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Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini, in a recent column, suggested that Arizona enact what he termed “gun show gun control,” citing the “No Loaded Guns” policy enforced at Crossroads of the West gun shows.

As Mr. Montini writes:

They (gun show promoters) are the people who should set federal policy.

Although if they did it would be a lot more restrictive than what the president proposed Wednesday.

I know this after having stopped by a recent Crossroads of the West gun show, where I learned that no one in attendance was carrying a loaded weapon.

Let me pause … and say that again.

At an arena filled with gun dealers, vendors, collectors and enthusiasts, all of whom I presumed to be good, law-abiding, knowledgeable, safety conscious owners of firearms, no one was permitted to carry a loaded weapon.

Why?

The policy is explained under the “Frequently Asked Questions” on the Crossroads website. It reads:

“Q: Can I bring a gun to the show to sell or trade?

“A: Yes, and many folks do. Please be sure the gun is unloaded before you enter the building, and take it to our gun check table at the show entry for verification. They will clear it and secure it with a nylon tie to disable the action. No loaded firearms and no loaded magazines are permitted in any Crossroads gun show. Your personal safety is our number one priority while you are at the show.”

These people are authorities in the field.

If they say that it would be unsafe to allow honest, proficient, sensible firearms owners to carry loaded weapons at a public gathering, I’m willing to go along.

It’s true that Crossroads prohibits loaded guns on its show floor. The policy also applies to concealed carry permit holders. If a concealed carrier declares a carry gun, it typically gets unloaded and might be zip-tied. After talking with Bob Templeton, CEO of Crossroads, I understand the policy.

Mr. Montini misses two major points regarding gun shows, one having to do with the nature of gun shows, the other having to do with the nature of signs. To the first point, a gun show is a unique environment. Guns are out everywhere. People are handling them, examining them – racking slides, opening bolts, looking through sights, trying guns in holsters and, most significantly, trying triggers. One of the rules of safe handling is that when guns are being handled but not fired – whether for display, practice, repair, or commerce – ammunition must be kept separate. Conversely, safe gun handling dictates that when in public and not on a firing range, a carry weapon must stay in the holster unless it is coming out for use. The only time a defensive gun should ever come out of the holster in public is in a life-or-death emergency.

On the show floor, surrounded by guns that are out and being handled, there is a chance – a small chance, but a chance nonetheless – that someone carrying a defensive weapon will forget. They may want to try a holster, compare size, or do something equally mundane and in a careless moment provoked by the presence of all those other guns, forget that their own gun is loaded. That is the reasoning behind the rule. Police officers are not disarmed prior to entry, and there are isolated reports from show-goers – not Mr. Templeton – of police officers having exactly the sort of mental lapse that he was concerned about and taking a duty weapon out of the holster to look, try, show or some other reason not related to an emergency.

I can imagine a different set of protocols that would ensure that defensive weapons remained in their holsters. For example, all loaded defensive weapons might be tagged with a bright bit of tape on the grip. If that weapon appears outside the holster for any reason other than an emergency, the owner would be asked to leave. But changing the rules would be a difficult fight with little to gain.

The second major point that Mr. Montini misses has to do with the nature of a sign. He seems to miss the fact that a sign by itself is nothing more than a piece of cardboard. As he says, “no one was permitted to carry a loaded weapon.” But he also makes a breathtaking leap from what is permitted to what actually might be when he says, “no one in attendance was carrying a loaded weapon.” How is he sure of that? Did anyone step through a metal detector on their way through the door? Did a security officer wave a metal detecting wand over anyone’s body as they entered the show? Or does Mr. Montini just have faith that every person in that gun show was so honest and so law-abiding that when they see a sign they will universally comply?

In Arizona violating a “No Guns” sign anywhere outside of a bar is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, which can have fairly serious consequences – Disorderly Conduct and Criminal Trespass are also Class 1 misdemeanors. Nonetheless, a brief scan of Montini’s newspaper will confirm that people violate laws all the time. I’m not sure what special powers Mr. Montini attributes to that piece of cardboard at the entrance. Mr. Templeton won’t acknowledge that someone might intentionally ignore his sign, which is understandable – such acknowledgement might be construed as tacit permission. But barring a metal detector at the door, the possibility remains that someone may have walked past the sign carrying a loaded weapon. They would not have advertised the fact, and they are unlikely to bring a loaded weapon out since it is in violation of the rules. And so, the problem of keeping loaded defensive weapons safely in their holsters is solved at the gun show.

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