Shotgun lying across his lap, two pistols and ammo stacked in boxes next to him, Mark Close soaked up some rare January sun Saturday at State Fair Park before heading home from a weekend gun show.
He traded in his old semi-automatic carbine for the pistols and paid $1,200 for the shotgun, but Close never told anyone at the show his name, he never showed his identification card, and he likes it that way.
“It starts out with registration and then when they know what you got they come in and start taking your guns,” he said. “And then when they take your guns, they start taking away your freedom.”
Unregulated gun transactions, including no background check and no formal paperwork, would come to an end under new gun reforms proposed by President Barack Obama last week.
While politicians in Washington debate ways to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unsound, gun owners in Oklahoma City flocked to the park to buy and swap weapons at the two-day show.
Close, who bought the shotgun from a dealer on the lawn of the exhibit center, said he collects weapons for fun but also for self-defense.
He said relaxed gun laws like those in Oklahoma don't contribute to increased violence but instead secure the peace. He has never had to use his weapons for self-defense.
“And I hope I never have to,” he said. “But I want the option there if somebody tried to jack my family or if the power goes off for several weeks. You try to pull something in Oklahoma you got a pretty good chance to get shot.”
Obama's gun proposals would change little about the operations at shows like this one, put on by Metcalf Gun Shows of Owasso.
Most transactions here could continue under the proposals, which were developed in response to a school shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults in December.
But the military-style, semi-automatic pistols and rifles displayed on many of the tables inside would be banned under the reform proposal, as would the practice of paperwork-free transactions.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports 40 percent of gun sales in the United States are conducted at gun shows like this and by private sellers over the Internet or in classified ads.
At nondescript tables without business signs or business cards, private sellers at Saturday's Metcalf show displayed AR-15s, AK-47s and other weapons that would fall under the proposed ban.
Each of the private sellers defended the practice for different reasons, but none would identify themselves to The Oklahoman for this story.
“These guns look a certain way, but they all are used for the same thing,” said one man who stood behind a table on the north side of the showroom.
Displayed before him was an AK-47 ($1,250), a Ruger Mini-14 GB ($1,800) and a Colt R6000 ($2,100).
The man said he was a real estate broker in Oklahoma City, and the weapons were owned by his recently deceased father-in-law. He would not share his name because he is skeptical about the media and government.
“I know about political retaliation because I've lived through several regimes, and I don't use the word ‘regime' lightly,” he said. “In the 65 years I've been actually involved, I have never seen anybody, any administration, bend the laws so greatly as this one.”
State law prohibits the sale of firearms to felons, but no state law requires individual firearms sellers to conduct background checks on purchasers. Federal law requires it for licensed dealers.
The real estate broker said background checks are a “hassle” and a waste of time. Criminals are not buying guns at gun shows anyway, he said, and he does a character analysis before each transaction.
“If you come up to me with a very strong accent I would ask to see your license,” he said. “We don't want to sell to any cartels.”
‘Judge of character'
Another unlicensed dealer at Saturday's show, who also refused give his name, strolled the aisles looking to sell his Glock pistol for $700.
The man said he was concerned his gun could end up in the wrong hands, but does not believe background checks would prevent that.
“I guess you do a quick judge of character when you do a transaction like that, and you may or may not be right on that,” he said. “But in my opinion it is not going to keep someone from shooting up a school. Whether they buy it from me or steal it from Mom and Dad, if they're intent on doing it by any means necessary, they will get it.”
Support for checks
Mark Holland, one of the many licensed dealers at the show, said he supports background checks but he also believes people should be able to sell or trade their guns among family and friends without regulation.
He opposes a ban on semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15s stacked on his table display.
These guns may look scary to the inexperienced, Holland said, but they are excellent tools for hunting, target practice and shooting competitions.
“They're very versatile guns, and that's why people like them,” he said. “If a criminal wants a gun, they're not going to come to a gun show — they're going to come to your home and steal it.”
Close said submitting his customers' names to the federal database is about going through the motions, but that he and all the other dealers at Saturday's show — licensed or private — do their own checks before even initiating a transaction.
A heavy law enforcement presence inside and outside the building, plus a printout of felons for whom sellers might be on alert, makes the gun show much more controlled than is perceived, Close said.
“If I don't like the way you look, if I don't like the way you act, I don't have to sell to you,” he said.
“We don't want them to get in the wrong hands, we really don't.”