DALY CITY -- Reflecting the deep divide over America's relationship with firearms, the Cow Palace was even more packed than usual Saturday for the start of this weekend's Crossroads of the West Gun Show, while just seven miles away gun owners lined up to turn their weapons into cash.
William Bennett, 30, of Fremont, brought his 3-year-old daughter, Nouvelle, into the Cow Palace, where gun show organizers expect to see 10,000 to 12,000 paying customers this weekend -- three times the usual turnout. The organizers say the push for new gun restrictions in Congress and the California Legislature has sparked a gun and ammo rush.
As Nouvelle whacked at her dad with a plastic sword, Bennett considered the question of what it says about the Bay Area that a couple of hundred people lined up Saturday to turn in their pistols, hunting rifles, assault weapons and shotguns for cash at a government-sponsored gun buyback program while thousands more jammed into the gun show.
"The country's split down the middle over everything -- gays, abortion, culture," Bennett said. "With guns, it's always going to be an issue."
The gun buyback at the South San Francisco courthouse was the latest in a series held around the Bay Area since the December massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. It was organized by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who was shot five times in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978 and is now a vice chairwoman of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
As she stood behind dozens of guns that had been turned in during just the first hour, Speier cited a long list of recent shootings in the Bay Area and beyond. They "are a tragedy that we can do something about," she said.
Speier was joined by Bay Area police chiefs, mayors and city council members, including Pacifica Mayor Pro Tem Mary Ann Nihart, who learned to shoot while growing up on a farm in Iowa.
"Common sense is what we want," Nihart said.
If the gun buyback saves "one child, one adult from accidentally being killed, we have reached our goal," Burlingame Mayor Ann Keighran said.
The approximately $23,000 available to buy back Saturday's guns -- $100 for a handgun, shotgun or rifle and $200 for an assault weapon -- came personally from Speier and from donations from the participating cities. About 250 firearms, including a handful of assault rifles, were turned, in according to a preliminary count, said Speier's spokeswoman, Katrina Rill.
Asked if he was disappointed that far more people turned out for the gun show than the buyback program, South San Francisco City Councilman Pradeep Gupta said, "We've got to start somewhere, and this is a good start."
As Roy Hallett, 65, of Pacifica, sat in his car waiting to turn in an unloaded .22-caliber rifle he was given as a 15-year-old boy, Hallett said: "I just want to get rid of it. I don't want it around the house anymore."
Kathy O'Connell, also of Pacifica, waited in line with the 20-gauge shotgun she got as a child when her dad taught her to shoot by firing at empty beer cans sitting on fence posts.
With her 10-month-old granddaughter, Addison, now often around the house, O'Connell figured it was a good time to get rid of the weapon.
"It's just sitting in the garage, and I don't want it anymore," O'Connell said.
Meanwhile at the Cow Palace, several gun owners, many of whom declined to give their full names, said they had never seen the lines so deep to buy ammunition.
A San Jose man who would only identify himself as Travis walked out with $100 worth of ammunition cases and soft rifle cases for his shotguns and hunting rifles.
Gun buyback programs, he said, won't prevent someone with mental problems from going on a shooting spree.
"It's America, dude," he said. "You've got the freedom to do whatever you want. I'd be the first to hand in everything if I thought it would make a difference."
Undercover agents from the California Department of Justice and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives walked around the gun show on Saturday and will return on Sunday, said Bob Templeton, who owns the Crossroads of the West Gun Shows. The undercover agents were there to ensure that California laws that bar sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are followed -- and to prevent gun buyers from taking home their newly purchased weapons until they pass a background check during a 10-day waiting period.
The crowds were especially heavy Saturday, Templeton said, "because there's a complete disconnect between the people who own guns and those that want to take away our Second Amendment rights. We need to find some common ground."
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.
What: Crossroads of the West Gun Show
Where: Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City
When: Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: Parking, $8. Admission, $12 (free for children 12 and under accompanied by an adult)
More information: www.crossroadsgunshows.com