At York gun show, everyone knows the rules

John Joyce
  • York Expo Center hosts a gun show amid Congressional Dems' push for more stringent gun control laws.
  • Vendors at the gun show at the York Fairgrounds said the turnout was good but lower than expected.
  • Some went to look, others went to buy, but most agreed: No new gun control laws are necessary.

Two days after Democrats staged a 26-hour sit-in on the House floor in an effort to push gun-control legislation before Congress went into its Fourth of July recess, thousands of gun enthusiasts flocked to the York Expo Center for the 2016 Appalachians Promotions Gun and Knife Show.

Patrons made their way up and down row after row of vendors — more than 1,000 tables were set up — who displayed small arms, rifles, magazines and ammunition, memorabilia and accessories, all of which were for sale to a qualified purchaser.

Contrary to popular belief, firearms specialist Dave Zeller said, gun dealers are required by law to conduct background checks on all firearms sales at gun shows. Zeller is a licensed insurance agent who has operated his own sporting goods business called Zeller Armory in Throop, Lackawanna County, for the last 12 years. He is a licensed gun dealer.

"You get some people that are not fully educated on the laws," Zeller said. "Every dealer in the gun show, by federal and state law, has to do a background check on any buyer of a firearm."

Dave Zeller, of Zeller's Sporting Goods, fills out the necessary paperwork for a background check in order to sell a handgun during the Tri-County Gun & Knife Show at Memorial Hall at the York Expo Center on  Sunday, June 26, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Zeller was conducting one such background check Sunday afternoon when he agreed to answer a few questions. He said he took the information Cody Glugla, 22, of Mount Wolf, provided him, along with the buyer's driver's license and Social Security number and submitted the information to the Pennsylvania State Police. Minutes later, Zeller had an approval number, and Glugla had a brand new firearm.

"It’s instant as far saying I put their information in and based on what (the state police) workload is, how quickly they come back with their response. So, if it goes through, it’s usually five minutes to 15-20 minutes. Sometimes if they are very busy it can take about a half-hour or so," he said.

Glugla, who only heard about the gun show from a friend on Saturday, said he has been purchasing his own firearms since he was 19. He said he doesn't mind the background checks and other laws that are in place now, but he wouldn't like to see any more legislation added.

"I don’t feel like that should happen. I don’t really have much to say, but I don’t think there should be any more laws on it. There are enough laws on it," he said.

Zeller conducted a handful of similar transactions Sunday. On Saturday he handled more than 20, altogether less than he expected, Zeller said.

"In the summer the shows slow down a little bit. We expected it to be a little busier because of what's going on since the shooting in Orlando," he said.

Carolyn Bailey, of Waynesboro in Franklin County, looks over a single-shot .22 long rifle during the Tri-County  Gun & Knife Show at Memorial Hall at the York Expo Center on Sunday, June 26, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In the early morning hours  of June 12, a man who described himself to 911 dispatchers as having allegiances to ISIS opened fire on a crowd of people inside Pulse Nightclub, a popular gay club in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people. The gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, injured another 53 people before police were able to break through an exterior wall and engage him, killing Mateen in the process.

In the wake of the Orlando shooting, as with each mass shooting in recent history, gun sales increased along with calls for more stringent control laws. Reports from local and national media cite spikes in gun sales in Orlando and among the LGBT community immediately following the attack at Pulse.

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In the two weeks since the Orlando massacre, Democrats launched a 15-hour filibuster in the Senate followed days later by the daylong sit-in on the floor of the House, both of which were attempts to force their Republican counterparts to enact stronger background checks and to make anyone listed on the FBI's "No-Fly" list also ineligible to purchase a firearm.

The filibuster — led by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. — resulted in a vote on the "No-Fly, No-Buy" legislation that failed. The sit-in was called off as Congress headed into the holiday recess, but Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., vowed to resume the fight after the break.

Owner's responsibility: Inside the York Expo Center on Sunday, much of the talk surrounding gun control placed the onus on the gun owner, not the manufacturers or dealers, and certainly not on the legislators.

"This is an inanimate object, it can’t hurt anybody. It needs human intervention to use it. Just like a chainsaw, just like a motor vehicle," Zeller said.

When it comes to gun control, many in opposition to new or more legislation often cite common phrases such as "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," or, "Drunk drivers kill people all the time, we're not going to ban Chevys, are we?"

Zeller made those arguments and others, pointing to the language used and the comma placement in the Second Amendment. But whether a person agrees with his interpretations or finds his comments politically incorrect, Zeller said he believed if responsible gun owners were present during the Orlando incident, the outcome would have been less deadly.

"I agree with what Donald Trump came out (with) a couple days after the shooting occurred, whether you want to say it’s politically correct or not, he stated several times if someone in that club was carrying a concealed weapon legally and shot the shooter as soon as he started shooting people, you might have one or two people dead instead of 49," Zeller said. " And in my opinion, if the bad guy gets killed a lot quicker, that’s a good thing. Just like Donald Trump said."

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Self-defense: Jason and Amanda Kile, of Red Lion, both own guns. The couple said they began teaching their children gun safety at an early age because it taught their daughters respect for the weapons.

Jason Kile, who has been shooting guns since he was 7½ years old, said he started teaching his girls about guns when they turned 6 and 7. His 6-year-old was with him once when he shot and killed a deer. It was in that moment she realized the potential danger firearms possess. But that will make her more responsible around the weapons, he said.

"They’re brought up in it, they understand; they are not afraid," Jason said. "They know when they pick up a gun they don’t point it at anyone. It’s simple. Teach them while they’re young."

Amanda Kile said she was not raised that way. When her husband first began to teach her about guns, she said, she was afraid.

"I wasn’t brought up like that. I was scared to death at first, you know, how to handle guns, how to clean them," she said. Now Amanda owns her own firearms and is comfortable shooting them.

Both Kiles said they are against any new legislation regarding gun control. They agreed the Orlando shooter, who was reported to have been investigated at least twice by the FBI for ties to radical or extremist groups but was never charged, should have been prevented from purchasing firearms, which he did legally leading up to the mass shooting.

"If you’re on the 'No-Fly' list, there has got to be a reason for it. And if you are an unsettled person like that guy that went and did that mass shooting, he was watched by our (government). The FBI should have stepped up and stopped him," Jason said. "If you’re on the 'No-Fly' list, you should be on the 'No-Buy' list, I mean I feel that’s normal."

But the Kiles also said they have a right to own guns both for sport and for home and self-defense, and they intend to keep their guns.

"If you take all our guns, how are we going to protect ourselves?" Amanda asked.

The collector: Brian Clarke and his son drove to York on Sunday from Monmouth, New Jersey. Clarke collects "off-beat" caliber rifles and said he made the 2½-hour drive to the gun show to find something specific.

Clarke, who has 11-year-old twin boys, said he also teaches his children to shoot and to properly care for firearms. His sons have their hunting licenses, he said.

Brian Clarke, left, and his son Liam Clarke, 11, both of Howell, New Jersey, shop at the Tri-County  Gun & Knife Show at Memorial Hall at the York Expo Center on Sunday, June 26, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"I was born and raised with guns, even being in New Jersey, which is not a pro-gun state. He and his brother are very safety-conscious around guns (and) knives, just because they have grown up with it," Clarke said.

Clarke said he would like to see legislators and states enforce the gun-control laws that are already on the books rather than impose new laws. For example, he said, only about 60 percent of the states contribute information to NICS — the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The NICS system was enacted as a result of the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993.

He is referring to the fact that in some states, rather than having to contact the FBI or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a POC, or state point of contact agency, has been established to conduct background checks for gun purchase. Pennsylvania is one of those states, which is why background checks are run through the state police.

In other states, such as Maryland, the rules on who conducts the background checks vary from handgun purchases — the state — to long gun purchases — the FBI. Other states run background checks strictly through the federal agencies.

According to the FBI's website, the NICS Index contains information provided by local, state, tribal and federal agencies on people prohibited from having firearms under federal or state law. That data, along with information from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Interstate Identification Index, determines whether or not an approval number is issued, allowing the purchaser to complete the process of buying a gun.

Still, that does not account for stolen guns or people who purchase guns illegally, either on the street or through straw purchases, which is when someone legally eligible to purchase a gun does so for someone who is prohibited from purchasing a firearm. And that, Clarke said, is where the real problems lie.

"Most people that commit crimes are not doing it with legal gun purchases. There are a lot of myths and propaganda, especially at gun shows, like they don’t do background checks," Clarke said. "Every time I have purchased a gun at a gun show, or anywhere, they’ve done a background check. But again, not all states' agencies are contributing to that background information."

— Reach John Joyce atjjoyce2@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at @JohnJoyceYD.