As we’ve slowly moved out of the COVID-19 lockdowns imposed on broad swaths of the economy, we’re starting to see gun shows return to civic centers and fairgrounds around the country. This is good news for would-be gun owners who may have found a limited selection at their local gun stores in recent months, but it also provides the Trump campaign and its supporters with an opportunity to engage in voter outreach that could be critical in several swing states.
According to Jason Andrews, the CEO of Gun Show Trader, almost 75% of gun shows were called off between February and August, and between March and May of this year it was actually closer to 95% of all shows. As Forbes reported on Monday, however, gun shows are back in a big way, with 315 shows scheduled around the country this month.
Alan Hill, a Vietnam veteran and retired police officer who manages the Hill Country Veterans Center in Kerrville, Texas, hosted a gun show last weekend in the former armory. It was his fourth gun show this year, and there was a waiting list of vendors.
“I’ve got a sign out there that masks are recommended, but we do not force people to wear them indoors,” said Hill. “Sixty-five to 75% percent of my vendors refused to wear them. Customers coming in say ‘we’re glad you don’t force us to wear them because we refuse to wear them,’ and I respect their thoughts.”
He also said there is no social distancing because “we wouldn’t be able to do it; we couldn’t fit the tables in there.”
He said this year’s pre-pandemic show was attended by 450 people, while his July show had 700 attendees and his August show had 675. (Attendance for the most recent show was not yet available.) With the approach of Election Day on Nov. 3, Hill said the purchases seem more politically motivated, driven by the gun control proposal of the Democratic contenders for the White House: former Vice President Joseph Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
“There are people who are afraid that if Trump does not get reelected than the Biden administration will follow Bloomberg and try to take their guns away from them,” he said, referring to the billionaire gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York City.
You’d like to think that most of these folks are already planning on voting, but with the number of new gun owners and would-be gun owners likely topping 5-million, gun shows are also a great place to engage in voter outreach with those who either aren’t likely voters or haven’t factored in their Second Amendment views in previous elections.
At the recent Tampa Gun Show, it sounds like there was plenty of outreach taking place.
Nobody’s campaigning for Joe Biden at the Florida Gun Show in Tampa.
There are, however, a dozen booths pushing Trump, or pushing voting for Trump, or pushing Trump-related merchandise that runs the gamut from flags and T-shirts to laser-cut metal and burnt-wood signs (it’s called pyrography!).
“Know your audience,” says my partner as we share an overpriced foot-long corn dog.
I first attended a gun show at the Florida State Fairgrounds in 2003. I admit it—I was looking for foaming-at-the-mouth gun-nut spectacle, a cliche, a caricature. Instead, I found friendliness, openness, and civility.
The piece by Bay News 9’s Scott Harrell is a welcome surprise, because it’s rare to see a honest portrayal of the Second Amendment community in the media. Harrell describes the gun show as a refuge of sorts; a rare plot of land where common ground can be found amidst the deep political divides in our society.
“I love it,” says Brian Gordon, whose company Tactical Society sells gear like vests and bags. “I get to meet interesting people.”
Gordon has only been doing gun shows for a couple of years, but he’s thinking about branching out into selling weapons as well.
There’s a sense of safety here, of oneness. It’s a bit like a concert. We’re all here for the same reason; we like the same thing. And like a concert, the crowd is always more diverse than one might assume—people of all races and walks of life, perusing the historical firearms, tactical weaponry, and decommissioned landmines. It’s always great to discover, amid the tumult and the chaos, that there’s common ground.
That common ground is support for the right to keep and bear arms, and it’s why the Trump campaign and its surrogates should have a presence at as many gun shows as possible between now and Election Day. It’s the perfect place to engage with voters, both to lock in Trump’s base but to also bring in leaners and undecideds as we head into the final weeks of the campaign.
Not every attendee will be swayed, and many of them may simply stroll by the tables with campaign literature and memorabilia. Still, in states like Florida where the race is widely seen as neck-and-neck at the moment, gun shows provide a valuable opportunity for retail politics in an age of social distancing, and one that could play an outsized role in this year’s elections.