Caputo: High prices, Obama-paranoia at Miami gun show

The Miami gun-show line stretched 200 people long. Many blamed President Barack Obama.

This is what the president’s gun-control talk has wrought: long waits to get into gun shows, higher firearm and ammunition prices and more paranoia.

The word “Obama” was frequently mumbled, muttered, hissed, cursed at Saturday’s Southern Classic Gun and Knife Show.

“Obama” was a catch-all word, a gun-rights shibboleth of sorts, a no-longer-shocking swear, a conversation starter.

To Calvin Hudson, a Miami Gardens resident bargain-hunting at the Miami-Dade fairgrounds firearms bazaar, the Obama-blaming was a sign people were being fooled into paying more in a firearms market panic.

“The industry is getting people all scared of Obama so they can kill us with some of these prices,” Hudson said.

Hudson told a stranger or two next to him not to worry about the president’s gun-control plans, announced in response to last month’s deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

“Obama’s not taking away guns,” Hudson said to one couple. “He just wants semi-automatic rifles off the street.”

It’s extremely unlikely Congress will go along. Many say gun control hurts law-abiding citizens and does little to stop bad guys.

The president might drop his “assault-weapons” proposal if Congress agrees to close the so-called “gun-show loophole,” which can allow people to buy arms without a background check.

But Republicans in Congress are likely to stop that, too.

Asked the day before the gun show if universal background checks are needed for any gun purchase, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio suggested he was opposed.

“Well, let me give you an example, the individual who carried out the atrocity in Colorado passed two background checks, one of them erroneously. And obviously the individual who carried out this atrocity in Sandy Hook didn’t pass any background check because they weren’t his guns,” Rubio said.

“The bottom line is, if you write a law, law-abiding people will follow that law. And people that are criminals ignore the law because they are criminals,” he continued. “What is effective is mandatory sentences like those we have in Florida.”

Rubio, when he was in the Legislature, repeatedly voted along with his fellow Republicans to loosen restrictions on guns. Democrats predicted a crime wave.

But the violent-crime rate in Florida has been declining.

And though the push for universal background checks ostensibly targets gun shows, the stark evidence of the loophole wasn’t inside Saturday’s gun show at all.

It was outside, next to the soda machine, where a guy and his friends were hawking a semi-automatic rifle, ammunition and case for $3,000.

No paperwork, background checks needed.

A plumber in line who didn’t want to give his name fretted: “That’s dangerous. That’s how stuff gets on the street. I have no problem treating them like licensed firearms dealers.”

When he first got in line, he shook his head at the long wait ahead: “Obama.”

He was there to buy some high-capacity magazines for his AR-15. The cost has skyrocketed.

Inside, there were bins of gun clips, and tables of shotguns, semi-automatic rifles and handguns, switchblade and throwing knives, sharp steel Ninja stars, swords, stun guns, batons, night-vision scopes machine-gun-conversion kits for semi-automatic rifles.

The tables of Sure Fire Florida, which background-checks buyers, were swamped.

A clerk said they quickly sold 40 AR-15s for as much as $2,800 shortly after opening. Some people had to wait two hours until their paperwork cleared before taking their guns home.

At a nearby booth, one seller soon ran out of hundreds of “bump-fire” trigger kits that, as a video showed, convert a semi-automatic weapon into a full machine gun that can fire 800 rounds a minute.

With numbers like that, it's safe to say more firearms were bought in the first few hours of the Miami gun show than were returned at an unrelated Miami police gun buy-back program that netted about 130 firearms Saturday and violence-plagued Liberty City.

“I’ve never seen it this busy,” said Naim Alherimi, in his fourth year at the Miami gun show. “Some people are talking about civil war and arming themselves like its World War III.”

But many have been heavily arming themselves and others and worrying about Obama long before a madman shot the school children of Sandy Hook with an AR-15.

In 2010, Florida gun shows were a major stage for Operation Castaway, “the most significant firearms trafficking investigation in Central Florida history,” according to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The key player: Hugh Crumpler, a Vietnam vet turned small arms dealer who sold weapons to alleged affiliates of drug cartels and gangs in South and Central America, primarily Honduras, one of the most-violent countries in the world.

Crumpler was identified only because he was buying multiple handguns from federally licensed firearms dealers, primarily in his home of Brevard County. The handgun transactions were reported to ATF.

Had Crumpler only bought less-regulated (and more-powerful) semi-automatic rifles, no report would have been sent to ATF, which might not have jumped on his trail.

Crumpler sold at least 1,000 guns at shows from Tampa to Miami. He should have been a licensed firearms dealer because he sold so many weapons.

If a person isn’t a licensed firearms dealer and is technically a small-time private seller, he doesn’t have to do background checks on buyers.

“All my business is cash and carry,” Crumpler, working a booth at the Southern Classic Gun and Knife Show in Orlando, told an undercover ATF agent at the beginning of the investigation.

Asked if he background checked buyers, Crumpler said: “No. Obama won’t know that you have it.”

At another point, Crumpler explained his no-paperwork business model to an undercover agent.

“Most people are afraid that Obama is going to come take their guns away. Now whether he is or isn’t is not important. It’s just important that he might,” he said. “So they don’t want anybody to know. So I don’t keep a record. And if somebody comes and asks where the gun is at, I say I don’t remember.”

Crumpler’s quotes come from a plea deal he signed after becoming an informant. Later, Crumpler tried to appeal his sentence.

Crumpler compared his case to the botched Operation Fast and Furious, in which ATF agents in Arizona allowed guns to cross into Mexico to help track them.

Crumpler claimed Fast and Furious and Operation Castaway were ways for Obama to try to justify more gun control. The federal government denied it.

The ATF said Operation Castaway and Fast and Furious are different. No one has shown that the agency knowingly allowed Crumpler-sold guns out of the country once he was under investigation.

A judge on Oct. 25 ruled that Crumpler’s 30-month sentence should remain intact because he admitted guilt.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Fast and Furious, the ATF took executive action and required firearms dealers in the four Mexico-border states to report multiple rifle purchases.

The rule, however, doesn’t apply to Florida, where Southern gun culture can blend seamlessly with Latin American cartel middle men like Crumpler’s clients.

While selling arms, Crumpler said, he believed he was a “lone ranger” helping arm families, not cartels.

But some of his buyers were pretty shady and bought illegal AR-15-style short barrel rifles that Crumpler converted for them.

At least one was an illegal immigrant. One of his Miami gun-show buyers Jesus Puentes, worked for a Miami-Dade shipping company with strong ties to Venezuela.

Puentes wouldn’t talk much to the feds after he was caught, saying he feared people in his native country of Colombia.

“A life is nothing to them,” he said.

Puentes wouldn’t say if he shipped arms or not, although secretly recorded conversations with Crumpler indicated he did. Both profited.

“It’s not about the guns,” Puentes told agents. “It’s about the money.”

Three years later, at the same gun show where Puentes had been busted, that sentiment was as true now as it was then, but for different reasons.

“You can’t find ammo right now at Wal-Mart or Outdoor World and it’s really expensive online, said Darryl Washington, a Miramar resident shopping Saturday with Hudson.

“This place has the best prices.”