Thoughts from our local gun show


I spent some time this past weekend manning a table at our local gun show.  I was joined by a gunsmith whose services I frequently use, and a gun writer who lives nearby.  I had a few guns to sell, and some ammunition, and moved all of them very quickly – far more swiftly than I’d anticipated.  From that point of view, it was very successful.  However, I noticed a lot going on that wasn’t directly related to the business of guns – more about the cultural clash that’s growing bigger, wider and deeper by the day in these formerly United States.  It was an interesting experience.

First off, visitors to the gun show seemed to have very specific objectives in mind.  In more peaceful times, they’d browse the aisles, looking around at random to see if anything took their fancy.  This time, a large proportion of them moved more briskly, checking a table to see if what they wanted was on it (and at an affordable price), then moving right along if it wasn’t there.  Many didn’t stay very long if they couldn’t find what they wanted.

What they wanted was, overwhelmingly, defensive (rather than sporting) firearms and ammunition.  I brought several firearms I’d used over the years to train shooters.  Before putting them out on the table, I checked the Internet to get an idea of their current values.  I wanted to raise money for other needs, not wait all weekend (or maybe until the next gun show) to squeeze the last penny out of them, so I priced them at plus-or-minus 90-95% of their market value.  They disappeared like hot cakes – I don’t think I had a gun on the table for more than two hours.  For the first time in my experience, there was very little haggling over cost.  If buyers found a gun priced fairly, they didn’t argue – just dug out their wallet and bought it quickly, before anyone else could.  (For three of the guns I sold, there were one or two more buyers waiting impatiently for the first interested person to put it down again.  If he bought it, their disappointment was palpable.)

Many of those wandering around were specific about their motivation, too.  They weren’t afraid to say that they don’t trust what might happen if Joe Biden is sworn in as our next President.  They’re buying now, rather than wait;  and, if possible, they’re buying off-paper (i.e. private sales) rather than through dealers where a record is kept on file, because they’re worried about firearm regulation or confiscation.  (Needless to say, they don’t intend to comply with any such restrictions.)  One man was buying a handgun each as future gifts for his three children, who weren’t yet of an age to legally buy their own.  He said simply that he wasn’t going to let any expletive-deleted politician stop his kids from defending themselves.

Buyers seemed to have a pretty accurate knowledge of market value.  They’d clearly done their own research.  A few of my guns were bought by other dealers in the room, and promptly reappeared on their tables at higher prices (above what I considered to be their market value).  Not one of them sold while I was there.  Buyers might want them, but they weren’t about to be price-gouged.  By the time I left, some of those dealers were glumly reducing prices on their stock, rather than have to sit on it for who knows how long.

It’s clear that some gun show dealers are actually gun enthusiasts masquerading as vendors, rather than serious businessmen.  I saw one with a pistol-caliber lever-action carbine on his table, for which he wanted $1,099.  I told him that was way above its value, but he wasn’t interested.  “If I wait, I’ll get someone to offer $1,000!”  Perhaps he will – but while waiting, the money he’s got tied up in that gun isn’t doing anything for him.  It’s been on his table for more than a year without selling.  If he’d ask $900 and negotiate towards $800-$850, he’d move it within an hour.  He wasn’t the only seller with unrealistic expectations.  Some of them get too attached to their stock, or pay too much for it in a fit of over-enthusiasm.  I’ve lost count of the number of sellers who’ve told me, over the years, “But I’ve got $-whatever in it!  I can’t sell it for less!  It’s worth a lot more!”  A gun, or anything else, is worth precisely as much as someone else is willing to pay for it – not a penny more.  Sadly, some people just don’t want to hear that, or they refuse to believe it.

Some visitors wandering around, seeking to sell their own guns or trade them for others, wanted ridiculous prices.  I’ve built and/or upgraded several AR-15‘s, so I know what they’re worth.  Even given the current shortages, I wouldn’t value a home-built AR-15, assembled using “value” or budget parts, at more than about $800-$900 at this time.  However, some of these guys wanted $1,500-plus for theirs.  When I flatly refused to deal on that basis, they were offended, as if it was somehow my fault.  “Don’t you know there’s an AR-15 shortage?”  My response was, “Sure there is, but if you look at that dealer’s table over there, he has factory-built, name-brand, decent-quality AR’s for less than you want for your home-built, unknown-quantity carbine.”  They either didn’t get it, or ignored reality – and they didn’t find buyers for their guns.

Sporting firearms – bolt-action hunting rifles, hunting shotguns, etc. – were very, very slow to move.  That’s partly because around here, most people have already got theirs;  but there’s normally a steady trickle of sales to people wanting to upgrade, or buy their kids or spouses something nice for hunting season.  This year, not so much.  People wanted defensive firearms, and made no bones about it.  The same applied to ammunition sales.  The ammo shortage is making people desperate for what they need.  Popular defensive and military cartridges – 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP5.56mm/.223, 7.62x39mm Russian, 7.62x51mm/.308 – flew off the tables as soon as they were put out, at almost any price.  .30-30 ammo was also in big demand, because there are lots of lever-action hunting rifles around here that do double duty as defensive firearms if necessary.  All the other normal hunting rounds – .243, .270, .30-06, .308 soft-point, etc. – simply didn’t sell much.  That’s unusual for this part of the world.

(It’s uncomfortably comforting, if you know what I mean, to realize that if my writing income collapses, at current prices I can contribute my share of household expenses for some years, just by selling my ammo stash!  I don’t plan on doing that, though.  The way things are going, there’s too much chance I might need the bullets more than I need the bucks . . . )

I mentioned that I needed to “raise money for other needs”.  I’m upgrading my defensive battery of handguns and long guns to make sure they have all the basic equipment and accessories I may need.  The current situation in this country gives me little cause for optimism.  I expect Antifa/BLM violence to increase, and perhaps erupt into localized civil war in our cities if the election result doesn’t go their way.  I also expect criminal violence to increase, because our economy is still in very poor shape, and I don’t believe enough government assistance will be forthcoming to make up for lost ground.  What’s more, if Joe Biden becomes President, he’s already announced that illegal immigrants will basically be given free rein.  Many of them will bring crime and violence with them across the borders.

For that reason, I’m making sure that my defensive handguns have updated night sights, with optical (i.e. reflex) sights on those I most frequently carry for self-defense.  (I’m standardizing on Swampfox Optics, which I reviewed recently in these pages.). I’m also buying a couple more optical sights for my defensive long guns, and a few more magazines for weapons that rely on them.  (As Tamara Keel has sagely pointed out more than once, the answer to the question “How many magazines do I need?” is always “More.”  That goes double if they may become legally restricted.)  It’s not cheap to upgrade all those parts.  I long ago made a promise to Miss D. that my firearm hobby would be largely self-sustaining;  i.e. I would sell what I don’t need to fund what I do need.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep that promise (at least so far).  After the past weekend’s sales, I’m in a position to buy what I need without burdening our household budget.  That makes both of us happy.



  1. I was interested to read about the gun show that you went to. Where I live, a midwestern state, I have quit going to gun shows. The last two that I went to, ALL of the sellers- not just the licensed dealers- banded together and decided to demand either a CCW permit or a "permit to buy a handgun" before making any sales, even for long guns. Note- this is NOT required by law for long gun sales. They just decided among themselves to do this. I went to an auction, looking for a 12 ga shotgun, and ran into the same restrictions. My last two purchases have been at yard sales from private individuals. I have quit going to the gun shows because of this. What do you think of this ? And what state was this gun show in ? I may want to ceck one out in your area. Thanks.

  2. Weird that you have 7.62×51 ball ammo going fast as a "defensive" round but soft-point .308 not selling…? Really don't see the point of that at all for civilians.

    Unless of course, all the potential buyers are planning to qualify as legal military combatants according to international treaties…?

    (For me, .308 softpoint is fine for European largish game and 7.62×51 NATO-spec normal ball has traditionally been cheap range practice ammo for the same rifle.)

  3. @dogsledder: I'm in north Texas. No restrictions on handgun (or any other firearm) sales here.

    @mn–: If you've ever seen what 7.62x51mm hardball does to the human body, you'll stop wondering. It's nasty stuff. Adding a soft or hollow point would basically be overkill, and it'd take away some of its good penetration characteristics.

  4. Just my opinion but handguns are emergency defensive weapons. Someone said, "The pistol is designed to allow you to get to your long gun.". I agree with that. Handguns are mostly under powered and besides are harder to hit with than long guns. They are, 'Last resort', arms. Anyone who carries a weapon into a mall or some other kind of store has to carry a concealed handgun. If I were worried about being confronted in my vehicle, however, I would rely on a long gun. Probably a shotgun. I regularly carry such in my vehicle along with a big can of pepper spray. There is nothing wrong with carrying a pistol either.

  5. Hey Peter;

    Thanks for the report, I have been able to get 5.56 for my departed EBR that I lost in those durn canoe accidents, but I haven't found any 30-06 for my departed Garand. Same with the popular pistol calibers, from .40 cal. to .38Special/357 or .32ACP. There are no pistol calibers ammo to be had in my area of the ATL or in Florida where I am visiting.

  6. @Peter:

    Yep, penetration control is exactly the point. Really a bit _too_ much of that in 7.62×51 or 54R hardball and you never know which way it'll turn after going through something if you can't sink it into a good dirt backstop. Which you usually can't except on a range.

    Which is why my hunting club requires softpoints even when the law allows hunting with hardball.

    Even softpoint will go through a fair amount of construction-grade steel and concrete, but at least it stops somewhere sane.

    The local shooting range's target-end structures (cardboard animals mounted on rails, moving target) have seen quite enough of accidental hits to establish some patterns.

  7. Same down here in La. I've been stocking up on magazines and spare parts for my battery and I just sighed and dropped a fair chunk on a new-to-me factory FAL because I want to make sure I have at least one handy, unless of course they get banned, at which point I'll turn it in immediately, unless it gets lost or stolen first of course.

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