Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SmartAss Commentary: Liberal Crip Goes to the Gun Show

The Indy 1500 has a terrible web page – there is very little you can do there but find out the dates of upcoming shows, sign up for a mailing list and $1 off $10 admission, and see some photos of previous shows. However, it is a decent show as far as I can tell. I had a decent time there. I want to talk about my own gun history, some of the social issues at the gun show, and the accessibility for people with disabilities.

I should probably spell a few things out here before we get started. I am a Second Amendment liberal. I believe in both state protection via police and sheriff departments and self defense. I find the arguments about the intent of the Second Amendment to be more semantic than practical. When the Bill of Rights was created, the gun was simply a tool of survival in early American culture, as in many others. Small, unfunded local defense militias depended on each member to have their own arms. They did, both for hunting and defense. So I find that if a person has a solid answer to the separation of militia and culture – that answer may well be their opinion on the matter rather than a historical fact.

I grew up around gun folks. My mom’s first husband (my adoptive dad or ADad*), her father and several of her brothers all served in the military. The first gun stories I heard were from ADad as he explained the AK scar he acquired in Vietnam. He was shot in the shoulder by a [enemy combatant – I will not use the word he used] and he returned fire, killing the man. My mother was very anti-gun. My grandfather and multiple uncles were enlisted military men. My husband was a military kid, and very comfortable with guns. My boyfriend grew up in a rural social network that was also very easy with firearms – his father was a police officer and is now a correctional officer.

I am intimidated by guns. I am also proficient in their use. I am not a pleasure shooter – you know, the folks that can relax by going to the range for an hour. I cannot get away from their purpose. When aiming at a target, all that is on my mind is why I would be doing this for real – to end the life of another living being. The moral weight and sadness of that is always on my mind if a gun is around. There is no pleasure for me in being able to put six forty-four caliber bullets in a three inch diameter circle.  I can, and do, shoot very well. I hope to never actually need to do so. I do have fun with AirSoft weapons, though – they shoot soft BB-type ammunition powered by gas or springs or batteries.

Now that you know some of my gun history, time for the gun show! (Do I kiss my wimpy biceps here? Probably not…)

Admission was $10, you received a $1 off coupon if you were on their mailing list. Security appeared heavy, but was actually very light. Police were all over the place, as security and patrons. Loaded weapons were not permitted, although we were simply asked if we had any. D had a pistol that needed the sights repaired, and he was directed by the ticket takers to a booth where his pistol was strategically fitted with plastic zip strips to prevent it from being useable. If a patron was found to be carrying a firearm without this treatment, the penalty was immediate ejection from the premises.

Recording devices were not allowed. Although that made writing this piece much more difficult, I followed the rule. Honestly, other than catching someone in the act and ejecting them, there seemed to be no other way of enforcing that rule in this day and age of cell phone cameras, PDAs, and micro cameras.

The building itself (a part of the Indiana State Fairgrounds) was perfectly accessible. Accessibility issues included florescent lights, no scent policy, lots of random noise (no, no gunfire, except on the soundtracks of some videos being shown), and no quiet areas. While some of the table-made aisles are more narrow than others they are still passable in my manual wheelchair… except when some jerk vendor decided they need to set out yet more product, and pushed out over the ends of their tables, or shoved their long gun cases 6-12 inches out into the walk way, or put up spinning displays that eat half of the available aisle space. Arg! 

TL;DR: the building and the planning covered some accessibility basics, but some of the vendors were terrible about it!

There were several areas where one could buy snacks and drinks. Two were permanent booths, and one was more of an open café - larger with displays and seating.

Not every person at the gun show is straight off of People of WalMart. Most folks are dressed in casual middle class or rural attire. The clear majority of attendants were white males. Attendants that appeared to be African American or women were not the majority, but were numerous enough to not be surprising - which may surprise some of you. Obviously disabled folks like me were numerous in chairs or scooters, and there were a comforting amount of cane-users.  A lot of families were in attendance. The vendors were overwhelmingly male, around middle-aged and white.

I have never been to a gun show that did not have some vendors peddling hate. I have spent entire gun shows feeling like I would get shot if I talked about my politics. I was really surprised at the small amount of hate on sale at this gun show. While one pro Nazi booth is too many, there was only one at the show. I saw maybe three booths with small collections of Nazi memorabilia. I sat and stared at the Nazi booth for a while, dumbfounded. This booth was shoved into a corner where it was easily avoided, we almost missed it. They had mouse pads, t-shirts, bumper stickers, jewelry and accessories.

There was a lot less First Nations appropriation than I expected from my previous experience. The generalized, white washed “Native American Aesthetic” is very popular among the survivalist, hunter, preparedness, and gun cultures. There was one booth that was using a dream catcher motif to raise money for disabled children to enjoy outdoor sports and experiences, I think.

Of course, there was a Tea Party presence, but far less than I had feared. One vendor had walls of vitriolic bumper stickers accusing President Obama of just about every thing you can imagine. Someone had passed around flyers I saw at several booths with showed a picture of the President and the First Lady saying “I’m with stupid.” There was one booth selling anti-UN pins, copies of the national and state constitutions with wild interpretations of them. I have copies of them, and may write about those booklets specifically at some point.


You have not really thought this stance through, have you?

(Picture description:  a small, round lapel pin or button showing the blue UN emblem, surrounded with a red circle and divided by a red line from upper right to lower left. The intended message is clearly "NO UN.")

As a liberal, all the hate, appropriation and ignorance made me feel threatened, angry, sad, and deeply uncomfortable. Parts of it were like walking back into the Bush administration, were disagreement was equated with treason and only violent, blind patriotism was an acceptable response to any slight at all. But it was much, much better than my previous experiences at gun shows. I do not think that some improvement is enough, to be sure. It does make me happy to see improvement though, and I want to encourage that improvement.

I did not patronize the hate-booths, and still felt fairly free to shop. I picked some targets for AirSoft practice, some great medical stuff (a brass mortar and pestle, glass bottles and tubes, and first aid supplies), two really well priced pieces of luggage, and some camping supplies. I did pick up some of the materials, including the more fantastic stuff to share with you. This included a flyer for an organization that is fighting for you to keep your right to .50 cartridges, an application for the Sons of Confederate Veterans (yes that is exactly what you think it is), the Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia, advertisements for NRA courses and retreats, flyers for militaria shows, Indiana Gun Owners pamphlets, and material on the Oath Keepers…

*I have a total of three dads: my biological father, or BDad; my mother’s first husband who adopted me when I was five, ADad, and my mother’s second husband (now divorced), ExSDad (ex-step-dad). Also, my mother’s first husband remarried, so I also have a step-mom out there, SMom. Of the five, ExSDad and I have the best relationship, and he is the one I would call in an emergency.

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