Like ants to a sugar cube, a line of vehicles funneled into the Haywood County Fairgrounds entrance — past a string of yellow placards declaring “Gun Show” in red block letters — to partake in the buy/sell/trade whirlwind of ammunition and firearms.
Strolling up the dirt road to the show, Asheville resident Tom Crown was sitting on the tailgate of his small pickup truck. His voice echoed out from behind a thick pair of aviator sunglasses and a hat emblazoned with the words “Vietnam Veteran.”
“Everyone here seems pretty friendly,” he chuckled. “It’s not like the mall — here generally, you don’t have people pushing and shoving in line because they have guns.”
Gun enthusiasts snaked out the door, shuffling steadily into the exhibit hall beneath a bright sign warning entrants: “No Cameras. No Filming. No Felons. No Mental Patients. No Concealed or Loaded Weapons.”
Many were carrying their own guns inside to sell or trade. A sheriff’s deputy checked each one, making sure it was unloaded and properly stored.
Stepping onto the vendor floor, one was overwhelmed not only by the number of tables but also the hundreds of patrons milling about. Nearby, promoter Ron Haven of Gem Capital Shows is tending to his selection, which today is filled with an array of antique and hard-to-find rifles.
“People coming here are looking to collect, with everybody looking for something different,” Haven said. “It’s like when you go to buy a car. You have an idea of what you want, and you’ll figure out what you need once you start looking around.”
Thousands filed through the gun show — some to gawk, some to buy, some to sell. All that traffic gives a boost to the local economy, Haven said.
“These people are spending a lot of money here in Haywood County,” he said.
The show floor was buzzing with shoppers. Some hoped to find an Old Winchester or Remington, others scoured the tables for a Smith & Wesson or Colt. Many were just taking it all in — seeing what’s new, available or soon-to-be out of stock.
“I try hard to run and promote a nice, clean show,” Haven said. “So many people try to run down gun shows and, as you can see here, it’s not like that.”
Like a muscle car nut looking under the hood of a classic or music lover finding that diamond-in-the-rough at a record store, gun enthusiasts geeked out as they handled and purchased the latest technology.
At a table run by Frazier’s Tactical Firearms from Georgia, gun salesman Darren Faddis stood over his spread of night gear and accessories, all hot items lately.
Faddis knows there are a lot of stereotypes in regards to gun shows, and he’s quick to defend how smoothly and safely these events work.
“People think gun shows are like the Wild West,” he said. “But, it’s not like that. There are all kinds of different things sold and bought here. There’s a lot of variety here, and everyone seems pretty happy about that.”
Wandering up and down the tightly packed aisles, vendors hawked handmade knives, do-it-yourself books about traditional skills, war memorabilia and rare coins. Some had promotional literature for groups or clubs, like the Waynesville chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, where Derrick Shipman was manning the table.
“It’s just been a wall of people here,” he smiled. “You see old friends, make new friends or catch-up with your neighbor.”
Also attending her first show, Waynesville resident Hunter Carson was in search of a rifle but ended up buying a shotgun. Carson said she wasn’t expecting it to be so crowded, something she chalks up to the controversy swirling around gun shows.
“I do want to go to another show, but maybe when the current political climate calms down,” Carson said.
For her, the show seemed to be more for collectors, with newer items harder to find.
“I’d been looking for a 12-gauge shotgun, but it wasn’t on my priority list,” she said.
Leaning against his truck in the parking lot, Canton resident Billy Mease, an avid hunter, came to see what’s new on the market and maybe purchase some ammunition.
“I’m not into that whole paramilitary thing,” he said. “I just like to hunt and see what’s out there at these shows.”
Mease said he attends several gun shows each year. It’s a hobby for him, which lately has become more and more expensive with recent national events affecting price and demand. Next to Mease was his brother, David, who also came to browse.
“This is like Walmart on Black Friday,” David said. “It’s like a family reunion here.”