My first recollection involving a real gun was when I was about 8 years old and Dad took us boys out to a pasture in Minnesota with a 12-gauge.
One of the brothers was smart. He brought along two washcloths and packed them under his shirt to absorb the kick. He didn’t share, so the rest of us nearly had our arms ripped off when we pulled the trigger. I declined Dad’s offer for another go at it, and it was a while before I shot another gun.
I don’t mind guns, and even considered getting one when we moved here until I realized it’s the big city — from whence we came — where you’d more likely need the extra security. Alas, we ended up in Rancho Sahuarita, so we’ve opted to spread Lego pieces across the carpet to deter intruders.
So far, so good.
Even though I’m not in the market, however, I did take the opportunity Saturday to cash in on a free pass to a gun show at the county fairgrounds. It was my first.
A gun show (like an “Occupy” rally) is a great lesson in stereotypes. Bear with me as I reinforce some, blow up others, and have fun with the rest. And that’s the operative word your first time at a gun show: Fun. (That’s if you don’t take it all too seriously.)
I was standing at a table full of handguns pretending I knew what I was looking at when I heard a young lady to my right say, “How does this look on me?”
I glanced over and there she was, arm held out in front of her, looking at a set of brass knuckles like it was a diamond ring.
“Do you like them?” she said to her boyfriend. He said he preferred the gold set, which she bought.
That was just the first of many “truth is stranger than fiction” moments that day, and I decided right then I’d write a column about my visit. I reached into my pocket for the only pen I routinely carry – it’s one of the gadgets on my Swiss Army knife. I pulled it out and flinched – like I do when I bring out my knife at the airport security checkpoint, just before the TSA confiscates it (I’m on my fourth Swiss Army knife key chain).
“Geez, I wonder if it’s OK to have this in here,” I thought to myself. Then I quietly looked across the crowded hall at several thousand knives and guns for sale and decided my 2-inch blade wasn’t going to raise too many hackles.
I headed over to a table where a guy was selling books, and here are some of the titles you can pick up:
•“Living with Glocks” (Maybe it’s part of a new Martha Stewart series.)
•“The Revenge Encyclopedia” (Claims to be “the mother of all revenge books!”)
•“Stayin’ Alive: Armed and Female in an Unsafe World” (By Paxton Quigley, a female gun industry guru who also has written “Armed and Female” and “Armed and Female: Taking Control.” Do you gather she’s a one-trick pony?)
And my favorite:
•“How to Make Disposable Silencers,” (Volumes I & II). What could they possibly have skipped in Volume I that warranted a Volume II?
The whole stereotype thing was starting to kick in.
I moved on to the bumper stickers, and you’ll want to skip this part if you’re a Democrat:
•“How will Democrats stand up to terrorism when they can’t even face Fox News?”
•“I’ll keep my freedom, my guns and my money. You keep the change.”
•“Honk if you’re glad Bush waterboarded to keep America safe” (A bit dated, but I gather waterboarding is a popular bumper-sticker theme at gun shows.)
•A small sticker to go next to your doorbell wastes few words: “If you come through this door you will be killed.” (It’s in English and Spanish.)
•“My dog is smarter than your president” (This was a t-shirt, and isn’t nearly as mean-spirited as some of the others for sale.)
The president was the target of a good chunk of the bumper stickers, and at a gun show that’s no surprise. These things tend to draw a more conservative crowd, many of whom haven’t read the Constitution beyond the Second Amendment.
OK, that was a cheap shot, though not entirely undeserved. Based on a lot of the conversations I had Saturday, not everybody at these things is conservative, and I didn’t meet a single one I’d consider “radical.” (And President Obama might take solace in knowing the IRS takes almost as much flak as he does.)
I continued through the hall, past the “got bullets?” sign, a display of stun guns, and some evil-looking stilettos (not heels, ladies). I also came across a few booths you’d find at home shows: A man demonstrating “the world’s most amazing knife sharpener”; a booth pushing magnetic therapy; and ye olde reliable vegetable slicer and dicer (long live Ron Popeil).
I walked by gun scopes as big around as wine glasses, decorative holsters, razor sharp throwing stars (cut myself on one), gun rugs (I have no idea; that’s what the sign said) and camouflage bags that looked like Coach knock-offs.
One vendor had Beanie Babies at one end of his table and serrated deer-gutting knives at the other. In the middle: Desert Storm trading cards. Then there was “Zombie,” a gel torso that I guess is used for target practice because it “Bleeds when shot!” There was WWII memorabilia along with inert (we trust) shells, military medals and law enforcement patches.
The only item that unnerved me was what appeared to be a youth-sized .22 rifle with a Barbie-pink stock. A guy holding a girl who appeared to be about 6 was looking it over.
“Daddy, can I have it?” the girl asked.
“Sure, honey, but you’ll need to be a little older.”
I’m going to guess Dad will make sure his daughter takes a gun-safety course. But you can’t escape the fact that a gun that looks like a toy will likely be treated as one.
Let’s be accurate
So all of this brings us back to stereotypes. It would have been drop-dead easy to paint the folks at the gun show as redneck extremists. It also would have been irresponsible and inaccurate. Unfortunately, much of the media would have taken the easy way out: Walk in, get video of tables piled with guns, do a 10-second interview with the gnarliest-looking guy in the room, and put it on the air.
But after two hours and lots of conversations (only one knew I was a newspaper guy), I can tell you’d I’d be glad to have (just about) any of them as a neighbor. They seemed reliable, knowledgeable and full of conviction. Most didn’t talk politics in terms of parties, but rather issues — which was refreshing (biggest issue: the economy, no surprise). They want good schools, safe neighborhoods and steady work. Sounds normal to me.
Sure, you have your (brass) knuckleheads (I met a few at the Tucson Occupy rally, too), but if you walk into these things with no preconceived notions and an open mind, you might be surprised.
If you’re ready to set aside the stereotypes, give me a call. I’ve got one free pass to the next show in October.
— Dan Shearer