It looked like a scene out of old Soviet Russia with the long bread lines.
Only this wasn’t the USSR.
This was downtown Las Vegas, where thousands of people lined up in the early morning over the weekend to get into the latest gun show.
And while similar shows in Denver on Saturday and Chantilly, Va., on Friday attracted protests, there wasn’t a smidgen of that at Cashman Center, not a single sign held up in fury.
At a time when gun ownership is being challenged around the nation, gun owners in Las Vegas – not to be deterred - showed up in droves to get what they needed, whether it was a Colt .45-caliber revolver, a semi-automatic AKS or a round or two of fresh ammunition.
Bob Templeton, owner of the Crossroads of the West Gun Shows, said more than 12,000 people purchased tickets Saturday, and he was expecting 8,000 on Sunday. That would be almost twice the attendance of last year’s show in Las Vegas.
But the people from Las Vegas, Templeton said, have always been good customers, and it’s not uncommon to see the gun shows at the Cashman Center draw large crowds.
"Ammunition is the big-ticket item these days; dealers were selling out," said Templeton, 74, who started his business 35 years ago with a small gun shop in Salt Lake City and now holds shows in four states.
His biggest show is in Costa Mesa in Southern California, he said. But by far the people of Arizona are his No. 1 clients.
Templeton said the weekend’s record-breaking attendance was a result of "the political posturing" that has grown in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
"There’s this movement now to regulate, constrict or even confiscate firearms, and what lawmakers want to do is weaken the Second Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution), which is the right to bear arms," Templeton said.
"But if I recall correctly, when the Founding Fathers invented the Bill of Rights, that’s exactly what they called it: the Bill of Rights. They didn’t call it ‘the Bill of Needs,’ and hopefully it’s going to stay that way."
He went on to say: "If you look around at the gun show, what you’ll see is a cross-section of law-abiding gun owners who either want to defend themselves or who simply see owning them as a game of sport, a recreation. Not everybody who buys them is some sort of mass murderer."
And that would seem true to those who emerged from the grounds.
John Smith, who is an Air Force retiree, bought a target stand for his rifle at home. Though he understands the controversies surrounding guns, he adamantly believes, as do many gun owners, that it is the person who kills, not the inanimate object.
"Cars don’t kill people, it’s the people who are driving them that do," Smith said. "Knives don’t kill people, it’s the people who hold them that do. Same applies to guns, and the sad fact is that if you’re a criminal and you want to do harm, you’re going to get it, regardless of the restrictions.
"Look at marijuana. It’s been illegal for years, but people have also been smoking it for years," Smith said. "The point is, you have to be responsible when you own one, and that’s exactly what I am: responsible."
For example, he said, when he totes his rifle out to the desert and does a little target practice, he makes sure no one is close by.
"It’s all about taking precautions and knowing how to operate it (the gun)," Smith said.
One customer, who would only refer to himself as Al, said he bought an AKS semi-automatic rifle for $400, a price he was pleased with. A local bartender and a Detroit native, Al said his father taught him how to shoot his first rifle, and he hasn’t looked back since. Nor will he be deterred from engaging in the sport, he said.
Acknowledging there are some problems with access to guns, namely keeping them out of the hands of the mentally ill, Al said he didn’t think more restrictions will curb America’s appetite for guns.
"I don’t think any of them are ever going to be banned," he said. "That’s wishful thinking. But yeah, sure, if somebody could swoop down and get rid of every single gun in the United States, there’d be fewer murders, sure. But that ain’t gonna happen."
Nevada doesn’t require a permit to own a firearm, but Clark County residents must register handguns with the Sheriff’s Office.
Not everybody at the show was buying guns. All sorts of merchandise could be purchased at the 100 or so tables inside the center. The show resembled a military surplus store, with a variety of camouflage gear, from tents to sleeping bags to backpacks to camping equipment.
Steve Nagel, president of UV Paqlite, was selling key chains and knickknacks that were made from dirt and that naturally glowed. The show was an opportunity to expose his invention to the gun-toting population.
"This is the perfect place to let people know I’m out here," said Nagel, who just moved to Las Vegas from Montrose, Colo.
Then there’s Jim Grammie, whose collection of antique rifles began to "gather dust" in his attic. He decided to try to sell it and got a deal on a table at the show: $100.
As of Saturday, he had managed to sell $300 worth of rifles, something he might not have been able to do online.
"I’ve already paid for the table," he said. "So that’s good."
Grammie still had a few guns left, including a 1951 limited edition of the Bolt Action Shot Gun. He was offering it for $150.
"Maybe I’ll be able to sell it Sunday," he said.
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.