On Saturday, January 26, when page three of my morning newspaper featured a story about four local homicides, and when people in cities across the country were marching under the banner of “One Million Moms for Gun Control,” I went to a gun show.
Actually, it was advertised as a “Gun and Knife Show,” but the knives seemed to be an afterthought. Potential customers were urged to “buy now before the law changes.” The place was packed.
Disclaimer: I hate guns. I have never owned or shot a gun. No one in my family has guns and, as far as I know, no one has any intention of buying one.
So why did I go to a gun show?
I told myself, in my self-righteous way, that I wanted to try to understand the gun culture. While I have often referred to people as “right-wing gun nuts,” I thought I might gain some insight into the way they think and behave. But to be brutally honest about it, I thought I would hate the show and dislike the people. Then, I thought, I might write some high-minded piece filled with snarky comments that would convince people that gun violence has gotten out of hand here.
The snark got off to a good start. My husband remarked that I had the only Prius on the parking lot. I retorted that it was fitting that the gun show was held in a hall next door to a Target store.
Then I paid my $8, walked into a hall where the testosterone was so thick it could have been bottled, found an older gentleman with a collection of arms that I could confront, and….I fell in love with a gun.
You cannot know how it astonishes me to write those last seven words.
Wayne (we were quickly on a first-name basis) could easily tell that I didn’t have a clue about what I was looking at. Because I’m an older woman, and petite, he figured out that I probably didn’t want an AK-47. He directed me to case where pistols were displayed, commenting that I was probably looking for something “for personal protection.”
Then he placed in my hand a Walther 40-calibre handgun that cost $675.
It was the most seductive thing I’ve ever held.
Just the right size. Just the right weight. I felt powerful, calm, and in total control.
Wayne urged me to take a picture of the gun with my cell phone, which I did.
When the camera clicked, my brain woke up. “This,” I thought, “is a gateway gun. This is how people become ‘gun enthusiasts.’ If holding one gun in a gun show can make me feel so good, just imagine how a collection of weapons could make me feel.”
Wayne would have sold me that Walther in a heartbeat, with no background check required because the gun is a part of his private stash. My astonished spouse grabbed my arm and dragged me away to view some assault rifles, which, fortunately, I did not lust after.
There were other things about the gun show that surprised/annoyed/disgusted me: a table full of books, with titles such as “The Shooter’s Bible,”; specially-crafted fabric cases designed to carry assault rifles, with as many as a dozen pouches where ammunition can be carried, proudly proclaiming “Made In The U.S.A”; a brand of handgun for women that comes in a variety of colors, including lavender, raspberry and teal, and a small single-shot bolt-action rifle encased in pink plastic with “My First Rifle” stamped on it.
I was surprised that the gun sellers were so easy to talk to and so eager to answer my questions. I was amazed that so many of the young men who were obviously shopping wanted to get into the conversation. I was disturbed because so many people seemed convinced that the government is determined to take away their guns. And I was absolutely dumbfounded when, in a place where I was convinced that I would not know a soul, a loud voice called out, “Hey! Aren’t you Barbara?” It belonged to a man I had not seen in more than 30 years; we used to work together at a local hospital.
After this afternoon’s experience, what can I say about guns? I still hate them, despite my desire for the Walther, because I think their only purpose is to kill or injure others. I still think that the world would be a better, safer place if assault rifles and large-capacity magazine clips were banned. I still think that background checks for every gun purchaser should be required. I think gun buy-back programs are a good idea; I think conceal-carry legislation is a terrible idea. I think that organizations like the NRA have fomented fear among gun-owners and have created a climate to fuel paranoia. And if I ever have to choose between One Million Moms For Gun Control and a seductive little pistol that feels so good in my hand…..I’ll stick with the moms.
But today, I do understand a little better, and I wonder if there might be common ground for common sense gun control.
Barbara L. Finch is a writer and former public relations practitioner. In 2005 she and three friends founded Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice, an organization of progressive women now numbering more than 500 members and friends.