ELKHART — Customers flocked to a gun show Friday, Jan. 17, perusing guns, ammunition and knives, two days after the deadly shootings at a local grocery store.
The show generated the ire of one local activist, who was critical of the timing, two days after a gunman shot and killed two women at the Bristol Street Martin’s Super Market. He had called on the event to be postponed or cancelled.
“This is a question of taste, tact,” said Jason Moreno, who, among other things, advocates for the older, low-income neighborhoods south of downtown Elkhart.
But Charlotte Rodriguez, with Angola-based Gun Slinger Promotions, which organized the event, said the plans wouldn’t be altered. The dates of the show were set by organizers some time ago, obviously not knowing a shooting would take place, and dealers from long distances came to Elkhart to take part, she said.
The show, held at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart — about three miles northeast of the site of the shootings — started at 3 p.m. Friday and was to go on until Sunday.
Beyond that, Rodriguez touted gun-rights proponents’ arguments in favor of Second Amendment gun rights. If a manager at the grocery store had a legally concealed weapon and used it when the gunman started shooting, she argued, maybe Wednesday’s killings would’ve stopped after the first death.
“They have every right to do what they want,” answered Moreno, who engaged in a spirited debate with others in the community on the issue Thursday via his Facebook page. “It doesn’t mean what they’re doing is right.”
Elkhart man Shawn Bair, 22, armed with a gun and knife, shot and killed two women, Krystle Dikes, 20, and Rachelle Godfread, 44, at the Martin’s before Elkhart police — called to the scene — shot and killed him, according to authorities.
There were rifles, handguns, knives, T-shirts, ammunition and more for sale at the gun show here, attended largely by men. Organizers on Friday afternoon, though, prohibited media from interviewing vendors or participants, so there was no public reaction from them on Wednesday’s events.
In Moreno’s Facebook feed, though, the gun show — and, more broadly, the gun rights issue — sparked heated back-and-forth among some local leaders, debating whether such an event now is appropriate.
“A man with a gun and a knife killed two women in a store ...,” Moreno wrote Thursday. “Celebrating guns and knives the next day and putting more of them into the market the day after is tasteless.”
Brian Dickerson, a member of the Elkhart City Council who also took part in the Facebook dialogue, said Friday it would be “even more tasteless” to infringe on a private entity’s right to engage in commerce, alluding to gun show organizers.
He seconded Rodriguez’s contention that had a Martin’s manager had a gun, the bloodshed may have been reduced. Also echoing Rodriguez, Dickerson said mental health issues need to be dealt with more effectively to get a handle on gun violence.
Moreno said the fact that someone like Bair, who had previously been convicted of two felonies, could have had a gun indicates a need for reform of gun controls.
Officials haven’t reported a motive or weighed in on the state of Bair’s mental health, though he had an apparent history of drug use and, based on now-deleted Facebook postings, seemed to have a fascination with serial killers and violence.