January 12, 2013
Despite Protests, Gun Show in Upstate New York Goes On
By VIVIAN YEE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The line to enter the Saratoga Arms Fair at the City Center here had never been so long, and David Petronis, its organizer, said he had never shaken so many hands in one morning.
“I appreciate you opening this show, not giving into the pressure,” a man told him as he clasped Mr. Petronis’s hand in the echoing convention hall, where hundreds of dealers of guns, ammunition, hunting equipment, war memorabilia and antiques were behind tables, talking up their wares.
Mr. Petronis grinned back. He had not had any intention of giving in, not when a resident recently started a petition to shut down the gun show he had put on in Saratoga Springs four times a year since 1984. Not when several dozen people showed up at a City Council meeting two weeks ago to speak out against his event — too soon after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., they said, and too close by. Not when reporters began calling and his name appeared in newspapers as far west as Las Vegas.
And not on Saturday, the first day of the show, when thousands of attendees, three protests and a counterprotest made Saratoga Springs — more known for its racetrack and mineral springs — the latest American city to play host to the national debate over gun control.
The dispute has made for outstanding business. The deaths last month of 20 schoolchildren and 6 adults in Newtown prompted politicians to propose additional gun-control legislation. Since then, Mr. Petronis’s shop in Mechanicville, N.Y., called Hudson River Trading Company, has sold out of assault-type weapons, said his wife, Cathy, the store’s co-owner. On Saturday, a line of mostly male attendees stretched out the doors and around nearly two blocks.
For Mr. and Ms. Petronis, the attention amounts to free advertising. “The more people to the event, the more dealers are happy,” he said. “I’ll be answering my Web mail for months.”
The show had not attracted so many people before, City Center staff members said. And it had never attracted so many protests. As traffic snarled and parking spots filled outside the convention center, about two dozen members of the newly formed Saratogians for Gun Safety held up 26 painted wooden angels, copies of those a Connecticut artist planted in Newtown after the Dec. 14 shootings.
The group’s members say they oppose the use of the City Center, which is run by a public authority, to support sales of firearms. And there is the matter of sensitivity, they added: other towns in Connecticut and New York have canceled gun shows, with some officials saying they are concerned weapons would be sold that could someday be used in a mass shooting.
“Newtown just happened a few weeks ago,” said Deirdre Ladd, 46, one of the protest’s organizers. “There are lots of similarities between Newtown and Saratoga, but the difference is that Saratoga has a gun show four times a year.”
Many in the area would say that is a difference to be proud of. Owning a gun or two, or even a dozen, is not uncommon, especially in the nearby Adirondack Mountains. Hunting, skeet shooting and target shooting are popular hobbies.
The protests had left more than a few gun-show attendees feeling beleaguered. Second Amendment advocates handed out fliers to reporters and gathered in small groups, talking anxiously of the state and federal gun-control legislations that many feared were soon coming. “I don’t have enough angels to represent genocide by tyranny,” read one of the signs in the pro-gun camp opposite the angel holders, attracting honks and waves from passing drivers.
“I feel we’re kind of persecuted,” said Sean Garvey, 60, the president of Dunham’s Bay Fish and Game Club nearby, who has been coming to the Saratoga show for 20 years. He sighed and added: “Gun owners are blamed for certain things. We’ve been under attack for a long time, and we’ve been framed for things.”
Donald Fangboner, 70, a retired police officer from Lake George, N.Y., said he had come not just to browse, but also to lend his support.
“I want to see a free America, and if we lose this, it’s over,” he said, patting an anti-Cuomo button on his chest. (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently vowed to enact the country’s “toughest gun assault weapon ban” in New York.)
A concession Mr. Petronis made was to bar dealers from selling military-style assault rifles similar to those used in recent mass shootings.
Mark Baker, the City Center’s president, said that while he and other center officials were sensitive to the concerns of residents who said holding the gun show was inappropriate, they also wanted to honor the center’s contract with the Petronises. The arms fair, which runs both days this weekend, is also “a significant piece of economic activity for this weekend,” he said.
But he said the City Center authority would review future contracts, including that of the gun show, which, like all other organizations that exhibit at the center, must renew its contract yearly. The officials are also keeping an eye on proposed gun legislation in Albany and in Washington, which could affect the types of weapons that are sold in gun shows or how the sales are conducted.
Anticipating a larger crowd than usual, center officials brought in additional security guards, and the Saratoga police stood near the protest area. But as the day wore on, an uneasy truce appeared to hold.
“Our goal is not to confront them, and I believe theirs is not to confront us,” said Mike Winn, 52, as he hoisted a wooden angel into the air.
© 2012 The New York Times Company
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