Gun enthusiasts flock to final show of the season

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BRATTLEBORO -- A local hotel hosted the last of a series of 2010 Vermont Gun Shows last weekend, drawing gun enthusiasts from far and wide who were hoping to sell their goods or find that special addition to their collection.

Rows of tables, pushed together to accommodate about two dozen vendors, filled a large conference room at the Quality Inn on Putney Road to capacity Saturday afternoon.

For many collectors, the appreciation for firearms is steeped in tradition.

"We don't really own these things, we just maintain them for future generations," said Fran Wagner, of South Hadley, Mass.

Wagner, who was selling a small collection of antique powder horns, said he has been attending gun shows for 50 years.

He showed how the powder horn is used to store gun powder, and he explained that people generally stopped using them around the outbreak of World War I as he demonstrated the way the tool allows the user to funnel powder into an old gun.

"I'm like a small version of the Smithsonian," he said. "All collectors are."

Bill Borchers, who organized Vermont Gun Shows five years ago, said the shows are the perfect opportunity for a collector to find that one missing part to an old gun, or the final firearm that will complete a collection, though he said he does partake in the activity himself.

"I don't buy guns and I don't sell guns," he said.

Borchers said he takes safety very seriously, and each gun is checked at the door to make sure it isn't loaded.

Before any purchase is made, the buyer must fill out a form for an instant criminal background check. With one call to a 1-800 number, Borchers is able to find out within five minutes whether the buyer is legally allowed to possess firearms.

He also doesn't allow "for sale" signs on any guns entering the show; only pre-registered vendors are allowed to make sales.

"There is also no selling in the parking lot," he said. "I don't want people opening up the back of their pick-up truck and selling from there. Ever since I started five years ago, I've never allowed that."

Borchers said that Brattleboro used to have one of the biggest gun shows in the state, located at Brattleboro Union High School.

"It was like the good ol' boys," he said. "Like maple sugaring season, people looked forward to it -- to bringing their grandsons to it and educating them."

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Joseph Borgatti, of Brattleboro, remembers when the show was at BUHS.

"Then they didn't want it at the high school anymore," he recalled.

Borgatti, a Windham County Sheriff's Department deputy, said he carries a gun on him wherever he goes.

"If you handle a gun right, nothing ever goes wrong," he said. "All my kids have handled guns since they were little."

"Most of it is common sense," he added.

Volunteers helping to promote the new Tri-State Firearms Range had a booth as well and were handing out brochures to those interested in indoor target practice.

As luck would have it, the gun show coincided with the grand opening of the range, which meant the volunteers could send people straight to their location in nearby Hinsdale, N.H., where they could get out of the cold and shoot in the comfort of a 25-yard indoor firing range.

The Tri-State staff also informed their customers about the gun show, pointed out Chris Pong, who manned the table along with friend Kristy Smith.

"They're leveraging on one another quite a bit," said Pong, who explained that he and Smith are not Tri-State employees but friends of the owners.

"All the employees are tied up at the range," he said. "A lot of people are excited that it's open today."

Though the attendees of the gun show had widely varying interests -- hunting, target practice, collecting historic firearms -- most agreed that responsible gun ownership goes hand-in-hand with standing up for Americans' rights to bear arms.

"A gun is only as good or as bad as the man using it," said Wagner. "It's our heritage -- it's our right and there's nothing wrong with people owning firearms; it's what people do with them (that causes problems)."

"I do this for him," he added, displaying a photograph of a teenage boy.

"That's my grandson; he's 15," he said. "He likes the old stuff, just like I do."

Jaime Cone can be reached at jcone@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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