Attendance, signs go down as Gardens gun show faces ‘awkward’ timing

6:56 p.m Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018 Local
Pictured is a sign announcing the Brooklyn Firearms show at the Amara Shrine Temple in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., seen on Sunday, February 18, 2018. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

Attendance dropped as much as 90 percent at a gun show 52 miles and four days removed from Florida’s deadliest school shooting amid controversy over how prominent signs should be and whether the event should be held at all, the show’s promoter said Sunday.

“It was very awkward timing,” said Kevin Neely of Brooklyn Firearms Co.

“People are angry,” he said. “Do I blame them? No.”

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At the same time, he said, “Tell Walmart to close too. They have guns.”

Neely said he considered canceling the event after Wednesday’s shooting in Parkland. He and vendors had already made financial commitments and people on Facebook urged him not to back out, he said. In the end, he went ahead with the show scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at the Amara Shrine Temple in Palm Beach Gardens.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, stands accused of murdering 17 students and teachers and leaving seven hospitalized. At his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Cruz used an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle he bought legally from a Broward County gun shop a year earlier, federal officials said.

Calls to re-examine gun laws have proliferated in the wake of the incident. Hundreds gathered for a gun-control rally on the steps of the federal courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale Saturday. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a vigil for victims Thursday, “If you’re an elected official, and you want to keep things the way they are ― if you want to keep gun laws as they are now ― you will not get re-elected in Broward County.”

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Admission to the Palm Beach Gardens event was advertised online as $6 or free for those who signed up with the National Rifle Association, which manned a booth by the front door. Staffers referred requests for comment to the national NRA office.

NRA’s website features a clip of spokeswoman Dana Loesch urging the public and lawmakers to understand this particular event better before rushing to pass new laws that could infringe on the rights of citizens to arm themselves: “I never want anyone to be defenseless in the face of evil.”

Neely said he decided not to hang a 25-foot sign between trees, but he questioned why local code enforcement officials also pressed him to take down signs on or near vehicles, maintaining the event had failed to make proper prior arrangements for those. He said he understood some promotional signs planted in the ground in West Palm Beach were removed by unknown parties.

Asked how many people attended compared to what he would usually expect, he said, “Maybe 10 percent.”

He later amended that slightly, estimating 90 to 100 people attended over two days at an event where he would normally expect 600 to 700.

“Thanks, we didn’t even know there was a gun show in town until we sort of stumbled on it,” one attendee told Neely as he left with a woman and a baby in a stroller.

“I was just talking about that,” Neely told him.