On Special Assignment

Feb 12, 2013 8:37 PM by Angela Douglas - MTN News

MT Gun shows targeted in gun control debate

BILLINGS - From historic rifles and revolvers to military style weapons, gun shows offer a wide array of firearms and accessories drawing in thousands of gun collectors and dealers.

"We build a variety of rifles," explained C. Sharps Arms Inc. Owner John Schoffstall. "All single shot, 1870-1880s vintage."

Gun shows also serve as a venue for gun enthusiasts to put their antiques on display in addition to the buying and selling of firearms.

"I've collected guns ever since I was in high school," said gun collector, Jack Shanstrom.

The history behind firearms holds great value for many Montanans and gun shows allow for some show and tell.

"This is a rifle, a '66 Winchester. It's Nimsky engraved, who was one of the finest engravers employed at the Winchester factory," explained Shanstrom. "It has on it, a place for presentation. It says M.J.C., who is Mary Jane Canary, or Calamity Jane. From W.D. Hitchcock, Wild Bill Hitchcock.

With the high concentration of firearms in a such a small space, the quick deals and exchanges have raised a red flag for proponents of gun control.

If President Barack Obama gets his way, Congress will approve a ban on assault weapons, limit the amount of bullets a gun clip can hold and require universal background checks.

Currently, only licensed dealers must conduct background checks.

"You can purchase a gun at the gun show as a private sale," explained Billings Gun Show Promoter Brian Kjensmo. "There's also a lot of licensed dealers at the gun show and you have to go through background checks."

Typically, half of the gun show vendors are federal licensed firearm dealers, while the remaining 50% offer private sales.

Even though private vendors are not currently required to perform background checks, they are encouraged to do so if they have any doubts about their prospective buyer.

"If you have a question on anything, do background checks," Kjensmo said. "Take it to a licensed dealer and have a background check done."

But then, there's something referred to as the "gun show loophole." Under federal law private gun sales are allowed. Meaning, it is legal to sell a firearm to a fellow Montana resident as long as you're within state limits. Conducting a background check is not required.

"There's nothing that stops you from having a conversation with the person that owns the firearm," Kjensmo pointed out. "To meet at a later time down at the local convenience store or grocery store parking lot and take care of business. It's impossible to police that."

Both sides agree that background checks are generally a good thing, but it's how they're executed that draws debate.

As lawmakers search for an overall compromise on the gun control issue, it's business as usual for the gun shows.

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