What I Learned at the Gun Show

Last Saturday, Jimmy and I dropped off Daniel at MIL’s house and went with my stepfather to the gun show being held at the fairgrounds.

Yeah, I know. That totally sounds like an activity you would expect me to engage in, right? After all, don’t I lean strongly to the left?

The truth is that we own guns.

Rest assured, we’ve followed all the requirements and are properly permitted. We take gun safety very seriously and have a gun safe that was selected after much research. It’s weird how shy I am to tell anyone we own guns. Gun ownership has become taboo, even in the South where I live.

I didn’t grow up with guns although I grew up around them. My parents didn’t own guns, but one uncle is a police officer and another hunted. Target practice was a common sound on a Saturday afternoon. Extended family had lifetime rights to hunt on our property, and it wasn’t unusual to have friends and family share deer meat with us.   Jimmy grew up in the suburbs, and it was he who wanted to get a gun. We own more than one.  We’re well prepared if the zombie apocalypse happens.

The gun show (technically the gun and knife show) is held 4 times a year, but I had never been before.  Jimmy had attended the previous one and after hearing about what he saw, I thought it would be fun to go.  Kind of like anthropological field work.

Overall the gun show was both less dramatic than I expected but still surprising.  At times it reminded me of a flea market. Vendors were hawking jewelry, t-shirts, coins, homemade jerky and camouflage in addition to the guns and knives I expected.  Music was blaring. Survivalists had several tables of MREs as well as water purification devices.  One vendor was selling hand-made baby clothes. As you might expect, there was a strong patriotic flavor, with signs proclaiming “Made in the USA” above stalls. One table displayed a Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi flag for sale.


Boots made in North Carolina

Boots made in North Carolina

T-shirts. The one in the middle is Hello Kitty w/ a gun. I snickered.

T-shirts. The one in the middle is Hello Kitty w/ a gun. I snickered.

Because who doesn't come to a gun show to buy baby clothes?

Because who doesn’t come to a gun show to buy baby clothes?

The people were diverse as well. I saw a variety of ethnicities and races, and I definitely wasn’t the only woman there.  Vendors were appealing to women by selling pink guns and accessories (gag). The show appeared to be a family affair with children and babies in tow. One woman carried a Coach purse.

Pink gun, ladies?

Pink gun, ladies?

More pink guns. This is how the gun industry appeals to women.

More pink guns. This is how the gun industry appeals to women.

Pink, camouflage bags, anyone?

Pink, camouflage bags, anyone?

It was bizarre, yet completely mundane at the same time.

I was disturbed by only 2 things I saw.

I had joked with Jimmy beforehand that I wanted to wear a shirt saying, “I voted for Obama and I support the 2nd Amendment. I’m your worst nightmare,” but he told me it wouldn’t be a good idea. And he was right. First of all, there was a clear assumption that if you were at the show, you were conservative, Christian and pro-life. This was literally displayed on t-shirts for sale along with other sayings like “I’ve got the Bible and the Constitution and that’s all I need” and “if you want to take my gun, you better bring yours with you.”  There was also a booth heavily promoting the 2nd Amendment and all the threats to it.  I really, really, really wanted to go over there and talk to them, but I wasn’t there to stir up trouble, so I swallowed my arguments and walked by.   Surely we can’t be the only left-leaning citizens who support the 2nd Amendment. Is it ridiculous to think that it might be possible to have representation at the show from the left as well? It brought home how polarized the electorate has become on issues like gun control and religion.

Those things were interesting but about what I expected. There was a table along the back wall that had bumper stickers with sayings that ranged from the patriotic to the insulting and downright scary about President Obama, public school, the government, etc. I stared at them for a long time, shocked to see such vitriol in print, in public. That people I knew or worked with might buy them, might believe them and display them proudly on their cars. Maybe I’m more naive than I thought.

The other disturbing thing was the preponderance of Nazi memorabilia. There were 2 or 3 tables selling flags, including the swastika flag. That was jarring. But by far the worst was the table with a full display of Nazi military items. I’m not certain if it was meant as some sort of military history display because it was next to items from the Vietnam war as well as guns from other countries. In addition to a German helmet, gun, and pictures there was a yellow felt Star of David with “Jude” on it, and a skeletal hand holding a dagger aimed at the star. Next to it was a paper with this quote attributed to Hitler on it:

“This year will go down in history! For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!”

Umm.  Put the quote together with the other items, and I was nauseous. I’m assuming a human being wore that star and likely died with it. It was grotesque. My conclusion was that the people behind the display supported not only the 2nd Amendment but also looked to Hitler as a role model. Maybe that’s a stretch, but what else am I supposed to think?  It turns out the quote is falsely attributed to Hitler but is commonly found at gun shows. I wanted to ask the men behind the display about it and what point they were trying to make, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to hear that they supported such a vile regime or found anything admirable in a man who was responsible for the deaths and sufferings of millions.  I don’t want to believe that there are people like that in my city, in my state. Maybe even in my neighborhood.

Trying to surreptitiously take the picture. My apologies for the blurriness.

Trying to surreptitiously take the picture. My apologies for the blurriness.

What I learned at the gun show is that I need to worry about the people along the fringes.



  1. I’ve never really understood the pro-life position in conjunction with extreme gun rights and stand your ground type laws, but I suppose most everyone has contradictory views. No, actually, I think there’s something unusually disturbing about the dogmatism of extreme conservatives. It’s a great thing to be able to think for oneself! Good for you, KeAnne.

  2. Whoa, this scares me a bit…Fringe-y types generally scare me. The mainstream right isn’t going to try anything crazy, they need to keep a hold of their $$$$. Like you, I’d want to ask questions but would be afraid.

  3. I commend you for being able to go and stomach all of the weirdness. I grew up on a farm so of course we had guns, not that I ever thought about them much. As an adult, I’m not anti-gun but I am anti-freaking-people-out-by-telling-them-the-goverment’s-after-them-and-their-guns. So yeah, I would be profoundly uncomfortable at a gun show.

  4. Thanks for this fascinating look at a uniquely American event. Never been to one, never will. 😉

    All my super liberal in-laws are proud gun-toting 2nd Amendment proponents. My very conservative father who lives in the deep South has not and will not ever own a gun. People’s beliefs totally vary on this issue and aren’t solely along the Democratic/Republican lines, I think.

    The Nazi stuff is way creepy. I once went to a flea market in Eastern Europe and there were several booths displaying and selling Nazi memorabilia. It gave me the shivers.

  5. KeAnne,

    I loved the blog post, but I think you are completely mistaken about the men selling the Nazi memorabilia. If they had a booth at a gun show, it’s reasonable to assume that they are against the type of gun registration that many on the left support in this country, so the quote from Hitler (falsely attributed, as you point out) that was on display was almost certainly making an argument AGAINST Hitler and the type of gun control measures he supported. Hyperbolic as it may be to contrast Hitler with the gun control advocates of today, I wouldn’t confuse that with them admiring Hitler or the Nazis.

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