"It's a really nice show. It's just like a craft show or a flower show," said Rosie Kilpatrick, a volunteer at the center and a member of the Sertoma Club. "We've never had anybody outside complaining and we've never had any problems."
Many gun shows have been under attack since the rapid increase of grisly shooting rampages in recent months. And, gun control advocates and cops have long complained about major loopholes in the gun laws.
In addition to licensed dealers, unlicensed sellers also sell their wares, often without conducting background checks on buyers. This loophole raises the likelihood that convicted criminals -- who would not be able to pass a mandated background check if they tried to buy from a licensed dealer -- are buying guns at these shows. One of the guns used in the Columbine shootings was obtained at a similar show in the Denver Metro area.
Colorado Springs Police Lt. Skip Arms said there is no regulatory oversight for gun shows here.
A bit inappropriate
City Councilman Ted Eastburn said the youth center, in the old Kmart at 2520 Airport road, has every right to hold a gun show because it's privately-owned. Ann Oatman-Gardner, who is working with a group that is researching potential local gun ordinances, also noted the property owners have a right to do as they please.
But the irony that the show is held in a facility that promotes itself as "one of the most important and successful youth service providers in southern Colorado" is not lost on all.
"It seems to me a bit inappropriate to have gun sales in a building that is primarily for recreational activities for youth," said John Muth, the former director of the county Department of Health. He calls himself a moderate on the gun issue.
"I don't think we need to be overprotective of our youth, but we need to be protective of where we distribute guns," he said.
In addition to programs designed for at-risk youth, the Youth Outreach Center houses other groups including the Pikes Peak Girls Softball Association, a Hispanic youth dance and culture club, Toys for Tots, and the Young Marines. The youth center plans to enter into a cooperative agreement with Junior Achievement this year to house their BASE program for youth leadership training.
The nonprofit center is also open to kids for after-school and weekend recreation programs, and two charter schools use the facility. Given the charter schools' use of the building, it is unclear whether a law that prohibits possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of a school would apply to the youth center.
"That's a question for a lawyer," said David McCombs, area supervisor for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
'Clean and nice kids'
The Sertoma Club's five annual gun shows help raise money for contributions to the Easter Seals and for speech and hearing programs for the deaf and blind, Kilpatrick said. Also, she said, the fees from renting the Youth Outreach Center for her club's gun shows help pay the rent on the facility -- enabling the group to keep its doors open for children's programs.
Kilpatrick said that children under 18 are not allowed into the gun shows but those who are accompanied by their parents are welcome. They don't wander around, and are "as clean and nice as they can be," Kilpatrick said.
"If they grow up around guns, then they understand the truth about them; that if they shoot them they can get hurt and even die."
McCombs said he is unaware of any studies that show kids who are exposed to handguns are more or less apt to use them illegally.
David Hemenway, the director of the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University, said he has heard similar claims -- that children are less apt to play with guns if they are raised around them and taught they are not toys. But, he said, he is unaware of any studies that may support -- or refute -- such assertions.
"If [gun advocates] say that, it would be nice for them to cite studies rather than just make a claim," Hemenway said.
Hemenway, who is currently writing a book about guns, said the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle program, designed to teach gun safety to children has never been independently evaluated.
He called attention to a recent 20/20 investigative report that showed kids ages 4 to 6 who were instructed by their own parents and by cops never to touch a gun that they found lying around.
Two weeks later, those same kids were brought back, and, as parents watched through a one-way mirror, the children found guns hidden in the room. They proceeded to pick them up, point them at each other, "fire" them and even attempted to load the guns with oversized bullets also found hidden in the room.
"It was scary," Hemenway said.
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