I headed out to the first Pioneer Valley Sportsman’s show since Sandy Hook this weekend in DuPage County.
The event took place Sunday just before Illinois legislators were slated to vote on stronger gun restrictions.
But that didn’t hurt attendance. It helped.
“There are more people coming through the door because of the legislation that’s floating around," said show chairman Mike Holan. "People are trying to purchase what they can at this point.”
Holan estimates over a thousand people came to the event. Vendors sold camo, beef jerky, WWII mementos and of course, guns.
The crowd was mostly older, largely white and not very happy to see a reporter. I had to leave my camera at the door and was repeatedly told to turn off my audio recorder, then accused of secretly running it anyway.
I was also asked to leave multiple times, though the show's leadership let me back in each time.
At one point, I started to interview a vendor, but another man interrupted, warning him that the media makes gun owners out to be "lunatics." He introduced himself as Terry from Dupage County, but didn't want to give his last name.
“We live in the Chicagoland area," Terry said. "But we see a lot of folks from rural areas and that’s how they put meat on the table.”
The guns at the show ranged from hunting rifles and handguns to the kind of weapons some legislators would ban as assault rifles.
But Terry says those legislators don’t understand what an assault rifle is.
“They think these things are full military weapons," he said. "They are not. They just look like it. It’s a like a Ferrari with a Volkswagen engine in them. You know what I mean? It looks fast, but it will only do 50 miles an hour.”
Terry says the Illinois gun debate falls along geographic lines. Chicago, with its high murder rate, wants stricter laws. But he says the rest of the state shouldn’t be responsible for the city’s problems.
The state legislature dismissed the vote on the stricter gun laws Sunday evening, just after the show ended.
The debate is expected to continue in the next legislative session.