Culture
3:36 pm
Thu January 9, 2014

Gun Shows Not Just For Gun Enthusiasts: It's About Commerce

Every few months, the public swarms to the Rocky Mountain Gun Show. Ryan Cunningham asserts there is room for everyone there.
Credit RYAN CUNNINGHAM / UTAH PUBLIC RADIO

Every few months, the Rocky Mountain Gun Show comes to Sandy’s South Towne Expo Center. In fact, you may have noticed advertisements for the show this January.  If you’re unfamiliar with what happens at a gun show, it’s mostly self-explanatory: it’s an exhibition of guns, ammunition, and other related paraphernalia.

Gun shows have become an increasingly popular way to buy and sell firearms. But they are also controversial, with gun control proponents arguing that loose regulations on sales can make it too easy for guns to end up in the wrong hands.

But as it turns out, guns shows aren’t just about guns. At the epicenter of such a hotly debated swath of our culture, could there be something for everyone?

Upon entering the showroom of the South Towne Expo Center, I was asked at the gate if I was carrying a firearm. I’ve never owned a gun, but my apprehensiveness about fitting in made me think about saying “yes.” Good thing I didn’t: loaded guns aren’t allowed here.

Many, many unloaded guns are here, though. They’re for sale at booths all across the expansive room. And not just guns: ammunition, knives, swords, Tasers, nunchucks, ninja stars, and just about any weapon you can think of. There’s even a booth loosely themed on selling weapons and supplies for a zombie attack.

While I’m strolling along mulling over a nunchucks purchase, I notice Greg Brown sitting at a booth in the corner. He’s a caricaturist with over twenty years of experience. I sit down to get my mug drawn, and I ask him if he usually works gun shows.

“I mostly do art festivals and fairs. Special events, parties, whatever,” Brown says. “I haven’t ever done gun shows until last weekend, and that was just because of the growing activity in gun shows and hearing from other vendors that they do well at them.

“So, I’m experimental, and I’ll come give it a try.”

Brown says business has been relatively slow, but he theorizes that this might be a less active time for a gun show in general. (After talking to some attendees, that seems to be the case.) In a matter of minutes, Brown hands me a frighteningly accurate cartoon drawing of my face.

Ryan Cunningham- the caricature.
Credit GREG BROWN

I walk around a little more, and I noticed that Brown wasn’t the only oddball in the bunch. I see jerky vendors, jewelry and handbags—even a baker selling loaves of bread and sweets.

Volker Ritzinger of Volker’s Bakery: “I do asiago cheese bread, I do an asiago jalapeño, then I do some sweet bread, some cranberry walnut, cranberry orange, we do some focaccia with garlic and rosemary, sun-dried tomato…”

You may remember Volker’s Bakery from the Park City Farmer’s Market. Ritzinger is the Market’s Manager. That’s right: the guy in charge of the Park City Farmer’s Market is selling fresh-baked cinnamon rolls at the gun show.

“We only do farmer’s markets in the summer. We do about thirty of them weekly. And in the winter, I set up here at the South Towne Expo, and I do all of the shows,” Ritzinger says. “And especially gun shows. We do well, too. It really has nothing to do with guns, but, you know, the guys buy expensive guns and bring a loaf of bread home for the girls so they get away with spending all that money. So, we fit in, you know?”

I’m led from the aroma of baked bread to another fragrant potpourri. Across from the “Zombie Killer” booth is another unexpected merchant: Scentsy. If you don’t know what Scentsy is, it’s a candle warmer company that sells perfumed waxes. Scents are cleverly named and include Enchanted Mist, A Garden of Love, and for the Scentsy man in your life, Business Casual.

“I mean, I like that it’s more than just the gun things. I mean, people can bring their wives and stuff and not be, ‘Oh look, there’s a shotgun,’ or whatever.”

I catch Tom Miller of Magna consulting his girlfriend over the phone at the Scentsy booth. He’s here to buy a scope for his .308 rifle, but instead he’s buying an owl-shaped candleholder, along with some “room smelly things,” as he calls them.

“I mean, I like that it’s more than just the gun things,” Miller says. “I mean, people can bring their wives and stuff and not be, ‘Oh look, there’s a shotgun,’ or whatever. I mean, they got purses and everything else here. It’s kinda nice to have that. It’s why you see as many people as you do. It’s not just a guy thing. They bring their girlfriends and wives, too.”

From Scentsy to yarn-knitted crafts, Mitch McKinlay, the owner and director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Show, says these vendors didn’t end up here on accident. Actually, he’s made an effort to avoid what he calls a “swap meet atmosphere.”

“We try to look at what they have to offer and what’s being sold, and see how that will fit in with the rest of the items here,” McKinlay says. “For instance, the Scentsy candle lady. You know, we already have one, so when we have two other ladies call up to say they’d like to sell Scentsy candles as well, we obviously can’t let another Scentsy candle in.”

I feel compelled to ask: “Did you have two other ladies call in?”

“Oh, you know, we’ve had other ladies come in,” answers McKinlay.

You heard that right: Scentsy ladies are clamoring to get into the gun show. And by a cursory assessment of Scentsy sales at this gun show, it looks like a pretty sweet gig.

On the way out, I was asked again if I had any guns with me. I hadn’t purchased any weapons, but let’s do an inventory of my gun show goodies: a loaf of jalapeño bread, dipping sauce, a novelty hand towel, a finger puppet, a caricature drawing of my face, two Scentsy waxes, and a Park City Farmer’s Market reusable shopping bag. Probably the wimpiest gun show haul ever.

But it goes to show you that the gun show isn’t just about guns these days. It’s also about commerce.