TAMPA, Fla. — The lines stretched out the door this weekend at a gun show in Tampa, Fla., as thousands of potential buyers and the merely curious waited for their turn to browse booths stocked with the latest firearms, ammunition, customizable holsters and patriotic paraphernalia.
Inside, parents pushed their babies in strollers past T-shirts emblazoned with phrases like “I study triggernometry.” A nonprofit group in one booth was raffling off a rifle to raise money to battle child and animal abuse. On large signs by the entrance, the National Rifle Association was offering refunds on the $11 admission if shoppers signed up for a membership. Outside, Girl Scouts were selling cookies.
But the deadly mass shooting a couple of hundred miles away at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School cast its shadow. Both buyers and sellers were talking about the attack, as well as about the divisive debate that it had recently reignited.
And there, on many tables, were racks of AR-15s — variations of the hugely popular semiautomatic rifle used by the 19-year-old Parkland gunman.
Several sellers said they were on track to double their normal sales for a weekend. “It’s sad to say, but whenever there’s a shooting, business only goes up because people are afraid of losing their right to own a certain weapon,” said Quaidman Woody, who was running a booth with his father, a sales representative for CrossHeirs. “So even if they don’t need another AR, they’ll buy another AR or pieces of it.”
In the packed exhibition hall, attitudes toward firearms laws were far from monolithic.
Kathy Fox, who was helping at a booth with collectible Winchester rifles exhibited upright on a turntable, said she was pleased that Representative Brian Mast, a Republican and Army veteran, who represents her district in Florida, had called for a ban on future sales of tactical rifles.
But she added that “there’s nothing wrong with guns” and that “there are nuts everywhere.”
“Everyone has a different perspective, a different outlook,” she said of her fellow show participants. “It’s not that they’re bad people.”
The gun show was one of more than 40 around the country scheduled for this past weekend. Most were in the Midwest and South.
A common refrain among buyers and sellers at the Tampa show was not to blame guns in the Parkland shooting. Instead, they argued, crack down on violent video games. Fix broken families. Bolster mental health screenings. Rely less on government protection.
“We’ve lost our perspective on what’s really happening,” said Scott Rollf, who owns a company called 22mods4all. He said customer concerns about potential legal limits on guns had perked up sales after a decline in demand in recent months led him to reduce prices.
Mr. Rollf said he approved of Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to raise the minimum age in Florida to buy firearms to 21 from 18.
He was also fine with banning so-called bump stocks and other attachments that increase firing speeds, which he views as “useless” for hunting and unsafe in other applications.
Last week, President Trump, an avowed “champion” of gun owners, ordered the Justice Department to issue regulations on bump stocks, which were used in the massacre of concertgoers in Las Vegas last October.
Calls for gun control have intensified since the Parkland shooting, propelled by the students who survived the Feb. 14 attack and by a fast-moving boycott effort that led major companies like United Airlines and the Enterprise car rental business to cut ties with the N.R.A.
Florida Gun Shows, which organized the Tampa event, canceled its Fort Lauderdale gathering next month at the request of Mayor Jack Seiler.
Norman Carolino, who was selling body armor at the Tampa show, called the scrapped plans a disservice to people looking for protection. He said most of his sales on Saturday were to teachers, school administrators and “parents who are scared to death.”
“I’m wiped out of everything,” he said. “There are parents in here who’ve never seen the inside of a gun show.”
Juanita Stafford and her husband, Tommy, bought bullet-resistant backpack plates for their eight school-age grandchildren in Florida and Alabama. They received a bulk discount off the $199 price a pad.
“We don’t want to be the people going to funerals and saying coulda, woulda, shoulda,” she said. “We’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
Nearby, rows of handguns sat on cardboard boxes, in glass cases and nestled in velvet-lined cradles. Some sellers wandered the floor carrying signs advertising personal firearms, like a Colt AR-15 SP-1 rifle, for sale in private transactions, which do not require background checks.
Mr. Woody estimated that only 10 percent of gun show shoppers were firearms aficionados. The rest, he said, are either newcomers or dabblers. Many buyers have never purchased an AR-15 before, he said.
Mr. Woody, an 18-year-old college freshman in a Christ the Redeemer shirt and cargo shorts, said he supported spending to improve campus safety and incentives for teachers to keep firearms within reach but secured.
But he decried efforts to raise the minimum age to buy semiautomatic firearms.
“There’s a big stigma around the AR-15,” Mr. Woody said. “But say they ban it — if the person knows what they’re doing, they’re just going to buy a different gun that shoots the same caliber and does the same thing but doesn’t get included in the ban because it doesn’t look tactical.”
Even before the Parkland shooting, the gun industry was distressed.
Thriving demand for firearms after the Sandy Hook attack in 2012 and during President Barack Obama’s administration caused new gun companies to swarm the market. But many of those businesses have since scaled back or folded as enthusiasts became less nervous about potential gun legislation and less anxious to stock up.
Remington, one of the oldest gun makers in the country, said it was preparing to declare bankruptcy. American Outdoor Brands, whose Smith & Wesson brand was well represented at the show, has complained about “challenging market conditions.”
Show participants said the financial pressure on the industry and the renewed public attention on guns would make companies especially eager to bolster quality and safety — especially in military towns like Tampa and other markets with avid, discerning firearms customers.
Lindsay Potter, who, with her husband, Garrett, was operating a booth for their company, Special Ops Tactical, described herself as a “big supporter” of the N.R.A. She also said she welcomed strict background checks, believed that sellers should use their discretion to refuse sales and appreciated audits by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“We are under a lot of scrutiny,” she said. “And we should be.”
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