Gun show brings the shop to firearms buyers

MIDDLEBURY — When Michelle Hudson laid out her display at the American Legion on a recent Saturday morning she admitted she had a bit of an inventory problem.
Overflowing from soda cases were hundreds of rounds of ammunition for firearms of all caliber, packed into plastic bags and small cardboard boxes without any semblance of organization.
“For 25 years, we were buying out all the older dealers as they closed up,” she said from behind her display. “Looks like we went a little overboard.”
Hudson was one of 46 vendors participating in the Green Mountain Gun Show Trail’s Middlebury exhibition, held at the American Legion Post 27 on April 26. The event drew roughly 100 potential buyers that day, with the majority of traffic packing the hall in the morning.
Attendees came from all around the state and region, buying and selling all manner of firearms and ammunition, including antique flintlock muskets and modern arms and technical scopes, stocks and attachable components. In addition to firearms, the show featured hunting knives, maces, palm spikes and throwing darts.
Nonlethal homemade beef jerky was also offered for sale.
Bill Borchers, CEO of the Green Mountain Gun Show Trail, organizes similar shows around the state in venues including Rutland, Brattleboro, Chester and White River Junction. Borchers said the shows are popular among hunters, recreational shooters and collectors.
“I have people that will drive all the way from Maine looking for a specific gun for their collection,” he said. “You’ll find new, used and everything in-between.”
Vermont is one of a handful of states where citizens can sell firearms from their collections without conducting a federal background check. But Saturday’s gun show required background checks for all sales, a condition Borchers said was implemented before last year’s show, in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Borchers stressed the importance of these background checks at the shows he has curated since 2005.
“There are a lot of people that go to shows in Vermont because they know they won’t have to do paperwork,” Borchers said. “Well, they don’t come to Bill Borchers’s shows.”
In addition to the background checks, all transactions were required to take place at the vendor’s booth.
Compared to last year, Borchers said participation was down by about 30 percent due to inventory shortages created by a jump in sales last year. The increase in demand with a shortage in supply led to an increase in prices, particularly in the cost of ammunition.
“Shooters used to go to a range and shoot about $25 to $30 worth of ammunition,” he said. “Today, to make that same trip would cost you $130.”
However, he said, guns make solid investments, a fact that people are still aware of.
“You don’t lose from a gun,” he said.
Mark and Jeri Savery came from Plymouth representing their shop,Tyson Auto Works & Gun Sales, which specializes in automotive repair and the sale and servicing of firearms. After racing four-wheelers for 10 years, they opened the shop in 2007 and received a federal firearms sales license in 2012. For a shop with a limited amount of retail space, Mark Savery said the shows are an important part of the gun side of their family business.
“Most of our customers are coming to us for a brake job, not to buy a handgun,” he said. “It’s not until after that they’ll call back and want to come take a look at something.”
At the Middlebury gun show, they said, many of the people were interested in arms designed for self-defense as well as components for AR-style rifles.
“AR-15s are the small block Chevys of the gun world,” Mark Savery said, referring to their ability to be altered in size or caliber. “There’s not much you can’t bolt on or change out.”
“They get a bad name because of what they look like and what they’re associated with,” Jeri Savery added, and pointed to what she said is a popular misconception: The A in AR-15 stands for Armalite, the first company to produce the style of weapon, not “automatic,” or “assault.”
Ross and Alix Schacher stood behind a table piled high with all sorts of ammunition. Ross Schacher, a gun enthusiast almost since the day he was legally able to own a firearm, met his wife, Alix, at Project Appleseed, a clinic organized by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association that teaches rifle marksmanship skills.
The two moved to Starksboro last year, to what they describe as a “more free country,” with fewer gun restrictions than New York or Massachusetts. The two are waiting on the mandatory federal firearms license to open a shop in a converted barn on their property. For now they operate their business, Lonely Mountain Arms, at gun shows.
For Ross, the idea of owning his own shop is a dream job.
“I worked briefly for a firearms distributor in Massachusetts and I discovered that I can’t do sales very well cold-calling on the phone to shops,” he said. “I always thought that if I could be on this side of the table, that I could do pretty good. I’m about to find out, and if I can’t, it won’t be because I didn’t try hard enough.”
Alix Schacher said they were excited at the opportunity to open their own business and came to the show hoping to make connections with what they hope to be future customers.
“If you can pay the bills, what a way to live out your life — to have a job that you like to do,” she said. “Since we’re such a new shop we came to meet people. They get to see us and we can give them a card.”
The two expect to open their business in June.
Edward Farr, of Farr’s Gun Shop in Danville, has been in the gun business for 48 years and still prefers older models to newer ones.
“In newer guns there’s not a quality that there used to be,” he said. “I like the wooden grips, and you don’t see many of those these days.”
But while he knows what he prefers, it can be difficult to predict what the customer is looking for. And for the vendors, that meant bringing a variety.
Justin McKeighan and his son Brighton, age 8, were two of the show’s customers. The father and son from Brandon go to shows all over Vermont and New Hampshire and enjoy hunting deer and waterfowl, as well as target shooting. They came to last week’s show looking for a revolver for Brighton and eventually settled on a .22 caliber model made by Ruger. The gun would be Brighton’s third.
McKeighan, age 33, has been hunting since age 7 and said that gun ownership was an important tradition in his family.
“I’ve been around them my entire life and now I’m bringing my kids up around them,” he said. “They’re useful tools if used correctly.”

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