Gun shows are popular venues for quick gun purchases in Eastern North Carolina. But new, federal regulations could make the selling and purchasing of firearms more difficult for consumers and dealers.
Chris Thomas spoke to a local gun shop owner about how decisions made at the White House could affect commerce at gun shows.
Guns have been a part of Mike Lane’s life since he was a boy.
He remembers shooting small game and clay pigeons with his uncle and cousins on a patch of family owned land outside of Philadelphia. But, it wasn’t until after 1978, the year Lane joined the Marine Corps, that his fascination and passion for guns took off.
“It’s a pretty incredible thing when you can launch an 81mm mortar out of a 6 foot long tube and blow something 2 miles away with just using some basic mathematics and a guy out in the field with a set of binoculars.”
In 2012, soon after retiring from the Corps as a Sergeant Major, Lane went into the gun business, opening “Bite Me Firearms,” in New Bern. Lane says it’s been a successful endeavor thus far – especially after 2015 when he and most gun vendors around the nation contributed to what might be a record breaking year in firearm sales.
According to the FBI, more than 23.1 million firearm background checks were performed in 2015. More than a half-million were done in North Carolina, putting it in the top-quarter among all states and U.S. territories. There was an especially dramatic hike in December, the month of the San Bernardino shooting.
Lane said many clients purchased handguns hoping it keeps them alive in especially perilous situations.
“The political climate, and what people are seeing and hearing on TV and of course, what’s going on in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan and everything has people... not only interested but a little worried about their safety.”
Gun shows (which are usually held at convention centers and fairgrounds) are especially promising spots for sellers, as they attract hundreds more people at once than most brick and mortar shops allow in a day. Gun show sales are easier since vendors are, according to the Brady Bill of 1994, private sellers and don’t have to conduct background checks or see forms of identification of buyers.
It’s also known as the “Gun Show Loophole" though it doesn't cover the sale of handguns.
Lane says it gives private citizens the freedom to do as they please with their property.
“You as a private individual could go to a gun show, with these rifles, and you could rent a table, put the gun on your table, and lawfully, in North Carolina, you could sell those firearms.”
The Craven County Fairgrounds is scheduled to host five gun and knife shows through S&D Gun Shows of Merritt – a show Lane frequents for the sake of convenience. He has sold fire arms at shows across the region, though, and says the market for guns is diverse, crediting it, in part, to the presence of several military bases – including Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point where he works as an air traffic controller.
“It’s spread out, you never know who’s going to walk through the door or come up to your table at the gun show. Could be a retired, Marine Corps General…I’ve had a couple of those, or it could be a young lady whose husband is deployed, she has three kids at home and she wants to be able to defend herself.”
But an executive action taken by President Obama earlier this month may make those sales more difficult. As part of a series of orders from the White House, gun sellers at all venues, including gun shows, must register through the federal government, thus requiring background checks for all gun purchases.
It’s a controversial measure that upsets some gun advocates, like Lane. But, supporters of stricter gun safety laws, including Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch, believe it’s a step, albeit a modest one, in the right direction.
“…A kind of a common sense step that really…attempting to close the ‘gun show loophole’ that has had widespread support amongst people of both political parties, amongst gun owners, amongst prominent politicians from both political parties for decades.”
Schofield said the state’s gun laws leave much to be desired and puts the blame, in part, on North Carolina based law makers that oppose what he calls “common sense” approaches to curbing gun violence.
Schofield believes the state is moving in a hazardous direction.
“If anything, the trend in the North Carolina government these days is toward spreading guns more and more and to more places and to regulating them less and less. So, I would say North Carolina’s laws aren’t the worst in the country, but they’re certainly not as strong as they need to be.”
He cited a recent effort by members of the General Assembly to repeal a state law requiring a permit from a county sheriff before purchasing a handgun. That attempt was unsuccessful and Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians against Gun Violence, commended the state’s government for keeping the permitting system in place, calling it a bipartisan and “courageous” act, but said state law makers should repeal a series of laws passed in 2013 that expanded the scope of public places in which a person can carry a concealed handgun, including restaurants and bars (on their person) athletic fields and university campuses (in their vehicles).
Some gun rights advocates use the phrase “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun” – or some variation thereof – but it doesn’t sell for Ceartas.
“We do not feel more guns in public will make people safe. You can look all of the accidental shoots, accidental shootings…having more guns in our public space will not make us more safe.”
Ceartas is especially supportive of research into “smart technology” for guns by the federal government, referencing the President’s Jan. 5 speech in which he wondered why “smart technology” like fingertip identification can be used to unlock cell phones, but not guns.
Part of one order directs the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to “conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology” that reduces accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms.
She believes technology like that will prevent tragic cases like the one reported Monday from Lumberton, in which a 3-year-old accidentally shot himself.
“And (it) would prevent countless other suicides, accidental shootings, unintentional shootings, there’s no reason why we cannot and should not develop this kind of technology.”
But, Lane believes smart technology would actually result in more deaths than saved lives, saying the last thing a person needs a split-second decision situation is extra layers between their finger and a live trigger.
“I don’t even want to…manipulate a manual safety on a gun. I want to be able to draw it, and pull the trigger, and take care of that attack…and smart gun technology, finger print or you have to push this button, or you have to hold that gun for 2 seconds or whatever, that 2 seconds or even 1 second could cost you your life.”
But some believe the most pressing matter of Obama’s executive orders aren’t in their substance but in their nature. One of those people is Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst for the Raleigh based John Locke Foundation.
He said changes to federal law should go through its law making body – Congress – no matter how citizens may feel about them. That, to him, is part of the core of our Constitutional Republic.
“Why not use that bully pulpit to try to advance legislation through Congress that can get support from enough people, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats or a mix of the two?”
Furthermore, Kokai said, it’s not clear just how enforceable these orders are. Referencing an order that includes mental health information from the Social Security Administration as part of a gun purchase background check, he said the potential for positive outcomes are there but…
“…The Devil’s in the Details…you also have to worry about the possibility that something on that’s on its face designed to target the mentally ill could then be expanded to something to cover other people who may just go to an analyst or something of that sort.”
Kokai said there will be individuals so firmly entrenched at the polar ends of this issue that they may not be able to engage in meaningful discussion.
For the majority, who are closer to the center, Kokai believes there is hope for constructive dialogue and a pathway to a safer, freer America.
“So, I think if people try to put the rhetoric aside and say ‘this is what we want to accomplish.’ We’re willing to not go for everything that’s our goal, but accomplish this little bit of it, and are you willing to talk to us about a way we can reach a compromise, you might find some agreement.”
Per the executive orders, the FBI will hire more than 200 additional people to help run background checks on gun purchases and the White House will propose a $500 million investment into mental health resources.