Gun Enthusiasts Stock Up on Semi-Automatics at New Orleans Weapons Expo

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Anticipating tighter restrictions, shoppers in Kenner, Louisiana, flocked to a large show yesterday to buy AR-15 rifles and assert their belief in self-defense.

In the wake of the second-largest mass shooting in America, business was booming at a gun show in Kenner, Louisiana. The Kenner gun show's popularity has risen, with 1,000 more visitors this year than last, and sales are up. Some shoppers expressed concerns that new gun control legislation might be passed and said they were buying their weapons while they still could. The AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle like the one Adam Lanza used in the Newton, Connecticut, massacre, was the most popular weapon sold at this year's show.

As of now, the National Rifle Association has not commented on the Newton shootings. But the people I met at the gun show, many of whom were wearing NRA-branded gear, were happy to explain their take on gun control.

Ernie Bean, owner of Great Southern Gun and Knife Shows LLC, believes we'd be safer if we took mentally ill people off the streets. Until we do, he feels we should arm and protect ourselves. His son Shawn, the show's director, believes guns are an equalizer: They allow an older person to stand up to a younger person, or a woman to fight back against a stronger assailant.

According to John Gauthier, owner of the shooting instruction company On Target LLC, an AR-15 or an AK-47 is simply a sporting rifle. "The problem isn't the gun. It is the evil in the people using them for no good," he says. "No-gun zones are not the answer. That's where the mass killers will come because they know there will be no one to stop them."

For those I met at the show, the only acceptable form of gun control was background checks. Gun dealer Danny Carter explained he doesn't want to sell weapons to criminals. But like others around him, he expressed tremendous fear at the idea that people might lose their ability to defend themselves. Vincent Dantone, another gun dealer, says the problem lies with the national culture: Family morals have slipped and kids have no discipline. "I had bumps and lumps as a kid, but never thought of opening fire on a group of people," he said.

Bob Molea, who was shopping at the show, blamed the media for the Connecticut shooting. "I shouldn't know the shooter's name, but I do," he said. "The media is making these killers famous. Hence the copycats."

Meanwhile, Carlos Gonzalez was at the show to buy a gun to teach his kids how to shoot, looking for a weapon without too much kickback and light enough for a child to hold. He believes that knowing how to use a gun is the best form of gun safety.

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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