm he shouldn't have."
Although the timing of the Tucson gun show was "unfortunate," he said, organizers decided after speaking with county officials and the dealers that the show should go on. They held a moment of silence and Templeton told the crowd: "As we contemplate the tragic events of a week ago, our hearts go out to the people impacted."
Organizers put out a donation box to collect money for the victims' families.
Templeton organizes 35 shows a year in four states - Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah - and he estimates that 600,000 people attended his events last year. At the fairgrounds, 200 dealers with names including Guntec USA and Desert Tactical displayed their wares: guns, rifles, knives, crossbows, magazines, bullets, body armor, camouflage, holsters, scopes, targets and more. Loaded weapons were not allowed.
At the Glockmeister booth, Zacher and another employee served a steady flow of customers inspecting more than a dozen Glock models. Ben Purich, 28, a former Army medic, walked away with a Glock 19. He said that he and his girlfriend often do outdoor activities in remote desert locations and that he needs a weapon for protection.
"It takes a special person, and by special I mean an absolute whack-job, to cross that line," he said of the Tucson shooter's actions. "People need to be responsible with it. I have a 3-year-old son, and I will keep it locked in a biometric safe in my house."
Federal gun-buying laws have been blamed by authorities for leading to movement of guns to convicted felons and other prohibited purchasers. Although patrons must fill out paperwork and be cleared through an FBI database to buy a gun from a registered dealer, ordinary residents are allowed to sell guns to one another at gun shows without any background checks.
Dozens of men toted rifles with neon-colored for-sale signs advertising the models and specifications.
Templeton said undercover FBI and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regularly attend gun shows looking for illegal sales to non-U.S. citizens.
For Katz, who already owned a Remington 870 shotgun and a Wesson .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver she sometimes carries around town, buying the Glock was a natural progression. She has been target shooting since she was 15, after being introduced to the sport by her stepfather in Westchester, N.Y.
"It is a very strong gun," Katz, who is 5 feet 4 and 125 pounds, said of the Glock in an interview. "I'm a little scared. It's definitely a lot harder than my .38."
A few months back, a man with a gun robbed a fast-food restaurant that was two doors from a Starbucks where an armed Katz was buying coffee.
"Everyone was freaking out, in a panic," she said. "But I was pretty - you know, I felt like if something had come up, if something had happened, I would have shot through my pocketbook" at the gunman.
Of the Tucson shooter, Katz added: "I feel like maybe there should be more of a psychological evaluation done before you get a gun. But honestly, let's face facts: It wasn't political; the guy was just insane."