On Saturday, August 27, as Hurricane Irene began to lick the Virginia coast, the employees of Showmasters, Inc., were setting up 470 tables at the Richmond International Raceway. In fact, Showmasters—“the largest continuous running gun show in the state of Virginia,” according to its website—cancelled a show in Fishersville scheduled for the same weekend, so as not to conflict with its Richmond event. Rather than drive further inland toward Staunton, any Charlottesville resident bent on a gun show had to head towards the storm.
“We never cancel because of the weather!” read a pair of e-mails sent by Showmasters during the storm weekend. The second, sent on August 27 at 12:30pm, included a brief weather report and implored shoppers to “come get your anti-looting supplies here!”
Travel, however, wasn’t necessary. It turns out that Charlottesville has more licensed firearms dealers than it did last year.
While Albemarle County police say they do not keep a list of businesses licensed to sell firearms, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) does. In January 2010, an ATF count numbered 14 licensed companies or individuals with business or mailing addresses in Charlottesville. As of last month, that number is up to 18.
Those stores include big boxes like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, located off of 29N. They also include spots like Albemarle County Firearms, a retailer in the Rio Hill Shopping Center, and individuals like Leonardo Plaza-Ponte, whose Silent Pros LLC received its license in January.
“I thought that Charlottesville is kind of a nice area and a good place for a gun business,” said Plaza-Ponte. “There are a lot of people who enjoy the outdoors, it’s centrally located, there’s room to get out and shoot. The interest is there.” Asked why he thought the number of local stores had gone up, Plaza-Ponte said he’d moved to the area fairly recently, but said it was likely “for the same reasons I did.”
Plaza-Ponte attended the recent Showmasters Richmond gun show on August 28, the second day of the weekend event. He went as a spectator rather than a retailer, and did not pay for a table at the show. He spent roughly 20 minutes at the event, but then was required to leave. For the first time in its 40-year history, Showmasters canceled because of the weather after the event lost power.
While C-VILLE left several messages with Showmasters requesting interviews, the Blacksburg-based company did not return calls.