Booming business at an Indiana gun show

Gun show goers look at various assault-style weapons December 30, 2012 at the Nation"s Gun Show in Chantilly, Virginia Image copyright AFP
Image caption Assault weapon sales are said to have risen since the Newtown shooting (file image)

A man wanders among the T-shirt stalls and piles of camouflaged jackets, a newly purchased rifle slung over his shoulder, a brown cardboard price tag still attached to the top of the barrel.

Gun shows like this one in the small town of Howe in Indiana are booming since the Newtown shooting - people are worried the government will introduce bans and they want to stock up before it happens.

Such shows are a target for those who want more regulation - those buying from private dealers don't have to go through the usual background checks.

This is a family affair and very well run - everyone is asked if they are armed and can't carry a loaded gun.

There are more than 400 tables and guns of all sorts. There are guns from America's history like the Navy Colt, and a Tommy gun complete with its round magazine clip.

There are many beautifully made hunting rifles, with polished wooden stocks and the lever action of the classic Winchester, featured in so many Westerns.

But among them are also less graceful, more utilitarian weapons, in matt black. They have certain sort of sinister beauty. They are what opponents call assault rifles - weapons of war designed to kill a large number of people at once. There's much derision here for that term and that description.

Intense suspicion

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Gun control has been high on the political agenda since the Newtown school shootings

A Bushmaster, the type of gun used in the Newton slaughter, is in a rack along with other black weapons with fat barrels and pistol grips. It goes for $1,950 (£1,200) - the price has doubled since Newtown, people say.

A proposal to ban such weapons is likely to be a big focus of the proposals this week.

Repeatedly, you hear people ask: "Why does any one want to own a weapon designed to kill people in large numbers?" I am here to find out.

There is intense suspicion of the media. Gun owners think they don't get a fair hearing and most of those here, while very friendly and eager to talk, didn't want to give their names.

One middle-aged man tells me he owns several assault rifles. "You can shoot varmints, they're very accurate, good guns. I shoot woodchuck with 'em."

A man in his 20s agrees. "You can put a couple of shots in a coyote with that."

He adds that when people come out of the military they want to carry on using the gun they know. "They know that platform, they're used to it, so they use it for hunting and they teach their friends how to use it."

The man selling the Bushmaster tells me: "They're sporting guns, for target shooting, they're fun to fire. And I guess you could use them for home protection."

Cultural 'civil war'

On a table there are two more deadly piece of kit - a Heckler Koch leans on two legs, ready for a sniper, and a Sig Sauer rifle is by its side. It would set you back $2,800 (£1,730).

The man selling them says: "Everyone blames the weapon. It's not the weapon.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Opponents of gun control argue that violence in popular culture should be countered

"They should look at mental health. That guy was screwed up in the head. He could have killed everyone with a hammer, it would have just taken longer."

The same arguments are repeated again and again.

"The president has an armed guard, why are your family less important? Why should they have less protection?"

"If the teachers at Newtown had guns, it wouldn't have happened, or it would have been stopped sooner. He might not even have done it if he knew there were people with guns there."

An intense woman who says she teaches gun safety tells me that they are the victims in a cultural civil war between town and countryside.

She says the weapons are mischaracterized. "There are all sorts of actions, bolt action, pump action. These just put another bullet in the chamber when you pull the trigger.

"Semi-automatic is just another type of action. They are not military weapons - military automatics are fully automatic and are already illegal."

Basic rights

Most of the people selling here are private dealers. Those who advocate tighter laws say it is a loophole that they can sell with out the background checks that regular gun shops must carry out.

The Sheriff of LaGrange County Terry Martin thinks this is a regulation worth changing. But he's against other proposals like an assault rifle ban.

"People use 'em for hunting, a lot of deer hunting rifles are on an AR platform now, so they use them for different kinds of hunting. And you've got three gun competitions. They have an AR, a pistol and shot gun. Some people just like to collect 'em.

"It's just a person's right. If you start chipping away at somebody's right, what are they going to take next?"

Like most here, he feels that very basic rights set out in the Second Amendment are in danger.

"There is no doubt in my mind it is under attack. It always has been and always will be," he continues.

"There are people out there who don't want people to have guns. People get killed with guns throughout the country but it doesn't happen so much as drunk driver killings. That is just as much a tragedy as anything else - do we take cars away? Do we stop alcohol? We regulate them, sure. We just need to enforce what is there."

These are the people who will be watching carefully what their president suggests later in the week. They are unlikely to be happy - and business at shows like this will be even brisker.

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