The Everyday Hunter: What is a Gun Show?

At this medium-sized gun show, about 20% of the tables displayed firearms.
At this medium-sized gun show, about 20% of the tables displayed firearms.
Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen
Contribiting Writer

The frustrations of cabin fever season have been magnified this year by restraints on virtually all normal activities, thanks to Covid-19. That’s why I was happy for an opportunity last weekend to attend a gun show at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds near Brookville, PA where lots of other hunters and shooters were also glad to get out.

While I was there the thought occurred to me that few people know what a gun show really is. Ideas people have vary from a rockin’ and rollin’ illegal arms bazaar to a family-like get together of harmless hobbyists. For many of the vendors, it is a family affair. Most know each other well and they help one another when they can, but an unregulated arms marketplace it is not. In fact, gun purchases are probably the smallest share of business.

The show I went to was advertised as having 200 tables. That does not mean 200 gun dealers. Many vendors had more than one table, and I would estimate that not more than 20% were selling guns. What were they selling?

Gun enthusiasts are a fairly ordinary but diverse crowd, and lots of products appeal to them. At this show, as at most shows, dealers displayed knives, optics (riflescopes, binoculars, rangefinders), military collectibles (helmets, patches, medals, bayonets), game calls, gun parts, reloading tools (presses, dies, scales), ammo manufactured from the 1800s on up to the present, taxidermy (bearskin rugs, European skull mounts, fox pelts), coins, jewelry, homemade crafts of all sorts, and much more. Everybody eats, so food vendors take some of the space.

Some of the vendors are retired, and trying to supplement meagre Social Security checks by reselling items they’ve purchased at estate sales. Some have sporting goods stores and a gun show helps promote their business. Some are ordinary people trying to sell off things they no longer use.
Vendors play little negotiating games everyone understands. “Well, if that was a different caliber, I wouldn’t ask as much more for it.” “This model is in demand right now, so I’m sure I can sell it for the price I’m asking.” “A guy over there sold one of these this morning for more than I’m asking, and his wasn’t this nice.”

And when someone sells a gun, the National Instant Check System (NICS) is in place. The buyer fills out a federal form, submits his driver’s license, and if he doesn’t clear the federal background check, he can’t have the gun. Rejection itself might mean a person has broken the law, and law enforcement can follow up with charges. It happens just like it would, and should, at any brick and mortar shop because what makes something illegal at a store is what makes it illegal at a gun show.

There are no loopholes, and no gun show organizer wants anything illegal to happen under his watch. In fact, at this show four incognito representatives from the state office of the attorney general were present, listening to conversations and watching transactions to make sure nothing illegal was happening. The show organizer himself told me that’s common at gun shows.

I myself have been on both sides of the table. I’ve helped vendors a few times, and I’ve been a vendor. Last year at the Salamanca gun show a buddy and I rented a couple of tables, and sold some of the things we no longer use. I sold a shotgun and carried it to the NICS office. The customer was cleared, and he took it home. It’s exactly what would have happened if he had bought it at Runnings or Walmart.

Although a gun show has a flea market atmosphere, it’s under state regulation and control. It’s not the free-wheeling, law-skirting, arms-trading festival many people assume it is.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.