Bucks for the Bang: The election of Barack Obama has been a boon for gun dealers, and with more than 200 gun shows a year, few markets are hotter than Florida.
“What impressed me by the shows in Florida,” says Garen Wintemute, a California professor who studies gun shows, “was how many weapons there were that had lots of street utility and street cred.” Victor Bean stages 36 gun shows a year in Florida, including this one in Jacksonville. His target demographic: 25- to 54-year-old men. [Photo: Kelly LaDuke]
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Many a true word spoken in jest. Two months later, Barack Obama won the presidency, and fears that he will renew Clinton era gun-control efforts had weapon sales booming. “The shows are so crowded we can’t get people in,” a harried Bean said in December. His Fort Walton show usually tops out at 2,800 attendees in a weekend but hit 5,100 this time, Bean says. “I’m adding on shows and getting more space to get the people in. The dealers are doing really good.
Gun shows are a Bean family business; collectively, Beans stage 120 a year. Victor’s father, Ernie, the first in the business, holds Louisiana’s largest show, in New Orleans, and also stages shows in Alabama and Mississippi. Victor’s brother, Todd, dominates Texas. Sister Sondra works Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Bucks for the Bang
Take a visit to the Southern Classic Gun and Knife Show in Jacksonville:
Bean knows the business inside-out. His target demographic is 25- to 54-year-old males. TV ads pull best but cost the most. Newspaper ads pull the best per dollar. Insurance has risen to $41,000 a year from $6,000 a decade ago.
Orlando is Bean’s largest show, which he runs under the Florida Gun Show name. That show features 600 vendor tables; an average of 6,000 potential customers pay to attend. At $9 a ticket for visitors and $85 a table from vendors, Orlando brings in about $100,000 — against Bean’s average expense of $60,000 to $70,000 per show.
Nationally, the last authoritative count totaled more than 4,000 gun shows a year. With around 200 shows a year, Florida ranks third, behind Texas and Pennsylvania, by one count. Operators like Bean work the same cities, staging a show in a location every few months. In the post-Clinton era, profits had grown so thin that even Florida’s largest metros — West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa, Orlando, Miami — generally sustained only one gun show operator.
The shows tend to reflect their respective area’s demographics and the particular firearms interests of its inhabitants. The Miami show, for example, draws a far more diverse and younger clientele — many Spanish speakers, far more African-Americans — than other shows in south Florida. One typical scene featured two men with waist-length dreadlocks strolling down an aisle as, nearby, two South Beach-slender young women tried to explain the nuances of a handgun to their befuddled father. One daughter deftly snapped back the slide on a handgun to demonstrate the action for him.
Victor Bean is one of the two biggest gun show operators in Florida. The election of President Barack Obama, Bean says, is still driving assault rifle sales and prices skyward. [Photo: Kelly LaDuke]
“What impressed me by the shows in Florida was how many weapons there were that had lots of street utility and street cred,” says Garen Wintemute, who studies gun shows as an emergency medicine professor at the University of California Davis Medical Center and directs its violence prevention research program.
The Miami market in particular isn’t geared toward hunters. Some sellers like to call it a self-defense and target-shooting market, or a “concealable and tactical” market. “Thank Bill Clinton for that,” Bean says. A 1994 to 2004 ban on sales of some types of assault rifles drove up prices and demand for grandfathered weapons, he says. “It used to be you might have had two AK-47s in the whole show and everybody considered them junk. You didn’t see many AR-15 rifles. The shows were really cool. You would see old World War II collectibles. Now it’s all gone to high-capacity handguns and military-style rifles.”
Months after the election, the Obama effect is still driving assault rifle sales and prices skyward, Bean reports. At his recent Fort Walton show, a dealer sold out five tables of assault rifles in just two hours after the doors opened, he says. “This is like Clinton-squared.”