Saturday, October 29, 2016

at the gun show.

I availed myself of the opportunity to attend a gun show in Dallas today.  I did so because it has been almost twenty years since I attended my last one and I was curious how I would feel being there, what has changed, and what hasn't.  I was particularly curious about what it would be like in this current political environment.

I haven't been to a gun show in about 18 years because I moved to New York City in 1999.  They don't have them here.  I've never owned a gun.  I don't need a gun.  I would never buy a gun.  I went to gun shows regularly when I lived in Texas because I could find things there that I couldn't find anywhere else.   

They have a feel similar to technical (HAM radio, and then computer) equipment swap meets, something geeks like myself used to do before the Intarwebs.  There's a clubby sense inside, like everyone is in on the same secret, namely, this stuff is really cool.

Gun hobbyists are clever with bags, they have to carry a lot of small, easy to misplace parts and yet have them organized well enough for quick inventory and use when needed.  I have a bag fetish.  I like things I carry around to be organized and easy to inventory.  "Range bags," essentially a briefcase for guns and bullets, make pretty awesome man-purses.  The popular manufacturers also cater (unintentionally) to my NYC fashion taste, making things like this in dark neutral colors.

The other side is
even cooler
I was looking for a small holder for my work cell phone, and I found one.  It's actually designed to carry a magazine of ammunition on your belt, and it's made to withstand abuse and adverse weather conditions.  Unlike a tough cell phone case, it has straps around it for attaching other things to it, and for attaching it to other things.  This is what comes in handy about it, like all military-style equipment, it is designed for improvised adaptation to the unanticipated.  It was $8.

I can handle any semi-automatic or revolver, even one I've never seen before, check to see if it is loaded, unload it, and then hand it to someone else in a way that makes it obvious that it is safe to take it from me.  This is basic gun safety, gun etiquette really, and I think everyone should know how to do this, just like everyone should be able to change a flat tire on an automobile.  My friends who own guns taught me to do this many years ago.

If you aren't familiar with American gun culture, you should know that this kind of interpersonal safety is a core value.  We all hear of toddlers killing siblings with home firearms,  What we don't hear enough is this requires that someone egregiously mishandled the weapon beforehand.  

Anyone can render a gun into a safe configuration for storage.  There's enough time to retrieve a safely stowed gun and ready it for self-defense in any scenario.  There's never an unpreventable reason for an unattended gun to discharge accidentally just by someone picking it up and pulling the trigger.   Take my word for that.  When that happens, the person who handled the gun before the accidental discharge got it very, very wrong.

So, despite the fact that there are thousands of guns just laying around on tables inside the gun show, it's a very chill atmosphere.  Most of the guns are displayed with a zip-tie through the barrel, attaching it to a security tether.  That's a very safe gun, and you can see that from across the room.

Even in a concealed carry state, which Texas is, you have to present a gun you intend to carry into the show to the off-duty police at the door and demonstrate that it is unloaded before you can enter.  No one inside is nervous, I'm sure everyone feels physically safer inside the gun show than anywhere else you go in public in Dallas.  I sure did.

Because the customers are mostly male, many of the sellers are female and dressed like they're selling expensive things to men.  Another thing you don't hear in a gun show is *any* cat-calling, "compliments" or other commonly-accepted ways for idiot adult boys to be publicly hostile to women.  I suppose a line of 25 assault rifles between you and the woman in Lulemon pants and a jog bra encourages the coarser customers to be respectful.  The entire atmosphere is one of genteel respect, even the kids behave.

Two things pleasantly surprised me.  First, I didn't see the word "Trump" anywhere.  There is typically a small amount of polemic bumper-stickers and t-shirts at gun shows, this one was no different, the usual gun-nut cliche's were on display: "Good gun control is hitting my target"  "From my cold dead fingers." etc.  

There were a very small number of "Hillary for Prisoner" mock-ups of her campaign logos, but I saw no targets with her face on them, no rolls of toilet paper with her likeness, no references to Second Amendment solutions to her victory in the election.  You would not have known that a Presidential election was looming by just looking around inside.

The other thing that pleasantly surprised me was this was not a white thing any more, it used to be.  It was not that long ago that you would see only white males at gun shoes, and a few girlfriends.  The mix of colors and ethnic backgrounds in the show very closely mirrored the community.  I'd say it was roughly a third black, both buyers and sellers, and about a quarter Hispanic.  I even saw a few Asian shoppers with their kids in tow.

This show was in East Dallas, in an area largely blighted by white flight now populated by working class blacks and Hispanics.  It's my Mom's neighborhood, less than a ten minute drive from her house, where it is easy to get a taco or some fried chicken, but impossible to find an espresso or a kale smoothie.  There's a Walmart down the road a bit, the exact same crowd was at the Gun Show.  I didn't expect that.  It was a very egalitarian atmosphere.  My Wu Tang shirt got a number of compliments.

As I was walking around, I realized I expected to be creeped-out by the Trumpy nuttiness of it all..  Nope.  These struck me as sane people who have a hobby enjoying some time mingling with other hobbyists.   The NRA was there, they had a table, but the closest it came to being weird was a handwritten poster that said "10 reasons to join the NRA:  1.  Hillary Clinton, 2. Barack Obama, 3. Nancy Pelosi, 4.  Tim Kaine....etc etc."  I've see much more offensive polemics at United Federation of Teachers tables in NYC.

I came away with a nifty cell phone case and hope.  In retrospect, I realize I harbored a kind of cartoonish idea of what to expect in there from the nut-jobs I see on MSNBC at Trump rallies, but the vibe I got there was that the election just isn't on these peoples' minds.

This bolsters my intuition that the Republican turn-out this year will hit historic lows.  There was no evidence of grass-roots enthusiasm for The Donald at this gun show, not even Trump stickers on the bumpers of the F350's in the parking lot.  Hatred of HRC clearly doesn't sell many t-shirts or bumper stickers in this crowd.  "American Infidel" was a far more popular polemic for the beer coozies and keychains.

There's hope.  Really.  Perhaps we're really not as different and divided as I thought.