Jay's Guide to Gun Shows
"The right to buy weapons is the right to be free."
-A.E. Van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher
It's no suprise to any of my readers that I go to gun shows on a fairly regular basis. But it may be a suprise to know why. I'm much more of a browser or the gun show equivalent of a mallrat than anything. That's why I was there last Sunday, browsing the aisles, meeting people, and generally watching the bizarre bazzar with much more interest than your usual mall crowd.
Aside from the booth run by Georgiacarry.org, a statewide concealed-carry group, there's little open talk of politics. An enterprising dealer has a stack of 33round Glock magazines on one of his tables (they go for about $30 nowadays, some weeks after the shooting at Tucson made such magazines famous).
I normally write on the theatrical and cinematic violence side of things, and touch on real-world issues only occasionally, but the gun show is an event worth touching on. If you're into cinematic and theatrical weaponry, taking a gander at a market of the real thing is worth a look, and it's cheaper than a movie, usually.
If you're near a major American city, there will be a gun show near you. Possibly several. In my own Atlanta, there's one within an hour's drive of the city center nearly every weekend (with the exception of Mother's day weekend. Even gun dealers go home to momma.) Gunshows-usa.com has been pretty accurate in my expertise, but other aggregators may well be useable too. They're normally in public spots with decent parking: armories, malls, convention centers and what have you. Earlier today I was in one in the middle of a farmer's market.
Gun shows are unique little bastions of American capitalism that have grown their own subculture and customs, mostly based around the idea that an armed society is a polite society.
General rules to follow:
- Don't bring a loaded weapon into the show. At all. Ever. Depending on your state, you may be able to bring in an unloaded weapon (with the intent of finding a new holster, selling it to one of the dealers, ect) in which case a member of local law enforcement will be happy to make sure that you're unloaded.
- Do bring cash. The entry fee (usually nominal, between 5 and $15 nowadays) is nearly always collected in cash, and most of the dealers prefer (if not outright only deal in) cash. Dealers pay a fee to accept credit and debit cards, and many are not shy whatsoever about passing that on to you. Also, for those of you of a haggling bent, having cash on hand greatly increases your bargaining position.
- Don't bring cameras into the show. They're almost always forbidden, and are never appreciated. While it is definitely an experience, it's not a fucking petting zoo.
- Be polite in general. Rudeness generally doesn't go over well.
You've paid your fee and are in the show itself. It generally looks like any other flea market, with weaponry being the staple products availible. It varies, but most gun shows have firearms covering somewhere between 60-80% of the dealer space. The rest is a hodgepodge of full-time dealers, part-time sellers and entrepreneurs of various stripes. Knives, ammunition, martial arts weapons, holsters, tactical gear, books, survivalist equipment, and all manner of miscellaneous militaria is availible one way or another.
There's no one true route to take through the stalls and tables. I like to go around the outer edge and serpentine my way through it, much as I do in most flea markets and dealer's rooms I frequent.
Feel free to ask questions, especially if you're not sure what something is and what it's for. The dealers are happy to explain. They will always have an eye out for a sale, so if you're browsing and someone else comes forth looking to buy, bow out of the conversation gracefully and let the dealer go about making a living.
Always ask before doing anything with a weapon on the table, whether that be picking one up, opening the action, or even (rare, but possible) dry firing. Accept an answer of "no" gracefully. it is definitely better to ask permission rather than forgiveness.
Feel free to discuss, but arguing is not a good idea. Several of the dealers and patrons are rather passionate in their views.
Tasteless jokes about workplace shootings, school shootings, or terrorist incidents are unappreciated by everyone: neither the dealer nor the copious number of current and former police and law enforcement in the crowd will be amused.
By the same token, do not attempt to purchase anything you know to be illegal for you to have. It is not appreciated.
Haggling does happen, but be smart about it. If you don't know what a good price for what you want is, haggling this time out probably isn't best for you.
There are two big misconceptions that follow gun shows around nowadays.
The first is that gun shows are hotbeds of the white supremacy movement. This is largely hyperbole. while I'm sure folks with such views frequent the shows, it's more shopping trip than recruitment drive for them. While you may see someone selling old Nazi insignia and weapons or find an odd copy of The Turner Diaries at a gun show, I have yet to see a KKK-owned booth after 20 years of semiregular attendance.
The second misconception is the so-called "gun show loophole" that's gotten a lot of press since the attack by a lone nutjob (may the devil give him a Brazilian with a zippo for all eternity when he finally shuffles off this mortal coil) in Tucson a few weeks ago.
This supposed loophole works like this: If you buy a gun from a dealer, that is to say, someone who makes a living selling firearms, you have to go through a background check and fill out some paperwork. The check is relatively quick. it's an instant database maintained by the FBI, and takes about as long as it takes to swipe and get a valid sale on a credit card. The paperwork isn't that onerous either.
If you buy a gun from someone who's not a dealer, that's called a private sale. It works the same way as buying a car or a musical instrument from someone. The seller has neither the obligation (nor really the ability) to conduct a background check on the buyer, but has every right to make the sale regardless. This is true regardless of whether you're at a gun show, someone's home, or somewhere else. It has sweet fuck-all to do with gun shows, but they get tagged with this loophole because someone selling their granddaddy's double-barrel shotgun without getting a background check (if not a mental health screening and a DNA sample) is abhorrent to them.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?
So, for those of you looking more for the cinematic and theatrical, what does a gun show have that can be used?
Costume pieces (uniforms, body armor, boots), props (dummy grenades, non-firing replicas, rubber training daggers), books (anything from Musashi to Clausewitz can be found among the booksellers) and much more, depending on what the vendors have to offer and what you're willing to buy.
And if nothing else, it gives you a chance to get out and meet some folks you might otherwise not interact with.