A funny thing happened on my way to the gun show

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.