Monday, January 16, 2012

Gun Shows:

Gun shows started out as places where collectors would literally go to show guns, like dog shows or flower shows. They would drape a table cloth over a folding table down at the civic center or the livestock barn at the county fairgrounds, spread out their Lugers or cap'n'ball Colts, and everybody would ooh and ahh at each other's hoards and spend the day discussing esoterica concerning guns and the collecting thereof.

As with any gathering of homo sapiens, a certain amount of horse trading and assorted commerce attended such gatherings. By the time the Gun Control Act of 1968 created the "Federally Licensed Firearms Dealer", gun shows were naturally a place for them to ply their trade.

For years, there was an ongoing war between "brick & mortar" FFLs, who operated a storefront, and so-called "kitchen table" FFLs, who maintained a license so they could acquire guns at wholesale, order them for family or buddies at work, and maybe get a table at the local gun show. If they sold a gun or two at a 5% or 10% markup, it'd cover the fees for their one table, and the badge let them come in and wander the show freely. If they could talk a buddy or two into helping him cover the table in exchange for a free entrance, it'd make for a pretty pleasant weekend.

During the Clinton years, the then-BATF started shutting down "kitchen table" FFLs and smaller guys who were actually using their FFL to run a side business, setting up at local gun shows on the weekends. It didn't really require any new federal laws or regulations: Local zoning ordinances handled a large part of the grunt work. ("Did you know that Mr. Smith of 123 Local Street is running a retail firearms business out of his home? Is that in compliance with local zoning?")

As a result, the '90s were the salad days for cheap new guns at gun shows, between the surviving kitchen table guys whose overhead amounted to table fees, and the kitchen table guys who had already been shut down and were just selling off their remaining inventory before closing their acquisition/disposition books and sending them off to Washington.

For brick and mortar guys, don't expect them to be able to slash prices at the show. They run shows one of two ways:
  1. Close the store on show weekends. Gun show is an all-hands evolution, requiring all the guns to be loaded into a trailer, schlepped to the site of the show, set up, torn down again at show's end, hauled back to the store and re-displayed there. I've done this for a guy who usually had a 20 table setup. It's a brutal, backbreaking way to spend a weekend.

  2. Keep the store open on the weekends and have a complete second inventory pre-loaded on a trailer, ready to go. This is easier, but requires double the manpower, since you're keeping the storefront open during the show, and obviously requires more overhead in inventory. Inventory is not an asset; it is money tied up not doing anything until it sells.
Plus, if the gun show is not in your home city, you're going to be paying for motel rooms and food for yourself and any employees. And don't forget table fees ($75-$100 or more/table.) People would look at a gun and say "This is the same price it was at your shop!" and I'd have to bite my lip to keep from replying "If my boss could do math, he'd have marked it up ten bucks for the show."

The only real advantage of buying new, current production guns at a show instead of at the dealer's storefront is that you can comparison-shop by walking across a room instead of driving across town. Gun shows still shine for bulk ammo and reloading components, unless you charge as much to haul a hunnert pounds of lead to your front door as UPS does.

Me? I'm not there for the new guns. If I want a new gun, I know where to buy them. I just want to talk to that old guy at the table in the corner, the one who looks like he's been there since before 1968, and ask him how much he wants for that ol' Luger. It's a bit beat up for a collector, but it looks like it'd make a fine shooter, don't you think?

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wait, you mean no one is going to give me a gun when I walk into a gun show?

Why not? I mean I paid $5 to park and $10 to get in. Where's my free gun?

Shootin' Buddy

Anonymous said...

I go for the same reasons, to find the old stuff you seldom see in a store. That and the books, accessories, etc. You don't find old Elmer Keith or Skeeter Skelton books in your local gun shop, at least I don't.

Chris

Tam said...

...and it's more fun to find stuff like that in a fair chase hunt. Internet shopping feels too much like shooting over bait. ;)

Anonymous said...

I used to go to the Eastman's shows in Atlanta back around 92-95 when I lived in Doraville. It was an amazing sight to see all of the items being offered. It's also where the reloading bug bit me.

Gmac

Frank W. James said...

The problem is, Tam, that even the interweb doesn't provide the really esoteric old guns that some of us like to search for anymore. Merwin & Hulberts and Triple-Locks are available on the interweb, but not the 'specific' models I'm searching for, but I will admit you see more there on a daily basis than you do the average gunshow. That's why the "Mrs. James" limits my visits to the Louisville and Tulsa gunshows.

The only thing I can say for the tables full of new guns at gunshows is they make me walk faster...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Divemedic said...

Another example of businesses using government to eliminate competition. That is why you need a license to do anything from explain a law to someone, change a circuit breaker, refill a fire extinguisher, or clean someone's pool.

The license eliminates much of your competition and restricts supply, thereby ensuring that the licensed business gets a larger market share and that prices are artificially inflated.

the pawnbroker said...
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Anonymous said...

To get really, obnoxiously pedantic, the FFL has existed since 1938, established by the Federal Firearms Act. They covered (gasp) interstate sales only.

Somewhere around here I've got one, issued to a general store out west in 1946. Looks like an oversized postcard on green cardstock.

Tam said...

PB,

I'd say that, of people with firearms to sell, maybe half were FFLs.

The big difference being that private guys have 1-3 tables and dealers have 10-20, so the actual table ratio is more skewed. Plus there are plenty of people standing around the edges or walking the aisles selling privately-owned guns. There's AMPLE opportunity to buy like you want.

If you want to see a gun show more like the olden kind, I'd recommend the NAPCA annual convention in Chattanooga. Little bitty thing, barely takes up a hotel conference room. How many navy Lugers you take for that Borchardt?

Billy Sparks said...

The reason I like to buy new guns from the gun shows is that around here there are no big dealers so if you want to see new stuff or different stuff that is the only way to do it. Besides driving a ton.

Robin said...

I like gun shows with a good scattering of tables full of interesting junk. Old guns, parts, reloading and casting tools, used holsters, surplus stuff etc.

Not the tables full of cheap Chinese made tools, Chinese made t-shirts and Chinese made bags however.

Woodman said...

I was at the show Saturday, I am glad I don't suffer from any kind of claustrophobia. Between the hours of 9 AM and 4:30 PM it was pretty much nut to butt out there. I'm new to the gun show experience, this was my second, and 90% of my gun knowledge is from my time in the military (So I know the m16, m249, and the 1911) so those tables with a hundred beat up pistols are all very interesting to me, as well as the tables with all the beat up old SKSs and whatever else.

Thing was, I couldn't get past the crowds of people looking at all the black rifles to get to the neat looking ones. Hell, I'm looking for some reasonably priced used firearms and I couldn't get to them without feeling like I was blocking the line to the lifeboat on the Titanic.

On the plus side, I saw the dude from Dual Survival and listened to him talk for a bit. Seemed a bit cocky and self assured, just like on the show. And my wife and youngest also had a good time.

Side topic, my wife mentioned that on the shuttle bus back to the car that there was this camaraderie on the bus you just didn't notice on the same ride from the Home and Garden show.

wv: Colde... What they used to call it in Merry Olde England when it was chilly.

JimB said...

I like gun shows. It's like walking around in a museum that lets you touch the exhibits. I have to laugh at some of the dealers though. When you want to sell or trade something it's a turd.. When you buy it it's suddenly gold. Oh well.. the funs in the looking.

The Raving Prophet said...

I don't really go to many gun shows anymore. I got tired of paying $8-10 to stand in an incredibly crowded room looking at table after table of whatever the gun of the month happens to be, followed by those who are under their impressed that their garden variety used K frame is worth $800. It's all the more annoying because I keep see people proclaiming gun shows to be the perfect place for that great deal as though it was still 1996.

But then, a couple weeks ago I got bored and hit a show, and ended up coming home with one of the new Sig 1911 Ultras. No, it wasn't tremendously cheaper than a local shop, but it was a bit less, and the ability to comparison shop a half dozen different models in one place is useful. You just have to have a good idea what you want- if you go in there knowing nothing you'll likely get taken (the aforementioned $800 model 19... it wasn't even a funky variant...).

Still, the show had more LCPs and TCPs than really was absolutely necessary...

Tam said...

The Raving Prophet,

Sorry your gun shows suck.

Every show, I find at least one something worth bringing home: A WWI Carcano, a Savage .32, a Dreyse 1907, a tip-up Smith Old Army, an FN 1922... I can't remember the last time I left one empty-handed, or hadn't wished I'd had more to spend.

Tam said...

(I don't even slow down to glance at the new guns, really, except to check the price on Glocks/M&Ps/Ruger 22/45s, as a general barometer of what the pricing would be like on the rest of the table, should I see anything interesting.)

cj said...

I go to my shows to support their existence, see new stuff that hasn't filtered to my store yet, and apparently for amusement for all the guys who still believe there's an ammo shortage and that Wal-Mart's shelves aren't currently bent from being over-stacked. I guess they're hoping someone might wander by and cover their entire table fee by buying one box of ammo.

There is the occasional rare gem that's priced fairly, but the number of $500 plain LCPs gets a bit annoying, but tells you which tables to not bother even talking to.

the pawnbroker said...
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Tam said...

PB,

I've just never begrudged a man what I consider a fair price. I've been on both sides of that table and so have you.

See SB's comment at the top of the thread for an accurate reflection of how I hear a lot of the complaining about gun shows. ;)

Dean Carder said...

Kansas City MO has several gunshows every year. The crowds vary depending on the weather, both of nature and political. You tend to see the same dealers, the same guns over and over. I just went to an RK Shows gunshow this past week end. Lots of "junk" and fewer actual gun dealers. And very few individual sellers walking around. After this one I have decided to save my schekels and make an annual trip to the big Wannamacher show in Tulsa

Fred said...

The 48 hour waiting period for pistols here pretty much kills shows for me now. It's stupid to drive halfway across the state for the show, do the paperwork, and then drive halfway across the state in the other direction two days later to pick it up at their shop.

I've passed up so many deals because of this...

Sport Pilot said...

Great blog fodder Tam, I enjoyed reading this and all of the comment's. Gun Show's tend to be a hit or miss in some respect's if your looking for that once in a lifetime find. Where they really pay off though is in meeting long time collector's and gun seller's. I've met more intresting people at gun show's and steam engine show's than at any conference or training course I've attended.

Bubblehead Les. said...

What I like best about the Gun Shows is that I usually find some sort of accessories for the Guns that are too Old to be New, but too Young to be Old. Think of spare magazines for all those Smith "Gun of the Month" models from the '90s for an example. Plus, of course, one gets to haggle and trade and wheel and deal.

And Bulk Ammo, of course.

But as to your #2, same thing happens with other Businesses. Used to help my buddy with his Comic Book/Sci-Fi Store. Always some sort of Show or Con, and being Stuck in the Vender's Room while all the Fun Stuff was happening up stairs got old.

Will said...

Fred:

What they did here in CA was to set up transfer dealers, so a dealer near the show would hold the handgun for the required 10-15-20 (whatever) days hold. Think it was like a $25 fee.

There is a current lawsuit about that "cooling off" period, which is the stated reason for the waiting period. (It's not the real reason, of course.) If you already have one or more, why is it needed, is the basis for the suit.

CA now has a ten day wait for all types of guns.

Will said...

My observation is a certain percentage of tableholders are there just to be there. Not to sell guns, that's for sure. When you see the same gun(s) on a dealer's table in three states, half a dozen show locations, over several years, you know they aren't serious about selling.

JD Rush said...

Here in Des Moines the B&M stores don't dicker at all on new inventory. And they all have their little niche. The shows bring in the small town guys that often have a line to fill out paperwork. I suck at wheeling and dealing and picked up M&P #4 for what cdnn was listing them for. I know a dealer pays less in bulk, but no local dealer bothers to either stock them or wants 500 or more.

Stuart the Viking said...

Up until a year ago I could never figure out why people said that you could get a good deal at a gun show. Then, at one show, I found 3 differant guns from my "list" at decent prices (not super, but decent). Of course I only had the cash for one of them. ACK!!! The next show... nope... back to nothing.

Oh, and I have noticed that the local (big-ish) gun store has worse prices at the show than they do in the store. At least on the pieces I looked at specifically.

At least it's still a decent place to pick up bulk ammo.

s

Anonymous said...

One thing I get at some (not all) shows is the comradarie of rubbing elbows w/other gunnies. It helps you remember you ain't alone.....

Anonymous said...

All true...although I have noticed that if you go on the afternoon of the last day, you can (maybe) get some knocked off the price. Under the idea that it's better to get $10-20 less than it is to drive the item back to the store in South Bend or Marion or Sellersburg or wherever...

But yes, generally better to look for older pieces. STILL kicking myself for not buying that S & W Model 28 in 95% condition a while back.

Anonymous said...

PS - although I did get a copy of Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting by Ed McGivern. What the hell; I figure I can learn something from a guy who could throw five glass balls in the air and hit all five before they hit the ground.

Oh yeah, that was when he was 57 years old. Now all I have to do is shoot about a million rounds of 38 Special...

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Billy Sparks hit my main reason to buy new at gun shows - I can get hands on before buying with stuff that I would otherwise have to travel halfway across the state (at least) to do that with, because my local FFL's don't keep it in inventory (the KRISS Vector is a good example - the only time I've been able to handle one is at the local gun shows).

Add in the fact that the guy who has it there already will most likely be selling at a lower price than my local guy who would have to special order it, and I'll probably (though certainly not always) end up paying less at the gun show.

OTOH, if my local guy has it in inventory, I'm probably better off buying it from him. And even if it's a little bit more expensive, I'd be tempted to buy from him just to help keep him around.

the pawnbroker said...
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Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Pawnbroker: I agree with everything in your comment, and I would certainly give him the opportunity if the situation came up (the KRISS was just an example, really). But I have seen situations where the guy buying half a dozen of gun X to put into his inventory, and then regularly buying 2 or 3 at a time to maintain his stock, can sell them for less than my dealer would pay just to get just one in the store.

Personally, my FFL is pretty good, and from what I've seen can usually manage it. But he does run a pretty small operation, and sometimes he just can't compete against the bigger guys.

Critter said...

i once entered a gun show down south with a couple of old pistols and a couple hundred bucks, and after trading and haggling my way across the exhibition hall a couple hours later, emerged with a pristine 03A3 Springfield. it doesn't happen often, but it can happen.