Local News

Sunday, Apr 14 2013 06:57 PM

Gun show draws out varying views on legislation

By CHRISTINE BEDELL, Californian staff writer cbedell@bakersfield.com

It had been many years since Scott and Rita Yeates of Taft had owned firearms when they went to a Central Coast Gun Show at the Kern County Fairgrounds Sunday. They didn't want guns around the house while they were raising children -- they have six boys between them.

But it came time to test the market, see what was available and even what it takes to buy a firearm these days.

Rita knew she wanted a small-ish handgun -- perhaps a .380, but not one of those pink ones. Scott was interested in a hunting rifle, but nothing assault-like -- he doesn't believe in those, he said.

They both wanted to be armed for personal protection, either at home or when they go camping.

"I can try to sarcasm them to death," Rita quipped about bad guys and threatening animals, "but it doesn't work."

And, Scott said, there's the threat of government taking away their freedoms.

"We want to be able to buy a gun before the law changes," he said.

Those were among the varying sentiments at the weekend gun show, which drew a sizeable but not totally packed crowd to Exhibit Hall #3 Sunday.

It was held days before a bipartisan group of U.S. senators was expected to pitch legislation that would expand background checks for gun-buying.

The legislation wouldn't really change anything for Californians, gun vendors pointed out. The state already has the requirements being proposed for the nation, has for years and years, they said.

But that didn't preclude people from having differing opinions on the matter.

Vendor Joe Valenzuela of Fresno said one congressional gun restriction just begets another.

"Once they start putting on gun restrictions," he said, "they'll do more."

The sentiment was clear from a selection of stickers up for sale Sunday, one reading "God, Guns and Guts Made America -- Let's Keep All 3" and "If Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns."

Lewis Gunsolus of Bakersfield, who was learning about a company that turns a "simple rifle owner to a being a true rifleman," said President Obama clearly wants to restrict gun sales and that doesn't make sense to him.

"It doesn't matter if you take guns out of the stores, people are still going to get guns outside of stores," he said.

But Marylyn Panek, owner of Fresno Firearms, a business her late husband opened in 1995, sounded far less alarmed about the coming federal legislation -- at least as it pertains to California.

"It doesn't bother me at all," said Panek. "The laws being proposed aren't going to affect us at all."

She is, however, concerned that the government is manipulating the ammunition market, causing shortages. To counter such talk, the Department of Homeland Security Department recently told The Californian that its ammunition-buying levels have been steady since 2009.

Panek walked a reporter through the process of buying guns in California. The state Department of Justice makes sure the buyer has a valid, working driver's license and no felony or certain misdemeanor convictions, she said. After a 10-day waiting period, Panek said, people cleared have 20 days to pick up their firearm.

Handgun purchasers must pass a written test on such things as what a gun does and what it can be used for, she said, which earns them a gun safety certificate.

Panek said she's only seen four people fail -- and one was a Spanish speaker who took the exam in English. Rita Yeates took it Sunday and answered only two questions incorrectly; you can miss up to seven.

Agreeing with Panek that the expected Senate proposal wouldn't affect Californians much was Andy Richter of Bakersfield, who has resumed selling firearms since retiring as an engineer for the Kern County Roads Department.

He also distanced himself from what he sees as some "hysteria" surrounding government action on firearms, saying that shouldn't stop measures that "keep guns out of crazies' hands."

(Not that he thinks the expansion of background check rules nationwide would prevent all tragedies like the Newtown, Conn., school shooting -- he doesn't).

Interestingly, just as the nation is about to debate the new proposals, Richter said he has been seeing that hysteria "trailing off."

When asked if he's seen more people at gun shows recently, Richter looked around the exhibit hall and said, "We had crowds like this one 20 years ago."

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