The first time I ever attended a gun show I was a young lad, newly arrived on these shores. It was quite mind-bending to enter a hall in North Austin and see thousands of guns laid out on tables awaiting buyers. Isn’t this a bit dangerous? I thought.
How times change. Recently I attended another gun show in Belton, TX, a boring little town outside Waco. The first thing I saw was a man with a rifle slung over his shoulder, looking to sell or trade. I barely blinked.
Even so, I still need a guide when around firearms. I’ve gone shooting a few times, but guns are like sex: once you’ve unloaded, the mystery is gone, but that doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing. Thus, for instance, I was totally perplexed as to why a rifle cost twice as much as a shotgun.
“That’s because of the range,” explained my friend. “A shotgun is only good up close. It’s for shooting pigeons, birds, that sort of thing. The shot creates a spray.”
“What about intruders? Will it stop intruders?”
“It’ll shred ‘em, so long as they’re close enough. The other good thing is that any stray shot will stay in your walls. It won’t go into the next room and hit somebody else, like a shell from a rifle or handgun.”
Unless the shell is hollow tipped, of course, in which case it will explode on contact with an intruder or wall alike.
And so I roamed among the shotguns, rifles, handguns, semiautomatics and stun-guns, soaking in the Second Amendment joy. Unlike Austin, where a gun show might also attract weapon-loving hippies and middle class guys in suits, the Belton crowd was pretty much the hunting-and-overalls set, the kind of people East Coasters fear. I saw majestic white beards, and eavesdropped on conversations about mysterious lore - gun culture, like the Catholic Church, is steeped in codes, specialized language and rules.
But gun shows are not exclusively about firearms. You can also buy knives! And T-shirts: “SOME PEOPLE ARE ALIVE SIMPLY BECAUSE IT’S ILLEGAL TO KILL THEM,” “KILL ‘EM ALL, LET ALLAH SORT THEM OUT” and “AFRICAN LION/LYING AFRICAN.” No prizes for guessing whose face illustrated the last part. In Belton they were also selling seeds in ammo boxes as (the seller informed me) when the economy collapses self-sufficiency will be as vital for survival as a well-stocked armory.
And then there were stalls selling beef jerky, leather belts and scented candles. Yes, really: though the audience was largely male, there were a few women in attendance. In fact, I even saw a pink hunting rifle, the Mossberg 702 Plinkster, a snip at $225. There were kids too, but there wasn’t much for them, other than the education that comes from early exposure to firearms, which is important when you live in a country where there are so many millions of them. In rural Texas especially, where most kids hunt with their parents and many go on to serve in the military, every young boy or girl needs to know the basics of gun safety.
The book selection, alas, was mediocre. Sure there was the usual self-defense and survivalist stuff such as The Coming End of the World, plus The Anarchist’s Cookbook, not to mention the indispensible Traveler’s Guide to Gun Laws of the United States. But nobody was selling How to Survive in Prison which I had seen at the Austin gun show. It includes excellent advice on stabbing, gouging and pummeling when you’re in lock-up. On the other hand there was an excellent manual on booby traps that showed how to rig a grenade so that it will explode suddenly, transforming your enemies into pink spray.
Fun for all the family then; and yet I do still wonder what the market is for semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15, which comes with many accessories including silencers and sniper sights, all of which were available at the One Stop Assault Shop. Sure, semiautomatics are good for mowing down zombies, but if you shoot a deer, it’ll be riddled with bullets and inedible, while if you want to defend your home- well, isn’t that what handguns and rifles are for? The paranoiac market is extremely small, so these are really just expensive toys, until they enter the hands of a rage killer.
And it was at that moment that I was struck by the astounding level of freedom enjoyed by Americans. This summer we’ve seen several mass shootings, and yet neither electoral candidate is pushing for gun control.
It’s amazing the government lets them get away with this, I thought, exactly like a European. But any one of the Texans in the hall would have immediately responded that I was looking at it the wrong way, that citizens voluntarily loan power to the government and do not need to seek permission to exercise their rights.
And there, perhaps, lies the fault line between European and U.S. attitudes to authority. The gun debate is not only about guns. And while, like all philosophies, the American idea of liberty pushed to its extreme can result in absurdities, even tragedies- that does not mean it is wrong.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”
Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.