Viewpoint

What I found my first time at a gun show

Most people at gun shows are enthusiastic, but not militant, about guns.
Most people at gun shows are enthusiastic, but not militant, about guns. THE WASHINGTON POST

I was in San Antonio on Saturday for the college graduation of a nephew when one of my brothers, the one who’s a gun collector, invited me to a local gun show. As he put it, “If you’re gonna write about it, you need to see it.” I jumped at the chance.

As we drove to the Austin Highway Gun Show, we dove headfirst into our gun debate.

He seemed determined to convince me of the futility of many of the national gun control measures now being debated and how they would do little to block criminals from acquiring weapons or mass killers from using weapons.

I was determined to convince him that some new measures were needed to at least put a dent in this country’s abominable gun death numbers.

My brother and I could both agree that those numbers were too high; we simply disagreed on how best to address it.

One area of agreement was to stop the opposition to smart guns – those that can only be fired by their owners or those that are authorized. I framed my argument this way: Don’t focus on criminals first; focus on responsible gun owners first.

Shouldn’t those owners, who may simply want a gun for an extra layer of protection, also have the option of buying a gun that they could be sure a small child couldn’t find and use to accidentally shoot a sibling, a friend or themselves?

These guns, which rely on fingerprint-access technology or radio waves to allow the gun to be fired, could put a huge dent in the number of suicides and accidental deaths.

This seems to me one possible step among many. He also didn’t oppose universal background checks.

My brother’s agreement on this point was a reasonable concession by a reasonable man. Indeed, when we arrived at the gun show, the one thing my brother wanted to impress upon me was just how “normal” most people were, not the “gun nuts” people think.

He had a point, but the somewhat festive environment felt a bit at odds with all the firearms. I was also surprised at how little security there seemed to be. It occurred to me that I had gone through more security at the airport than I had at the gun show.

Overall, the word that kept popping into my head was how “pedestrian” it all seemed, especially as I watched my brother – a gregarious man who has never met a person to whom he wouldn’t speak and with whom he wouldn’t laugh – chat up and chuckle with other collectors he recognized from the gun show circuit.

I thought of how productive it would be if more people with discordant views on gun regulations could have as civil a discussion as I had with my brother – full of mutual respect, adults disagreeing but not attempting to demonize, honestly searching for solutions.

The gun lobby poisons these conversations.

But, I must also say that, to a lesser degree, some proponents of better regulations also do damage by painting with too broad a brush and labeling the millions of gun hunters, collectors and people simply seeking to provide an extra layer of protections for their families – people like my brother and his gun show buddies – as deranged and deficient. Most are not. Many are simply enthusiasts like my brother and the elderly man who climbed out of an SUV as we were about to leave.

My brother bellowed, as is his wont, “How you doing today?” The man responded with a smile, “Any day I can go to a gun show is a good day.”

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