By Rhea Mahbubani
6:57 PM PST, January 26, 2013
A sign taped to ticket booths at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show proclaimed, "Your wife called...she said you could buy anything you want."
And buy they did.
Eager to have the pick of the litter, enthusiasts began lining up as early as 3 a.m. at the Orange County Fairgrounds, taking shelter from the rain under umbrellas and jackets. When owner and President Bob Templeton arrived at 7 a.m., he described the mood as "upbeat," as if people were in a "party mood."
Although prepared for a strong show, he expressed surprise at the staggering number of people who came in the early hours of event. Having originally estimated a turnout of 15,000 people spread across the weekend, he said it's likely this will be the organization's largest show in 38 years, attracting between 22,000 and 24,000 people.
After selling 1,300 eight-foot tables to between 200 and 300 vendors and experiencing "tremendous" online ticket sales, this event is poised to surpass the Phoenix Gun Show, he added, which has historically been the nation's largest.
"People are concerned that their 2nd Amendment rights are being threatened by politicians," Templeton said. "They see things on a national and state level and law-abiding gun owners feel like they're under attack. Concern about the future of gun ownership has brought them out here today."
Templeton described the gun show as a 1st and 2nd Amendment "forum" — the former, pertaining to assembly and free speech, and the latter as it relates to the right to bear arms.
Toward that end, when the O.C. Fairgrounds and Crossroads of the West Gun Show received a handful of phone calls from citizens aggravated about the influx of guns in their community, a "Free Speech" area was demarcated with police tape. As has been the case in previous years, no demonstrators arrived on the scene, Templeton said.
For 32-year-old Mission Viejo resident Kurt Groeters, a repeat visitor, there was a marked difference between this and shows past, which he recalled being "busy, but not to this extent."
"It's smart to be prepared," he said. "If they are going to ban ammunition and certain guns, people are becoming aware and protecting themselves from whatever it may be."
Tracy Olcott, vice president of Crossroads of the West Gun Show, labeled the event as "unusually busy," explaining that talks about arms' restrictions had triggered a deluge of "worried" people, gravitating largely to ammunition and firearms.
While some, such as Groeters' friends, spent more than two hours in a slow-moving queue in pursuit of the show-stealer — ammunition — Robert Armendariz, turned off by the wait, decided not to stock up.
"I enjoy shooting and so I look for ammo or accessories that I can upgrade my firearms with," said Armendariz, 46, a resident of Riverside, who walked away with only three magazines and rings for his pistol's flashlight mount.
"I like to purchase firearms, kind of like an investment, so I keep an eye out for good deals and try to pick something up in every caliber. You can get them cheaper here than elsewhere."
Hector Garcia, manager of the Highland-based CWS Tactical — a 15-year vendor of handguns, rifles, AR-15s, and other arms at the gun show — described sales as "brisk."
"It's always busy this time of year, gun sales are always up," he said. "But this year, everybody is afraid they are going to ban something and sales are nearly triple."
According to Larry Lenenberg, a seller of collectibles, including jewelry, watches and decorative items, the gun show was "filled from wall to wall" when President Obama took office. After slowing down for a couple years, there has been an uptick in attendance again, he said.
"Leather, cotton candy, guns — this is a trade show, a way for people to earn a living," Lenenberg said. "You don't have to close down a gun show like the [Great Western Gunshow in Pomona]. It doesn't make a difference. If a nut wants to get a gun and shoot people, he can get it. It doesn't have to be at a gun show, there are plenty of other ways to do it."