Eastman Gun Shows Inc. organized the show in two exhibit halls at the fairgrounds. The show was the first one the Fitzgerald-based company has conducted in the county since the Dec. 14 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead, including 20 children.
At noon, the line for the entrance to the gun show stretched several hundred feet from Exhibit Hall B, past Exhibit Hall A and around the Ranger Office. While the shootings have led to new calls for gun control, those in attendance said that would be counterproductive.
Michael Lee of Hampton said prices inside the show have doubled and tripled, leading him to come away from the event only buying a strap for his rifle. He attributes the cost increases as a response to calls for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban from figures like President Barack Obama and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California).
“He’s creating a panic and people are buying ammo like crazy and guns like crazy,” Lee said of Obama. “It’s not going to stop the violence.”
The 1,500-space parking lot at Jim Miller Park was more than half full Saturday, the first day of the two-day Eastman show. A count of the license plates in the lot showed more than three dozen Georgia counties represented, along with several other states. A day after National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre called for placing armed security guards in every school, some of the license plates said “Educator” on them.
The gun shows are a money maker for Cobb County, with county officials saying earlier this week that 12 gun shows have brought in $73,000 for the county this year, up slightly from 2011. Show promoters pay a base fee to the county for use of facilities and equipment, and afterward pay 10 percent of their gross admissions.
The next Eastman show is scheduled for Jan. 5 to 6 at the Cobb Civic Center, the other county building rented out for gun shows.
By then, southwest Cobb Commissioner-elect Lisa Cupid will be in office. She said she may ask for a review of the policy for allowing gun shows and other events at county buildings.
“It does seem questionable, but I don’t know the history of it,” she said.
Cupid said there have been concerns in the past about the use of the county-owned Mable House Arts Center for events that the county didn’t deem fit to host. She feels it might be time for an “across the board” look at what are appropriate uses for county facilities.
“I guess at some point in time, it may be good to see what’s acceptable and what’s not,” said Cupid, who will be the commission’s only Democrat once she is sworn in next month.
Southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott said he is OK with the gun shows, provided that the county doesn’t lose money by hosting them.
“The actual event I don’t really have a problem with, we want to make sure they are doing background checks,” he said.
Lee said the county facilities are a good place to host the gun shows.
“I think there is some control here,” he said. “If they don’t, it’s just going to put them on the black market.”
Raymond Johns, a show organizer with Eastman, declined to allow the Journal inside the exhibit halls for photographs or interviews. But according to Eastman’s website, admission to the shows is $8 for adults and free for children under 12. The website also prohibits the sale of any “racial, ethnic, sexist or hate mongering material.”
Signs outside the building warned, “No Loaded Guns!”
Earlier this week, Johns told the Journal that he tries to have only federally licensed gun sellers at his shows, because they are required to perform background checks on all buyers. The only loopholes allowing buyers to bypass a background check are person-to-person sales.
On Saturday, some of those sales appeared to be taking place in the parking lot at Jim Miller Park.
Many of those entering the park walked past flags still at half staff in honor of the Connecticut shooting victims. The event was also the day after the funeral for Clayton County Police Officer Sean Callahan at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in east Cobb. Police said the 2006 Lassiter High School graduate was shot in the head while responding to a domestic violence call Monday, and died Tuesday morning.
At the entrance to the Jim Miller Park parking lot a group of three protesters stood. Clint Taylor of Smyrna, who said he is a Quaker and a Unitarian, held a sign reading, “What Gun Would Jesus Buy?” He said that going to such an event so close to Christmas is inappropriate.
“If you’re shooting somebody with a 9mm Glock, how can you say it is a loving act?” Taylor said. “Jesus said if somebody takes your cloak, give them your coat. There are other ways to stop evil without killing somebody.”
While he said he wasn’t there to protest the Second Amendment, Taylor questioned why the county would allow such events on its property.
“I’m not against hunting, but I think the whole business is based upon fear,” he said. “That people are scared and also responding to trauma.”