Orlando gun show draws record crowds

By Orlando Sentinel
January 7, 2013 6:47 am

Orlando Sentinel - Donnie Ungaro planned to buy a holster at the Florida Gun and Knife Show on Saturday at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

"I ended up with a gun instead," said Ungaro as he held a cardboard box with the word "Ruger" stamped on it. A Lake County resident, Ungaro, 42, has bought and sold guns for much of his life, but Saturday's experience at the show was much different.

"I've never been to a gun show this crowded," Ungaro said. "It's ridiculous. I guess everybody is scared to death."

For most the day, thousands packed into the show -- stretched across two buildings -- where licensed dealers from across the region sold an array of weapons and accessories, including pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, knives, body armor, paper targets, scopes and lots of ammunition.

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 students and six adults, gun owners nationwide are preparing for possible restrictions on certain weapons and ammunition.

And those concerns -- especially on a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines -- were on the minds of many attendees at Saturday's show in Orlando, where lines to enter the building stretched several hundred people deep and the doors were opened early to accommodate the crowds.

"When they start talking about gun bans, it's like this," said show organizer Victor Bean, who brings a show to Orlando seven times a year. "Record crowds."

This weekend's show, which continues Sunday, has been one of Bean's busiest in the 26 years he has been presenting gun events. He expects more than 12,000 people to attend.

"Nobody knows what's coming, so everybody's trying to buy everything they can," Bean said. "They're afraid they're not going to be able to get the guns they want."

To relieve the massive crowds, Bean allowed Saturday's attendees to return Sunday free of charge -- something he has never done in the show's history.

A University of Florida student named Ryan didn't want to give his last name but said he waited more than 45 minutes to get into the show. He was looking for good deals but said he saw "a lot higher prices on everything."

He was hoping to buy a cartridge for about $50. Meanwhile, he watched someone drop $3,000 on guns -- something he wasn't going to do Saturday.

"I'm still on a student budget," he said.

One of the most popular and expensive weapons on sale Saturday was the AR-15 rifle -- the weapon used in the Sandy Hook shooting. Many dealers had limited supplies of the gun priced at more than $1,500 by midmorning Saturday.

David Pieser, manager of Universal Weapons on South Orange Blossom Trail and a dealer at Saturday's show, said the shop sold out of AR-15s a week ago. But he did have an array of handguns for sale Saturday, including several pink ones marketed to women.

Those purchasing handguns from dealers Saturday were subjected to background checks and the three-day waiting period. But those rules don't apply to those with concealed-weapons permits or sales between private gun owners.

Outside the dealer area, Mike, who lives in Winter Garden but didn't want to give his last name, had for sale a Charter Arms rifle. Like Mike, dozens were selling weapons outside the show, with many displaying the gun's price scribbled on a sheet of paper sticking out of the barrel.

A man waiting to get into the show offered Mike $180 for the rifle. They settled on $200.

Meanwhile in a building away from the dealers, Andrea Krall, 31, of Orlando signed up for a concealed-weapons class offered at the show Saturday. Advertised as a "one-stop shop" for a concealed-weapons license, the two-hour, $140 class goes over the basics of gun ownership and includes the necessary paperwork to obtain a permit, including fingerprints and a background check.

Applications to carry concealed weapons have surged in Florida in recent years, with the state issuing its millionth permit last month, according to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

One in 17 Floridians 21 or older has a concealed-weapons permit.

Krall, who said she was encouraged by her boyfriend to get the permit, was one of more than 200 who sat in on the 11 a.m. class taught by Charlie Berrane, a gun-store owner in Miami who has been teaching the course for more than 20 years.

"People just want to be prepared," Berrane said.

Krall said she probably won't carry a gun with her at all times but will "stash one" in her house.

Back in the show area, Jaren Sustar, 21, of South Carolina wandered from table to table looking the guns and knives. He called the show "awesome."
After walking around for a bit, Sustar, an avid hunter who owns rifles, spent $20 on a knife.

"I needed one."

jbusdeker@tribune.com or 407-420-6226
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