Collage of photos

Entrance to the Gun Show at the former Westland Mall

In the derelict and nearly extinct Westland Mall, where the current owner couldn’t care less about the cratered parking lot, there’s still one last tenant hanging on – and for those who enter this tenant’s premises, they must unload their gun and never, ever take a picture or video of what goes on inside. You could also easily lose your life here too, as was the case back in September.

Welcome to creepy and dystopian 21st-centruy America in all its splendor.

The Westland Mall’s glory days have come and gone but may rise again. In 2019 the entire 88 acres was bought by LGR Realty of Columbus and they have designs on finally demolishing the mall to build condos and offices, or mixed-use.

But like many commercial-leasing companies/developers they have a (greedy) disconnect about what’s best for the community, what’s truly important, and needed. And just like Westland Mall’s moon-scaped parking lot, LGR Realty doesn’t seem to care what the mall’s last renter sells or the repercussions.

In the former Sears building, what is simply referred to as the “Gun Show” periodically takes place on weekends. It’s hosted by C&E Guns Shows which is based in Virginia, and surprise, surprise, on their website’s front page they proudly denounce that wearing masks is all about social control.

Even with the shooting and murder of 21-year-old Sage Martin of the South Side outside of the Gun Show’s parking lot this past September, LGR Realty has allowed the show to go on. The Free Press repeatedly called LGR Realty for a response but no call was ever returned.

“I think that anything that has to be done in that kind of secrecy then something is wrong,” says Toby Hoover, founder of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, about the strict “no cameras” enforcement inside the Gun Show. 

Gun culture has become so dominant with American men it’s not going away anytime soon. And because so many American men appear to have a need for guns, those who shouldn’t possess guns have found ways for decades to obtain them.

The pushers in this case are unscrupulous gun sellers, many of them private sellers, or any gun owner needing to make a quick buck.

Indeed, there is precedent showing that Westland Mall, at least in the recent past, was an epicenter of sorts for illegal guns sales in Central Ohio.

In 2009, then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg showed undercover video of illegal guns sales without a background check made at the mall. Between 2011 and 2013, Raymond Wilke sold 1,000 guns at the mall and other locations without a license or background checks, according to the ATF.

The phrase “gun show loophole” refers to private sellers at gun shows, because they are not legally obligated to run a federal background check on buyers. Licensed gun dealers, on the other hand, must run a federal background check.

“We have it on film that shows there will be people standing there who are not firearms dealers who are selling from their own gun collection, and they’re not required to do a background check,” says Hoover. “So they have this conversation with somebody, and you can say, ‘Do you have a record?’ and the buyer says, ‘No, not really’, and they sell it to them.”

One private gun seller the Free Press spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous, believes most private sellers are stringent to whom they sell to. They’ll demand the buyer to show their concealed carry registration card (thus they’ve already passed a federal background) or proof of age.

“The f###ing penalties are severe if you get caught selling to a felon,” said the anonymous source. “From what I have witnessed, private sellers don’t want to make illegal sales because this is their livelihood.”

This source, a former gun store employee, insists when he sold guns, even if a buyer passed a background check, they would refuse the sale if the individual “smelled like weed or alcohol, or made a joke whether the gun ‘could put someone down.’”

Federal tax law demands those who purchase a gun to claim they are the sole recipient of the gun, said the anonymous source. If caught, the penalties are severe, as well.

The anonymous source believes illegal gun sales may not be occurring at gun shows but “straw sales” are likely happening.

A straw sale is when someone purchases a gun for another individual, possibly to a person who is not legally allowed to own a gun. The buyer is able to pass the federal background check and then sells to someone who can’t or who shouldn’t possess guns, if they are felon or they’ve been adjudicated mentally incompetent, for example.

Was it a straw sale gone bad that killed 21-year-old Sage Martin this past September?

Hoover, like many, can’t believe how, just in the last five years or so, gun culture is growing more and more out of control. The Republican-controlled Statehouse is big part of this, says Hoover, consider how in Ohio there’s no waiting period if you do pass the federal background check, while in Californian there’s a ten-day cooling off period to get your gun.

“It used to be you had to pass a background check and wait three days. Now they get them instantly. We’ve normalized the behavior of people having guns. When you add a little anger and fear to it, you have a disaster,” said Hoover. “It’s all about money being more important about people.”