Women peered at candy-colored revolvers in glass cases. Men with camouflage backpacks felt the smooth wood of old rifles. And throngs of people walked out of the Del Mar Fairgrounds pushing wire carts stacked high with metal boxes of ammunition.
Ten days after assailants in San Bernardino killed 14 people and wounded 21 more, Southern Californians flocked to a weekend gun show in Del Mar, many voicing concerns that another mass shooting could lead to tighter restrictions on gun sales. Organizers of the Crossroads of the West gun show said the weekend’s attendance could exceed 15,000 people — twice as large as usual.
“People are taking control of their personal safety,” said Bob Templeton, the show’s owner. “They’re realizing that the police, for all the good work they do, can’t be all places at all times.”
Salesman James Wright, from a San Fernando-based ammunition factory, sold nearly 20,000 rounds of target-practice ammunition in an hour, leaving his black banquet table almost bare by 10:30 a.m. He had arrived with fewer supplies than usual, he said, because his other customers — gun stores and shooting ranges — had doubled their usual orders after the San Bernardino shooting.
“We all know why this happens,” Wright said. The threat of more gun regulations that could make buying guns or ammunition harder, he said, scares gun owners “more than anything.”
The only period with sales to rival Saturday’s, Wright said, was after the 2012 shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 first-grade students and six adults dead.
Since the Connecticut shooting, the White House has sought a way to close a loophole that allows thousands of people to buy guns without a background check, on the Internet and at gun shows.
Those laws make selling guns at gun shows more difficult than in nearby states, and the selection of firearms in Del Mar was smaller than in other shows held by the same company in Arizona and Nevada, customers said.
More than half the booths weren’t selling guns at all, but were instead offering bumper stickers, knives, camping gear and books.
Other vendors sold parts, including a kit that can be fully assembled into an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon. “Build it yourself,” the banner above the booth said. “No paperwork.”
In a fenced-off area next to the event hall, a cardboard Donald Trump beckoned passers-by to the National Rifle Assn. tent, stocked with mints, bumper stickers and pamphlets on the 2nd Amendment. One representative assured a reporter that registering “matters today, more than ever.”
Other gun owners, though, said California’s laws should be a model for other states seeking to better regulate the sale of guns and magazines.
“To walk in and walk out with a gun is honestly scary,” said Niels Norby, 28 of Carlsbad, who attended the show with his sister to buy ammunition for target practice. “I’m all for guns, but I’m all for strict gun control, too.”
San Bernardino also prompted discussions about whether gun control could even be enforced. Federal investigators have said one of the shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, asked his friend to buy two rifles used in the attack, so he could dodge a federal background check.
“Bad people will always find a way to skirt the system,” said Koch, who has attended the Del Mar gun show for more than two decades.