published Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Alhambra Shrine Temple gun show draws a crowd

Cars are parked outside of the Alhambra Shine Temple in Chattanooga, Tenn., Saturday for a weekend-long gun show.
Cars are parked outside of the Alhambra Shine Temple in Chattanooga, Tenn., Saturday for a weekend-long gun show.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

A man with frayed overalls, a camouflage T-shirt and a red, weathered face sat behind two tables holding 26 guns. He looked much like all the other men and women behind their own tables Saturday at the Alhambra Shrine Temple off East Brainerd Road, offering knives and ammo and invitations to join the National Rifle Association.

But Danny Hawkins, the man in overalls, was different. This was his first show, and maybe his last.

"How much should we sell this for?" Hawkins' friend, Dale Cook, asked him as a customer studied what looked like a gun grip.

"I don't know," Hawkins answered.

"$15?" Cook suggested.

"Is it worth that?" Hawkins asked.

"I think so."

"We don't even know what it is!" Hawkins said before accepting the cash and waving the customer goodbye.

•••

As members of the U.S. Congress debate potential gun control regulations like banning semiautomatic rifles and requiring background checks for sales between private individuals, the Alhambra Shriners hosted a gun show to help pay their bills and employee salaries. They say shows like this give them the resources to support the Shriners Children's Hospitals across the country.

The show continues today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $7 at the door.

Some of the folks gathered in the temple Saturday came for the same reason many make holy treks: The future seems scary, and they want to feel safe. Only they didn't reach toward the sky in prayer so much as they stretched out their hands with cash in exchange for weapons.

Stanley Wagner, a business manager for the Shriners, said the organization didn't track how many tickets were sold. But more people showed up Saturday than they had for the Shriners' three gun shows last year.

"Everybody's runnin' scared with this gun control thing," he said.

Those in front of their tables talked about expanded background checks. Bill Smith, a private seller, opposed the idea. They would take too long, he said. Patrick Honeyman, meanwhile, thought such checks wouldn't be a bad idea. Honeyman is an owner of Tactical Firearms Solutions in Cleveland, Tenn., and he said online background checks never take longer than half an hour.

At one table, Hollis Stockburger sold bullets, a commodity these days. Store owners throughout the country have reported ammunition shortages as people buy them faster than manufacturers can spit them out.

Stockburger used to buy packages of .22-caliber long rifle bullets for $20. Now he finds them going for $70. He doesn't want to rip people off, but in a situation like this a seller would be a fool not to jack prices up at least a little. He lifted a package and studied it. An orange sticker read "12.99."

"I'd probably sell this for about $20," he said.

•••

Back at their table, Hawkins and Cook had sold six guns by 2 p.m. Hawkins, 61, wants to sell all of them, whether that happens this weekend or sometime later. He likes guns fine, but he isn't a collector, not like his brother Kenny.

Kenny started buying guns "as soon as he could afford them," Danny said. When they were kids, they used to hunt rabbits together. When they got older, they sometimes hunted deer. But most of the time they just fired at targets across the manmade lake where they lived on Flat Top Mountain.

But four or five months ago, Danny said, Kenny started unloading his guns.

He sold them to friends. He didn't need them anymore.

Kenny died Jan. 21. Non-hodgkins lymphoma, Danny said. After the funeral, Danny decided to help sell the rest of the guns so Kenny's wife, Melissa, would have extra cash.

So this week, he grabbed all the rifles, shotguns and pistols out of Kenny's utility room, stacked them across the back seat of his '77 Chevy Blazer and drove to the temple.

"And here I am," he said, spitting brown saliva into a Coke can turned dip deposit. "Trying to sell 'em."

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