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WUNC reports from Greensboro about Guilford County and surrounding area.

Debate Over Greensboro Gun And Knife Show Continues

photo of a gun show in Houston
M&R Glasgow

A month-long debate on an upcoming gun and knife show finally came to a head at a Greensboro City Council meeting this week.

After a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead in February, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan took to Facebook to express her concerns about the easy access to “military-style assault weapons”:

“Last night my daughter talked about the Parkland shooting. She talked about the social media posts she saw. Blood on the classroom floors. A teacher carrying an injured student. Hearing shots fired and students (her age) screaming. Is it any wonder that children and teachers across the country are on edge? Scenes like this have become commonplace. Our children are living it in real time. They are seeing it on their phones. They are afraid. Our teachers are heroes. I believe NOW is the time to ACT on banning the sale of military style assault weapons (I may not have the terminology correct). Our children deserve better. We must DO SOMETHING.”

Throughout the numerous comments, some in the community thought it would be best to cancel the upcoming Greensboro Gun and Knife Show, which has taken place twice a year since 1970. The first show was held in January and the next one is scheduled for August 25 and 26 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
This week, the city council invited citizens to share their opinions about the show. Nearly a dozen people spoke at the meeting.
Anne Joy Cahill-Swenson is a freshman at Grimsley High School. She's also an organizer for March for Our Lives Greensboro. She said more guns will make people accept gun violence as "inevitable."
“We have been tested again and again and unfortunately adults have not taken action,” Cahill-Swenson said. “That's why we are taking it into our own hands. A gun show where background checks and identification are not required is completely ridiculous.”
Cahill-Swenson is referring to what gun control advocates call the “gun show loophole.” Vendors without a Federal Firearms License may sell rifles and shotguns without doing a background check on a buyer. It's not clear how many vendors at the Greensboro Gun and Knife Show have Federal Firearms Licenses. In North Carolina, people who buy pistols are required to get a permit from their county sheriff.
The Greensboro show expects to have 800 tables of various guns and knives to purchase. There will also be 24-hour security.

Mayor Vaughan said at the meeting that she’s not anti-gun. She owns a gun and doesn’t want to take away someone's right to carry one.
The city council can’t ban or cancel shows from happening in the Greensboro Coliseum because only the coliseum director can decide who can lease it.
Instead, the council passed a resolution to have all proceeds from the show go to the Greensboro Guilford County Gunstoppers Program. The program aims to get illegal guns off the street. Last year, the group collected 33 guns.
“This is a small victory,” Vaughan said.
When asked for comment, Coliseum Director Matt Brown did not say whether or not he plans to cancel the show.

At the town hall meeting, Andrew Stevens said the council shouldn't demonize the event because it has a good economic impact. Stevens is part of a gun-rights organization called Grass Roots North Carolina.

“The people of the city of Greensboro benefit as well,” he said. “The thousands of the semi-annual visitors to the Greensboro gun show spend their money here in the city and the county.”
However, Dominic Patafie doesn’t want more guns in the city. He’s a senior in high school and is also part of March for Our Lives Greensboro. He said the city council needs to do everything it can to make Greensboro safe -- and part of that means canceling the show.
“We all know it's true. Big guns are for people with small minds,” he said. “We cannot allow small-minded people in our society to use lobbying power to get their way at the expense of our lives.”
The monthly town hall meetings were created this year to give citizens a chance to voice their thoughts and concerns with news and events happening in Greensboro.
Mark Robinson is a Greensboro native and a gun owner. He considers himself a law-abiding citizen. However, he thinks he and other people like him aren’t being represented in these kinds of discussions.
“It seems like every time we have one of these shootings, nobody wants to put the blame where it goes, at the shooter's feet,” he said. “You want to put it at my feet.”

Clarification:  An earlier version of this story said vendors at gun shows aren't required to do background checks without noting that does not apply to Federal Firearms License holders. The earlier version also did not note the permit requirement for purchasing a pistol.

Correction:  An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Grass Roots North Carolina.

Naomi P. Brown joined WUNC in January 2017.
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