Politics in the crosshairs at Vt. gun showMark Collier / Staff Photo
Brien Lemois, right, looks over a shotgun offered for sale by John Klar, left, in the parking lot of the Barre Municipal Auditorium during the Barre Fish & Game Club’s annual gun show Saturday. Klar sold his gun outside the show to Lemois, a federally licensed dealer, to make a point — which did not go over well with Mayor Thomas Lauzon.
BARRE — Mayor Thomas Lauzon bought a shotgun at the Central Vermont Gun Show on Saturday, and John Klar, a lawyer-turned-farmer from Irasburg, sold one.
Both men were trying to make a point on a day when they had plenty of company, and both arguably succeeded. But Klar’s stunt didn’t go over well with members of the Barre Fish & Game Club who complained they were caught in the crossfire.
For that, Klar said he was sorry, because his decision to unload an old 12-gauge shotgun a few feet from the steps of the Barre Municipal Auditorium wasn’t aimed at the club. It was aimed at Lauzon.
Klar said his act of “civil disobedience” was prompted by Lauzon’s well-publicized claims that selling guns — or anything else — on city property without obtaining a license from the city violated a local ordinance and was punishable with a fine.
Klar said he’ll happily pay the fine if the city decides to ticket him — and a judge concludes he violated an enforceable ordinance. That, he said, is a long shot.
“I’m very aware of my Second Amendment rights and (my) other rights under the federal Constitution, so I’m here to deliberately sell a gun to someone in this parking lot today to accept the mayor’s invitation to challenge his expression of authority,” Klar said, setting the stage for a mid-afternoon transaction that was a whole lot more scripted than it initially appeared.
Standing in front of a parked police cruiser, Klar did sell the shotgun to Brien Lemois for $125. However, the two men are acquaintances and Lemois is a federally licensed firearms dealer from Irasburg.
The sale, which occurred in broad daylight and was witnessed by several bystanders and documented by representatives of two media outlets, didn’t go over well with members of the Barre Fish & Game Club who feared the coordinated sale would reflect badly on their well-run show.
Police Cpl. Randy Tucker didn’t witness the sale and said he would wait until after reviewing media accounts before deciding whether to ticket Klar, who recently founded the nonprofit corporation “Preserving Every American’s Constitutional Heritage,” or PEACH.
After learning of the incident late Saturday afternoon, the mayor had some choice words for Klar.
“I’m not going to let a twit ruin what has been a very, very successful gun show,” Lauzon said of the two-day event that opened at the auditorium Saturday and concludes today.
Klar’s sale happened about three hours after Lauzon bought a used shotgun from R&L Archery for $975.
In addition to getting a gun he can use to go skeet-shooting with his son, Alex, the mayor’s purchase underscored how quick and easy it is to undergo a background check before buying a firearm.
“It took less than 10 minutes,” said Lauzon, who supports the idea of universal background checks.
“It just makes sense,” he said of one of the less controversial gun control measures that have been floated in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., that claimed 26 lives, including 20 young children.
However, while several gun show patrons and vendors said they had no problem with the idea of making background checks a requirement for purchasing firearms, most agreed that their support for new gun control laws stopped there.
Banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, many argued, would represent an overreaction to a problem that has a lot less to do with guns than it does people.
“My assault rifle ... has never jumped out of my gun cabinet, it’s never shot anybody and it’s never going to,” said Northfield resident Steve LeFebvre. “It’s not the guns that kill people. It’s stupid people or unstable people that kill people.”
With a pistol strapped to his hip and a background check under way for a handgun he was in the process of purchasing, LeFebvre admitted he didn’t think much of the current debate over gun control.
“I think it’s horse (expletive), to be honest with you,” he said, suggesting the government has no business tinkering with his constitutional rights.
“To tell me that I can’t put a high-capacity magazine in my gun is ridiculous,” he said. “What’s the difference between me having 17 rounds and nine? I’m only going to pull the trigger once whenever I have to pull it.”
That was the overwhelming view of folks in the auditorium, where several petitions circulated urging state and federal lawmakers to resist calls for tighter gun laws.
Henry Parro, proprietor of Parro’s Gun Shop in Waterbury, said he’s seen this movie before and he hopes he knows how it ends.
“It’s the same old story,” he said. “The government wants to restrict law-abiding citizens. I disagree with that. They need to prosecute the people who are breaking the laws.
“At what point will a criminal stop doing something by making it more illegal?” he added. “You’re either pregnant or you’re not.”
Outside — at least for a couple of hours Saturday — five poster-carrying women who call themselves the Raging Grannies expressed a different point of view. Not, they conceded, that they changed many minds.
“You have to have a mind in order to change it,” Northfield resident Elisabeth Hebert said after being heckled by a man heading into the gun show.
That exchange was tame, according to Montpelier resident Ann Burcroff, who heard worse when she arrived at 11:30 a.m. carrying a handmade poster that read: “Assault weapons are Viagra for the insecure.”
“People didn’t like me much when I was here alone,” said Burcroff, who was eventually joined by Hebert, Page Guertin of Montpelier, Joelen Mulvaney of Barre, and Sandy Bettis of Middlesex.
“They’re much more polite now,” she said.
The women gave as good as they got.
During the brief but peaceful protest that is scheduled to resume today, one man shouted: “Second Amendment!” as he drove by, prompting the women to note that their right to free speech didn’t take a backseat to others’ right to bear arms.
“Our First Amendment trumps your Second Amendment,” one woman shot back.
“We’re number one, you’re number two,” another replied.
But, except for the protest outside and the politicized environment inside, the gun show was pretty much what the gun show has been since it was started 30 years ago at the National Guard Armory.
Turnout Saturday was brisk, but not overwhelming by the show’s own standards. More than 950 came through the door in the first hour, and it was busy as usual, but there weren’t the extra-long lines some had predicted.
The weather probably had something to do with that, according to Rob Borowske, who until recently served as president of the Barre Fish & Game Club. Borowske predicted the numbers would grow — and they did — as the day progressed, and he said he was expecting another strong turnout today.
“It’s going to be packed,” he said.
Vendors like Parro were banking on it.
“With 18 tables and a quarter of a million dollars worth of inventory on display, I hope it’s busy,” he said.
Parro, who has been a participant in the local gun show from “day one,” said it is well-run, centrally located and attracts people from around New England and New York.
“I think this is the best (gun) show in the state of Vermont,” he said. “People save up all year for this show.”
Ed Blow, 25, of Williamstown is one of them.
Blow, who has been coming to the show for nearly a decade, picked up a rifle right off the bat and said he was about to start hunting for a handgun.
“I generally try to get one or two (guns) a year,” he said.
Not everyone came to buy.
Brian Bilodeau, 15, of Derby showed up at the show with an AK-47 and a Remington rifle strapped to his shoulder. Both guns belonged to his father, Richard, who was hoping to find a buyer for both.
Richard Bilodeau said he bought his AK-47 for $275 about 20 years ago and was hoping to sell it for $2,000 Saturday. If he could locate a buyer for one or both of the guns, Bilodeau said he planned to heed the club’s request that he obtain a background check on the prospective buyer from one of the federally licensed firearms dealers who were at the show.
Clyde Baldwin of Charlotte said “curiosity” about, and the hope of locating, a hard-to-find magazine for an older pistol brought him to the show this year.
Of course that didn’t stop him from looking, which, if you ask Jim Bowers of Jericho, is perhaps the best part of coming to the gun show.
“Just the people-watching is worth the price of admission,” he said.
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