It’s an unusually warm and sunny Saturday in late winter, and the line to pay the $8 admission to Bill Goodman’s Gun & Knife Show at the Sharonville Convention Center is unusually long.

Jim and Michelle Zdunic of Florence are waiting to check out the more than 300 tables inside the exhibit hall stacked by vendors with a wide assortment of old and new guns, books about guns, gun stocks and components, ammunition, hunting and survival equipment, camouflage gear, and swords and hunting knives.

“We’re exercising our Second Amendment rights,” says Michelle, when asked what brought her to the show.

The Zdunics enjoy target shooting, and Michelle says she’s in the market for a second pistol. “We like to see what’s available,” she says. Her husband, who owns a pistol, rifle and a shotgun, says they come to the Goodman show, held monthly at the Sharonville Convention Center, three or four times a year.

In the midst of growing national attention on gun violence, shows like Bill Goodman’s are where the rubber increasingly meets the road in America’s great gun debate.

The weekend show typically draws around 5,000 people and all the vendors tables, which cost $60 each, are sold out well in advance, says Dave Goodman, son of the late Bill 
Goodman who started the gun and knife show in 1967.

On any given weekend, there’s at least one gun show somewhere in Ohio. For example, the Patriot Gun & Knife Show is a weekly feature at the Treasure Aisles Flea Market off Interstate 75 in Monroe.

Goodman, based outside Louisville, has been holding monthly shows in the Cincinnati area for decades, with the last 20 years or so being at the Sharonville Convention Center. Goodman also holds monthly shows in Dayton and Nashville, Tenn.

Lately, Goodman says he feels like he has a target on his back.

“Anytime someone robs a store, they blame us,” Goodman says. “We’re the people selling guns, but criminals don’t go to gun shows to buy guns. Our own Justice Department stated that. The number of guns from gun shows in the hands of criminals is so small it is anecdotal.”

Because of the competition from other shows, Goodman says it is hard for promoters to move into new markets.

“Sharonville is a good location because it’s close to Cincinnati and the median income is high,” he says.

The Goodman Show is what the Sharonville Convention Center calls a “consumer show” held on weekends. They represent only a small portion of the center’s business, says Jim Downton, executive director.

“Our bread and butter are the corporate events we host Monday through Friday,” he says. Last year, consumer shows like Goodman’s represented only about 10 percent of the more than 300 events at the convention center. He says he’s not aware of any complaints about hosting the gun show. “I’ve heard of complaints in some communities, but not here,” he says.

Gun control advocates argue shows like Goodman’s are a source of unregistered gun sales that contribute to gun violence.

“The problem we have with gun shows is the whole background check issue. Sales at gun shows aren’t regulated, so they aren’t required to have background checks,” says Amy Pulles, former director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, a Toledo-based nonprofit focused on gun control education and advocacy.

Gun control advocates frequently describe gun show sales as a “loophole” in the law.

That makes Goodman bristle. “There’s no loophole,” he says. “The law specifically allows private individuals to sell their weapons whether at a gun show, or out of the trunk of your car, or [at] your home or in the newspaper. It’s like saying there’s a loophole in the speed limit because somebody drives 90 miles an hour.”

Goodman, however, has gone a step further, though not mandated by law. He requires all vendors at his shows to voluntarily submit to the federal background check procedure, which takes a matter of minutes via computer.

Although the background checks are voluntary, Goodman says, “We haven’t caught anybody violating our rule. If they did, we wouldn’t take their reservation [for a table].”

Todd Lacher, who owns Family Firearms and Finishes in Oxford and is a regular vendor at Goodman’s Sharonville show, says, “It’s your business. Is it worth it to make $50 [on an unlicensed gun sale] and lose everything?”

He specializes in handpicked curio and relic weapons—anything from a Revolutionary War musket to a Vietnam era rifle. He likes the history and stories connected to the weapons he sells.

“Not many people are going to try and knock off a store with a rifle that’s 4 feet long and 110 years old,” he says.

He says dealers won’t sell to somebody they’re suspicious of. “I’ve never seen a gangbanger in here,” he says.

Pulles agrees that gun shows aren’t the only place guns can be purchased without a background check. Gun critics say online sales are also a problem.

“But [gun shows are] one place people can go and get a gun,” she says. “The easier it is to get a gun, the more likely you are to get one.”

The Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence backs legislation to expand gun purchase background checks introduced at both the federal and state level.

In the face of the gridlock in Washington, though, Pulles says there isn’t much optimism that Congress will act; two proposals to expand background checks introduced in the Ohio House more than year ago have not advanced to the hearing stage.

Most of the gun debate in Columbus over the last year has focused on House Bill 203, which includes a number of changes to the state’s concealed-carry law. Among them is the so-called “stand-your-ground” provision, eliminating a state law requiring a person to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense.

Pulles says the legislation has other provisions gun control advocates oppose, including more liberal reciprocity with other states’ concealed-carry laws that weakens Ohio’s concealed-carry provisions and lower training hours to obtain a concealed-carry permit.

The bill passed in the Ohio House last November by a vote of 62-27 and is now before the Ohio Senate.

There’s a cultural and political divide over gun control legislation in Ohio, she says.

In heavily Republican areas like Southwest Ohio where hunting is an important form of recreation, gun control is a particularly hard sell. “It’s hard to get [gun owners] to realize that gun control doesn’t mean taking away everyone’s firearms,” she says.

In the gun control movement, Pulles, who grew up in Delhi Township, says the Cincinnati area is seen as one of the hardest areas to find support.

“It’s a culture change that we need,” she says. “We’re working hard to change it.”

It’s a change that customers of Bill Goodman’s Gun & Knife Show aren’t willing to buy.