Children laughed and squealed as they played pickup basketball and dashed around a playground in a park outside Fort Lauderdale’s War Memorial Auditorium Saturday afternoon while, inside, hundreds of gun enthusiasts bought and sold firearms at the Fort Lauderdale Gun Show.
Parents who watched them play as people streamed out of the gun show with their purchases when it closed at 5 p.m. said the presence of so many weapons so close to their kids made them uneasy.
“I am not okay with this,” said Lucie Weiss, 33, as she walked along a gravel path in Holiday Park, pushing a stroller carrying her 5-month-old first-born daughter. “I would not be surprised if someone unstable gets ahold of one of those weapons and tries something.”
Holiday Park surrounds the War Memorial Auditorium at 800 N.E. Eighth Street with playgrounds, baseball diamonds and basketball and tennis courts.
Farid Sahari, of Hollywood, brings his two young children there to play.
He moved to the U.S. from France, he said, and was uncomfortable with the apparent ease of buying a gun in the U.S., and with the gun show bringing powerful firearms — and the people who buy them — so close to the park.
“This is something we don’t have in France,” he said. “Here, everyone can get a permit.”
Outside the entrance to the building, Fort Lauderdale police officers in body armor stood next to a placard warning customers that county ordinances 18-96 and 18-97 require people who don’t have a concealed carry license to undergo a criminal background check before buying a gun.
Security personnel at the door checked customers’ guns to make sure they weren’t loaded, and fitted each one with a plastic cable that blocked the trigger so it couldn’t be fired.
Inside, gun dealers sat behind counters covered with firearms — from tiny revolvers the size of a deck of cards to massive big-game rifles — and presented potential customers with background check forms, calling the information in to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before finalizing sales.
Chris Lapella, who owns Orlando-based Diavolo Arms, said he background checks every customer but feels the checks aren’t enough.
“I personally think these things are under-regulated. These are extremely deadly weapons,” he said. “They make you take a test to drive a vehicle, but there’s no test for people to buy a gun or shoot a gun.”
Lapella said that in many counties, the so-called “gun show loophole” permitting private sales without background checks doesn’t exist because local ordinances, like Broward’s, require background checks and a waiting period.
But that doesn’t stop people from selling guns, or trying to buy them, illegally in their homes or in the parking lot outside gun shows.
Some of Lapella’s would-be customers who failed background checks had offered him “wads of cash big enough to choke a horse” to buy a gun without one, he said.
Most customers are responsible and law-abiding people, said Lapella, but he says he’s ripped up background check forms from potential buyers who made him suspicious, including one who mumbled something about wanting to kill his wife.
Sharmaine McIntosh, 29, takes her daughter and three sons to Holiday Park regularly and wasn’t worried about the gun show.
“I’ve been to one before, a few months ago,” she said. “I don’t really see anything wrong, because it’s secured.”
After the gun show ended at 5 p.m., three Fort Lauderdale Police Department officers questioned a man in front of the auditorium as people left of the building, some with their new firearms in heavy plastic cases.
The man was saying that the paperwork for the gun he had with him was in his car, and that the money transfer the officers saw was from a friend who owed him money.
They read him his Miranda rights.
The Fort Lauderdale Gun Show continues Sunday at the War Memorial Auditorium. It runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.