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In Colorado Shooting's Wake, The Gun Show Goes On

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CHANTILLY, Va. -- At the back end of a 100,000 square foot showroom, past the rows of guns, holsters, knives, swords, tasers, war books and political memorabilia, Kenny, a 50-year-old construction business owner, has found what he came for: a 100-round magazine. Having placed it inside a plastic bag, he seems, at first, a bit hesitant to discuss the purchase. Ultimately, he relays that it's for a friend.

"I know why he wants it," Kenny said. "A) it's going to be gone soon, and it's a great clip. And B) he wants to be armed."

Decked out in flip flops, mesh shorts and a sleeveless gray T-shirt, with curly hair that brings Will Ferrell to mind, Kenny paid $150 for the magazine. He had traveled from nearby Fairfax to attend The Nation's Gun Show inside the Dulles Expo Center, where several times a year gun enthusiasts browse more than 1,000 booths featuring guns, ammunition and accessories. Steven Elliott, who has run the show for the past 26 years, said he expected the weekend's event to be as well-attended as those in the past. "I don't know any [other gun show] on the East Coast" as big as this, he told The Huffington Post.

It had been just one week since James Eagan Holmes allegedly used three guns to kill 12 people and wound dozens of others in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater. But Kenny and a dozen other attendees told HuffPost that the shooting, a national tragedy that prompted even the presidential candidates to put a brief stop to political sniping, had done nothing to change their opinion on the effectiveness of gun laws.

Asked if the shooting had even changed the mood at the gun show, George Whitbeck, a defense contractor who lives in Leesburg, Va., said, "I don't think so. People that like guns are as shocked as people that don't like guns."

But even if it was business as usual inside the Expo Center -- where items including Israeli gas masks, Geiger counters and target sheets featuring Nazi Zombies ("our biggest seller," the woman at the booth said) are for sale -- there was some concern that the movie theater massacre would have legislative ripples. Kenny, among others, worried that lawmakers would move to ban 100-round magazines, since Holmes had used one with his AR-15 (only to have it jam).

"What's inspiring me to buy this is it's going to be gone," Kenny said. He declined to give his last name. "This thing is gonna disappear and when it disappears you are not gonna see it again."

The alarm may not be warranted. More than a week after Aurora, neither congressional leaders nor the president have shown any willingness to tackle the issue of high-capacity magazines. The Obama administration has maintained that any efforts to curb gun violence must be done through existing law. Senate Republicans have gone so far as to assert that the ability to buy 100-round magazines is a constitutional right.

In the halls of the Expo Center, however, attendees worried that the president would move swiftly to enact gun control legislation if given a second term. That's been the operating mantra of the National Rifle Association, whose presence at the gun show was larger than the small booth it occupied on one of the side walls. Whether consciously or not, attendees echoed the NRA's main talking points. And none budged when asked about the possible benefits of additional regulation, even with respect to the lowest hanging piece of reform: expanding background checks at gun shows to ensure that people with criminal histories or mental health issues can't purchase firearms.

"There is no gun show loophole. I have yet to have somebody show me what the gun show loophole is," said Everett Smith, 52, a seller of law enforcement equipment in West Virginia. "You can probably find a bodega owner who sells coke out of the back door. But do all bodega owners sell coke out of the back door?"

Smith's point was that a few bad actors shouldn't justify a sweeping change to gun laws.

"You can't legislate crazy," he said. "I don't think anyone believes [Aurora] wasn't a tragedy. But there are tragedies with drunk drivers, and we don't put breathalyzers on the Chrysler minivan."

Smith, who spent Friday afternoon selling different types of concealed weapon holsters -- a popular one in the hall was an insert for a woman's purse -- extended this argument to 100-round magazines, arguing that they are no more different or dangerous than a car that can go 300 miles per hour. When reminded that such a car would cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars, while high-capacity magazines can sell for $150, he shifted the conversation to his most expensive holster. (It costs about $100.)

Others were a bit more circumspect about the new political landscape the gun rights community confronted.

They said they feared the 100-round magazine wouldn't be around for long, thanks to Aurora. "I think that's gonna be a debate that might go somewhere. I think it will get traction," said Whitbeck, who said he owns several pistols and rifles and shoots as a hobby.

Patrick Troy, a Leesburg resident and a vociferous supporter of gun rights, said he had no interest in 100-round magazines. But he's wary of any new restrictions on gun ownership.

"Do I care whether I can buy a 100-round magazine or not? I pretty much don't, but I don't want my rights infringed," Troy said.

Kenny, the man who'd bought a 100-round magazine, said he felt strongly that the Second Amendment gives U.S. citizens the right to own guns, specifically in order to protect themselves from the government.

"He wants to be able to go toe-to-toe with the government," Kenny said of the friend for whom he'd bought the clip.

"Go back 150 years, the average citizen was as well-armed as the sheriff in town," Kenny said. "And when the feds came through some town out west, they didn't put the fear of God into people, because the people were as well armed as the federal government. That's the way it should be."

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