Author's note: Let me preface this article by saying that my position on guns teeters along with current events. The recent struggle between a Cincinnati Police Officer and a misguided teen that resulted in the boy’s death is the perfect example of why gun ownership can never be taken lightly. The fact is guns were built as a tool for killing. That said, I believe that most gun owners understand the power of the gun they hold in their hands and do not take it lightly. People should certainly be allowed to own guns but they must understand each weapon's deadly potential.
We pull into a parking lot littered with American cars. A few imports with poorly fitted body kits sit amongst the American metal. My brother, a new driver, is frustrated because two people have been shouting contradictory driving tips at him the whole way to the show. I am certainly guilty for part of the confusion but he is a scarily new driver.
We walk up a flight of stairs and are greeted by a N.R.A. booth and a vendor selling gun cases. My dad buys the tickets and the cashier asks if he has any guns. The fact is we don’t own any guns. We are a family that focuses on function and in our quiet suburban neighborhood; a gun has never seemed necessary (but you better not try to mess with our VW Bus).
We enter the gun show and the place is packed. A man on the right checks entering firearms. Vendor tables blanket the conference hall. Narrow aisles flow between them and one must weave between tattooed men holding rifles, old women, suburban families and attractive 20-something girls.
Guns are laid out on tables and most are tied together with steel cables and padlocks. Some are in glass cases. Some tables have signs that say ask for assistance. Most people handle the guns regardless and no one seems to mind.
The variety of guns seems limitless. There are pint-sized revolvers that will easily fit in a pocket. There are rifles from the 1800s. There are handguns made of mainly composite polymers (plastic). There is even a mini-gun that sits menacingly on one end of the conference hall. A sign below it reads "not for sale." A woman at another booth tells me that a gun like it costs $60,000.
Just before, I asked the same woman what it would take for me to buy an equally menacing and equally large stand-mounted rifle looming over her shoulder. She succinctly replied “$3,000.”
Her male companion added later that the gun “works great."
Vendors also sell combat paraphernalia. Army surplus stands sell old duffel bags, helmets and fatigues. Another booth sells flash lights. There are even purses fashionably clad in a combination of camouflage and rhinestones. The selection is extremely tempting to say the least.
The vendors at the show seem to be as varied as the weapons they sell. Some remind me of auto enthusiasts. One vendor actually used to drag race but changed hobbies and now has a huge swath of knives that blanket several tables. He says knife collecting and sales is apparently not cheaper than drag racing.
A few vendors fit the bill of a stereotype one would expect at… well, a gun show. These particular people are vulgar and full of bigotry, they joke lightly about shooting so and so with x gun. I overhear a conversation between two vendors about getting punched in the face. One vendor adds that he recently was the giver of one of these blows.
“A guy cut me off," he says and then pauses with a stern but proud look on his face. "I beat his ass in a church parking lot.”
But for every "gun show Billy" there’s also a professional behind a booth. They calmly explain the inner workings of a model to a possible buyer. They highlight important features. They love technical mumbo jumbo. Who doesn't?
One booth offers on-site gunsmith services. Their specialty: lightening the amount of pressure needed to pull the trigger. The technician explains that this makes a gun safer as it enables easier on-target shots and promotes fewer shots to be taken. I hope he's right.
Another booth features high strength coatings for weapons. The Kalashnikovs on display have digital camouflage patterns on them. One has black and green tiger stripes. The owner is an ex-Air Force intelligence officer. He has no problem explaining the coating process.
My brother spots a Thompson Gun sitting on a table at another booth. It sits alongside sawed-off shotguns and suppressors. We ask the proprietor if we could buy the Thompson Gun. He says no because it's his personal gun, but adds that he could get us one for $20,000 as long as it predates 1986. I ask him how that's possible. He replies, “You do the right paperwork, you can buy anything.”
The paperwork he refers to is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Form 4. The form sanctifies transfer of vaguely labeled "firearms" from one person to another. The ATF classifies the term "firearm" as basically anything with a trigger, semi-automatic or fully automatic. Learn more about Form 4 here.
This does not mean any person can get any gun, but obtaining a machine gun from the hay days of the Mafia is certainly possible. Applicants must have clean criminal and military records, cannot be a fugitive or an illegal immigrant and can’t be drug users. Once this criteria is filled a few signatures (one from the ATF and another from local law enforcement) and $200 can get that coveted RPG legally.
The gun show reminds the fly on the wall that life is multifaceted. The people there were as different as shapes on a camouflage shirt. The guns were the commonality. The benevolently armed were the show. It’s something worth seeing as long as it is broad daylight in a public place and everyone has a gun. Then no one in their right or wrong mind will start shooting.