By J. Harry Jones
DEL MAR — The line of gun enthusiasts that began forming in the predawn darkness Saturday was the first indication that this weekend’s Crossroads of the West gun show was going to be big.
Fueled partly by an ammunition shortage and in part by concern over the direction the federal government is heading toward gun control, crowds in record numbers swamped the Del Mar Fairgrounds, joining the nation in its rush on firearms and bullets.
“I think when anybody tells you you can’t have something, you want it,” said Lenny Magill, one of the vendors inside the show manning the Glock Store booth.
“We do about 10 shows a year like this. Del Mar is usually not the largest, but this year I think it may be. It’s funny, I’ve had neighbors tell me they were going to the show, and they never go to gun shows.”
The first car arrived in the parking lot at 4:15 a.m., and by 8:30 a line of people, two or three across, stretched at least a quarter-mile from the entry gates. Traffic along Interstate 5 near the area was in gridlock for several hours.
“This is at least four times larger than any turnout we’ve ever had,” said Adam Day, president of the fairgrounds board. Day estimated at least 5,000 had already entered the gates by 10 a.m. The show runs through Sunday.
After many customers waited hours to buy a $14 ticket to attend the show, they turned right around and got in another long, slow, line to purchase ammunition. The three dealers were restricting the number of rounds any one person could purchase because demand was so high.
At the large Miwall Corp. ammunition both, where vendors were far too busy to be interviewed, a sign explained that there is a “dramatic demand without sufficient supply,” especially for .223-caliber/5.56mm ammunition. At recent gun shows, the sign said, Miwall has sold out of 80 percent of its stock on the first day of each show.
The ammunition shortage isn’t due to any less being made, officials said, but because there is an insatiable demand recently from the public. Many in the crowd said what ammunition was available was overpriced, and they were hoping to get better deals at the gun show, where vendors had promised not to artificially inflate costs.
“We’re here to buy ammo,” said Wagner Montiel, 42, of Huntington Beach. “5.56, 9 mm, small pistol primer, anything I can get. Anything that’s available. You go to any local gun shop and you can’t find any of that stuff.”
Montiel’s friend, Dave Dezan, 40, agreed. “Nobody’s got it,” the Poway resident said. “You’re just waiting for them to get their next shipment in.”
The scene in Del Mar has been repeated numerous times in the past few months at other shows run by Crossroads of the West in Utah, Arizona, Nevada and other parts of California, said the company’s longtime owner, Bob Templeton.
“The crowds have been heavier at each show by 50 to 100 percent,” Templeton said. “Law-abiding gun owners are concerned about being attacked by the government for the random acts of a mad man. That’s what’s driving the concern that people are showing.”
Templeton estimated more than 20,000 customers could attend the show this weekend in Del Mar, up from a previous high of 12,000 last December at a show held a week before the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. Crossroads of the West stages five shows a year at the fairgrounds.
Gun sales in California have risen each year since President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, according to the California Department of Justice. And in the past few months, since a lone gunman murdered 20 small children and six adults at Sandy Hook, guns and ammunition have been flying off shelves nationwide.
The tragedy led to a national conversation on gun violence, and Obama has since called for a renewed ban on assault rifles, strengthened background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines — all of which already exist in California.
“California shows would become the model for shows across the country if all the proposed legislation passes,” Templeton said. “I think it’s unlikely they are going to, but yes, the template has been set by California.”
Jennifer Gibson, 33, of Sabre Springs was in line with her 3-year-old daughter, Avery, while her husband, Leonard, parked the car.
She said Leonard had just purchased an AR-15 rifle “just to have it,” and now they were looking for ammunition.