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Loaded questions: Vendors field gun-control questions at show

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Leslie Davis and his son Spencer, right, and Erik Wilkinson and his sons, left, check out some of the rifles that were for sale at the Natchez Gun Show Saturday afternoon in the Natchez Convention Center.

NATCHEZ — Gun show veteran Ronnie Rainey finds himself answering a lot of questions about gun rights these days, but the increased inquiries are something he’s seen every time the nation takes aim in the gun debate.

“A lot of people will ask questions about what we’ve heard and we what we know is going on in Washington,” Rainey said Saturday standing at his booth at the Natchez Gun Show. “But a lot of people just want to talk to you about it, too.”

Rainey, who has been involved in the gun show trade since 1968, said the questions he fields from customers often turn into more swapping sessions of the latest news.

“They want to tell you what they heard and see if you know anything about it,” he said. “But that happens anytime people start talking about taking something away or enacting new laws.”

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — The center’s main hall was filled with gun dealers and gun enthusiasts.

The discussion, Rainey said, has certainly heated up since President Obama and several other state lawmakers have announced potential changes to gun control laws.

Some of those laws include requiring background checks for all gun sales and banning both military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

But Rainey said the question of the day Saturday was regarding California Sen. Diane Feinstein’s recent legislation that was written to comprehensively cover rifles, pistols and handguns with one of any military-style features like detachable stock, pistol grips or grenade launchers. It also bans 157 specific firearms, while excluding 2,258 hunting and sporting rifles and shotguns.

While Rainey said his booth specializes in deer rifles, hunting shotguns and custom made knives, one assault riffle stays on display as an “eye pleaser” for customers passing by.

“I keep that one out there to hopefully catch the people walking by real quick,” he said. “I really don’t consider that my specialty, but it’s there.

“That’s what more people seem to be looking for nowadays.”

That same kind of piqued interest in assault riffles he’s been seeing recently, is something Rainey said he’s seen several times throughout the years, including during President George H.W. Bush’s administration and President Bill Clinton’s administration.

“There was a while there in the 80s where you would see assault rifles, AK-47s and Uzi machine guns just laying around gun shows because no body wanted them,” Rainey said. “Then a few years later, you couldn’t find one anywhere.”

But there was no absence of assault riffles at the Natchez gun show as several booths displayed around the Natchez Convention Center had multiple options for sale.

All purchases, sales or trades made at the gun show must follow federal, state and local laws, said promoter David Chancellor.

Vendors at the show can only sell to residents of Mississippi with a valid driver’s license.

But only licensed firearm dealers are required to perform a background check before selling a gun, which is done through the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Private sellers selling out of their own collection, like Rainey, are not required to perform background checks for sales.

“Since those vendors are selling from their own private collection, it’s not necessary for them to do a background check,” Chancellor said. “They have to be registered and get identification numbers and all that to be a licensed firearm dealer.”

While he’s not required to do background checks, Rainey said the state laws do hinder his business in areas like Natchez that are so close to other states.

“It’s aggravating when you have someone come up, ask questions, pick up the guns and they’re about to buy it and pull out a Louisiana driver’s license,” Rainey said. “It happens quite a bit whenever you go to shows in areas like this.”

Apart from having to observe state, federal and local laws, several other precautions are taken to keep the show safe for everyone involved, Chancellor said.

“No loaded guns are allowed inside the show, we don’t allow any loose ammunition and all guns brought in are zip tied to disable it’s ability to discharge,” he said. “We also have local police here keeping any eye out on everything.”

Those kinds of regulations and precautions are what Natchez Police Chief Danny White said are vital to keeping the public safe during events like gun shows.

“David (Chancellor) and I will talk days before the show and make sure everything is worked out as far as safety goes,” White said. “David is an ex-police officer, so we have faith he’s going to do everything to keep the public safe at that event.”

The gun show continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at the Natchez Convention Center.