Ironically, I had never been to a gun show in California until the August Crossroads of the West in beautiful seaside Ventura. Like the deep-sea fishing trip my father promised, we never made it to a gun show. I did however get all the AWB-era gun magazines and catalogs that he fed our small milsurp collection, promptly thumbing them to death.
I was pleasantly surprised with the atmosphere inside, despite the usual scummy gray skies of a Southern California summer.. It was like a gathering of oppressed, like-minded individuals thumbing their noses at the government. I even saw at least one person openly carrying a GI-style M1911.
80% lowers, the uppers, and the parts to finish them dominated the room. Nevada’s own Polymer 80 Glock style guns were everywhere and interest was intense. Incidentally, my retired cop buddy was chatting it up just the day before with a gorgeous 20-year old woman about her Polymer 80 build and meeting up at the show. Sadly, we did not cross paths with her.
California’s recent banning of the “bullet button” created the surge in alternatives to keep an AR unregistered. Some tables showed off locks that only dropped the magazines when the upper and lower were separated, while the parts bazaar sold clever work-arounds like pistol grip fins and angled foregrips. Tables of featureless AR-15s equipped with Thordsen stocks looked pretty good, despite their strange device-less muzzles.
Surplus, antique, and just plain older guns were far more evident than newer guns. Whole collections of US GI rifles in varying makes and grades were available. Perhaps the wackiness of California laws made such displays more viable or more prominent than in other states, where it feels like hunting a quality surplus weapon is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Of course, private sales are illegal and have been for twenty years or so, requiring the buyers to move over to an FFLs table, who would then hold it for the ten-day waiting period (and report the sale to the state). One unique aspect was that the smaller ammo venders are now required to put up a physical barrier in front of their ammo, which meant the table venders put chicken wire across their display boxes or even just aluminum foil.
Even with the utterly ridiculous and tyrannical obstacles thrown up by the state, there was a pretty decent crowd. It was far more popular than a typical Las Vegas mid-summer gun show. Many of the sellers remarked that they would continue sell, just to fight the good fight, and to annoy the anti-gunners.
Despite my best efforts, I saw no undercover California DOJ agents slinking through the Reno aisles looking to bust Californians trying to smuggle ammo home. Agents have typically identified Californians by clothing that announces that one likely is a California resident. They then follow the suspects, observe their purchases, follow them to their vehicle, and once the vehicle crosses the border, marked units make a traffic stop.
I was hoping to identify one, follow them around, stymie their efforts, and see if I couldn’t get Reno PD to arrest them for something. Oh well. Instead, I picked up a couple minor things, got a great deal on some books, and had a great conversation with two guys about Little Bighorn.
Reno was miserable at the end of July, choked with smoke as it was. The gun show offered an indoor respite from the misery, but as usual (mainly because I was unwilling to spend several thousand dollars filling up my gun safe) I felt a little unsatisfied when I left. I didn’t see much that was new or see any particularly remarkable deals. Compared to Reno (and Las Vegas shows) the Ventura show had a better overall atmosphere.
There are too many FFL tables at gun shows, often taking up much of the floor and constituting the majority of gun sold. These guns are rarely sold at a discounted rate and don’t compete with the big online “we-ship-to-your-FFL” houses. If I am paying retail, I’d rather do it from my gun stores of choice and support the existence of a brick-and-mortar gun store. I didn’t come to a gun show to see an entire gun store laid out on tables; I came for private sales.
Secondly, there is a disappointing lack of private sales going on. The Reno show at least had part of a whole wall filled with private sellers rather than them being scattered haphazardly through the hall. Paranoid or not, many of us prefer to buy guns without the hassle of paperwork and background checks. A gun show is the perfect meeting place for buyers and sellers to come together and make great deals in a way that would thwart future registration via Form 4473.
The dearth of private sales may be related to factors beyond anyone’s control. Those who remember gun shows from the pre-AWB era as better than today with a wider selection, better deals, and better private sellers are constantly complaining about today’s gun shows. My personal theory is that all the “good” guns like WWII surplus and cheap guns of yesteryear have become collectables and are being held on to.
It may also be generational; the 60 and 70 year old men who sold guns to today’s 40-60 year old men are now mostly dead, their gun collections waiting to be liquidated when the Baby Boomers get too old to enjoy them. Perhaps in 10-15 years we will see a resurgence of cheap, quality guns being sold off in large numbers as men and women get rid of the stuff that the kids don’t want to inherit. Then of course it could just be the Internet moved the market to private forums and sites like Gunbroker, etc.