Many would argue that Texas is the undisputed firearms capital of the world. If that is accurate, then Mesquite, Texas, might have to be the gun show capital of the United States. There are several hundred gun shows in Texas during the course of the year, ranging from Market Hall in Dallas to a community recreation center in Dumas. In Mesquite, you will find a gun show in at least one of the many venues available for gun shows on a very regular basis.
A lot of your 27,695,000 neighbors have pistols, rifles or shotguns, and probably more than one of each. Many of those firearms have likely been purchased in the thousands of gun shows held across the Lone Star State.
If you have not experienced a Texas gun show, here is what it looks like. They’re held on Saturdays and Sundays, and they’re trade shows, swap meets and raw capitalism. They can be found in an auditorium, a display barn at the county fairgrounds, or NRG Center in Houston. There will be hundreds or thousands of eight foot tables layered in all things that shoot. And all things that go with the things that shoot.
It is not unusual to find firearms from the Civil War, or something that looks like it would be more suited to Afghanistan. A lot of the firearms you will find have real history attached. Pistols that are documented to have belonged to Texas Rangers have been known to fetch ten’s of thousands of dollars.
The crowd is largely male, white and over forty. They wear jeans, and t-shirts adorn everything from American flags to the most “politically incorrect” statements you can imagine. One t-shirt dealer tells me that every time he thinks he’s “hit a nerve” with one of his shirts, those shirts sell out in a flash. The demand is created instantly. These are shirts that your son or daughter would be sent home from school for wearing.
That’s not to classify the crowd as a bunch of “Bubbas”, because you find people from every walk of life. Doctors, lawyers, broadcasters are rubbing elbows with mechanics and truck drivers. They all share the same passion for shooting sports.
The crowd is mostly Republican and conservative. Bumper stickers expressing displeasure of the current President are also in vogue. Those with Bill Clinton’s name were just changed out, substituting Obama’s in early 2009.
In the parking lot, you will find those stickers on probably more pickups than anything, but a surprising number of Cadillac’s, BMW’s & Benz’s. Gun owners tend to have money. It is not an inexpensive hobby.
The entrance fee runs between $7 -10 per day. Attendees go past a check point where they ask to see and secure any firearm you bring in. After all, it is okay to bring a rifle or pistol and sell it to someone — no questions asked.
Some of the dealers specialize in a type of weapon, or an era. You will see tables laded with shotguns, or lever action Winchesters, a typical cowboy rifle, or another with 50+ German Luger pistols from both World Wars I and II.
The tables are in long rows, or islands and the can stretch for fifty yards. First time visitors often react with surprise when they was through the doors. Their first comment is usually something religious, like “Oh my God” or “Jesus, look at all this” when they come through the door. It is at that moment that people realize there are other people in the state who feel the same way they do about the 2nd Amendment, target shooting, deer hunting, self-defense and gun collecting.
That brings us to a small suburb on the east-side of Dallas – Mesquite — with a population of approximately 140,000. It is a working class, blue collar town.
Why do you find so many gun shows in Mesquite? The answer is simple. It is the combination of roads and venues.
The roads funnel the gun show enthusiasts in on the LBJ Loop, Interstates 635 , 30 and 20 (now Highway 80). They come together in this small town, allowing easy access from all over the metroplex, and points beyond.
The Big Town Shopping mall was built in the 50’s and had regular retail outlets until early in this century. The Expo Center came along in the 70s and has been upgraded over the years. Now, 12 weekends per year, around 800 tables are set up there by Premier Gun Shows from Fort Worth. Tim Finucane and his wife Michelle have been running the company since they took over from her father, Fort Worth promoter Bob Norman.
“Mesquite is very welcoming all these years,” Finucane said in an interview with Breitbart Texas. “There are no politics, no city council issues, and the crowds are awesome. Our vendors like having the traffic”.
Just a couple of miles away, the Mesquite Championship Rodeo has their attached convention center where Tier 1 Gun Show promoter Michael Pierce is in residence six weekends per year. He tells Breitbart Texas, “Location, and demand. We have some high quality vendors and dealers, and that draws in the crowds. They bring their money. Everybody’s happy, and it builds from one show to the next.”
The Rodeo venue, like Big Town, features between 600-800 tables per show. It has a valued extra — free parking. Rodeo also has what some call the “classier” atmosphere, with carpeting throughout.
Arlington-based Gun dealer Glen Furtardo told Breitbart Texas that Mesquite is a great place for a gun show “It’s a working class crowd, people buying and selling, making a little money here and there, lot of cash business.”
Furtardo has worked both shows for several years, and sells a few rifles. But mostly, he sells specialty ammunition. “Gun-only dealers can have a bad show very easily. It’s like fishing. Some weekends, they’re biting, sometimes, they’re not. I sell a few off-beat rifles, short barreled shotgun — specialty stuff that you don’t ordinarily see. And everyone can handle $20-50 for something different.
He also makes money working deals with other dealers. He looks for the hard to find, or little known firearms, new or exotic. Collectors seek him out to finish their collections.
“We get people from all over east Texas, even Shreveport is only a couple of hours down the interstate,” Furtardo said. “A lot of times they will come to the gun show, the wife might go to the mall, and they can take their time going from table to table. We build up a regular set of clients, and they bring their friends. That’s how we have built our business.”
At a time when more and more businesses are on-line, gun shows are a throwback, a 21st century anachronism where the personal connection, handshakes and a man’s word, still has some value. “I’ve had people tell me to look for a certain rifle at a show, and months later, it will turn up. They will meet me at the show to do the deal.’ Furtardo added.
Promoter Michael Pierce adds “You have to have your private vendors, people who do this as a hobby, to make it a show. We have non-firearms vendors with military surplus gear, flight suits, uniforms and boots, and people who sell off their hunting gear, as well”.
“We try not to have these staged as traveling retail outlets,” he explained. “I like to see people trading, swapping, bringing in boxes of ammo from their grandfathers house and finding someone who is looking to add that to a collection.”
The majority of gun shows are like free trade zones. This is the sticking point that many in the anti-gun crowd use against the business — the so called “gun show loophole”.
Federal law requires that licensed gun dealers do a background check on everyone who buys a firearm. It’s a check for a criminal records that is run through the FBI records center in West Virginia. Their busiest day of the week is Saturday, with gun shows nationwide.
Private individuals can buy a table and sell whatever they want by posting a sign that it’s from a “private collection.” There is no paperwork involved just as there would be no required paperwork if they sold the gun from their table at home. There are also people who walk into a gun show with three or four rifles across their shoulders and a bag full of pistols. They have little flags on the rifles about type, caliber and cost. They might also have a hand lettered sandwich board on their chest and back listing what they’re carrying around. Anyone with money can buy what those people are selling. The dealers who rent a table don’t like the competition from someone who has only paid $10 to walk in the door. They see these people as potentially taking business from them.
The relation between firearms violence and guns purchased this way at gun shows has never been proven. But, like “cop-killer” bullets, it’s a catchy phrase that looks good in headlines that has no proof to back it up.
Pierce says that the industry has changed because of what he calls “The Elephant and Gorilla” in the room and on the phone — the internet and all things on-line. “We get shoppers coming in with their phones fully charged,” he said. “They do window shopping, comparing prices, but go home and order things on-line, saving $5 or 10 bucks.”
“I do the best I can to put on shows that are fun, family-friendly, and enjoyable for both the customers and the vendors. I like the old-fashioned show concept, smaller is better.”
So, if you’re in the mood to see capitalism at its constitutionally protected best, do some wheeling and dealing with several thousand of your close personal friends, all roads lead to Mesquite. On average, every 3 weeks, year around, you will find a gun show.
Rob Milford is a news contributor for Breitbart Texas. Follow him on Facebook.