I grew up in a Quaker family, where I was taught that “guns are bad”. As a result, I never saw a gun growing up. None of my family members owned a gun and if my childhood friends’ parents owned any weapons, they kept them well hidden from us. Then, just out of college, I got a job at Southwest Airlines at the BWI airport. As a result, I was suddenly thrown into a world where I was expected to have a basic understanding of guns. While working at the ticket counter, it was part of my job to inspect all guns to ensure they were not loaded. I had no idea so many people carried guns in their checked luggage. It was at this job that I learned words like “magazine”, “chamber” and “dry shoot”.
I was also raised vegetarian (and have since become vegan), so I was completely unfamiliar with hunting or fishing. Frankly, I was happy to grow up without dead animals around me, in the kitchen or elsewhere.
When I moved to Berlin, Germany in my late 20s, I was surprisingly expected to own a gun, or at least be familiar with them. So, when I returned to the United States for a visit, I decided to ask a friend to take me to a gun range. After listening to my friend’s safety spiel, I learned some basics: 1) always assume a gun is loaded and 2) always point guns down range even when resting. The indoor range was fun. It was here that I learned what “kickback” was.
Since then I tried two more ranges and one included using “big guns”. Those were fun. It is at one of these ranges that I first heard of “conceal carry” and “open carry”. To be honest, I found the differences confusing, especially when you include the requirements for each and the fact that these change in every state. With my limited knowledge, I walked into the Tampa Gun Show with “GUN” stamped in blue on my hand.
With my foot barely in the door I was immediately asked to sign up for the chance to win a gun. There were three guns to choose from.
Expected Aspects to the Gun Show
It was not a surprise to see lots of guns. I completely expected to see vendors with tables full of guns of varying sizes and from different makers. I wasn’t exactly shocked to see an NRA booth or camouflage clothing for sale. Seeing lots of anti-liberal merchandise as well as a general anti-liberal sentiment was to be expected I suppose, as was pro-Republican and pro-Trump items. Confederate flags were also for sale at the Gun Show. Sadly, this was not a surprise.
Based on the products for sale, it would appear that various types of gun enthusiasts were expected at the Gun Show. Some were interested in the sport of shooting and might be interested in target shooting supplies; whereas others might be looking for guns for personal and family protection. Some people present seemed to be collectors and were shopping for something historical and/or unique. Unfortunately, there were also those who wanted to hunt and kill animals. It was very sad for me to see someone’s beautiful face and antlers stuffed and mounted to the back of a hunting supply booth.
Unexpected Aspects to the Gun Show
I was really surprised to see such a cross-section of the population. There were people present of all ages from young kids all the way up to white-haired grannies. I even saw an elderly woman deciding among three different handguns. She seemed to know all about them too. I must admit that I was expecting the crowd to consist of largely white folks, but I saw a large amount of Black and Hispanic people there too. During the course of the morning, I overheard English, Spanish and Ukrainian.
Another thing that surprised me was the fact that there was a vegan option at one of the two concession stands. The Beyond Burger had made it to the menu. I can’t be sure whether or not anyone bought one, but I was not expecting to even see anything remotely vegan anywhere near the Gun Show. I think this assumption of mine has more to do with my, perhaps incorrect, pre-conceived notion about gun enthusiasts.
Here’s something that might surprise a lot of people: You are not allowed to bring in guns from home and if you had any weapons with you upon arrival, they had to be checked at the door. Seeing the irony in this policy, I asked about it. It turns out that this rule had to do with the insurance of the venue and if the Gun Show wanted to use this location, they had to adhere to the insurance policies. At any rate, I didn’t see anyone kicking up a fuss about this, as I might have expected.
I also saw purple guns, and pink guns and guns with unicorns and/or rainbows on them. They had toy guns for sale too. I wasn’t expecting to see any of this.
I was quite surprised at the age requirements of weapons. Apparently, “under the Gun Control Act (1968), shotguns and rifles, and ammunition for shotguns or rifles may be sold only to individuals 18 years of age or older. All firearms other than shotguns and rifles, and all ammunition other than ammunition for shotguns or rifles may be sold only to individuals 21 years of age or older.” Many, especially members of the NRA, see this law as a violation of the Second Amendment because the right to own a firearm of their choice between the ages of 18-21 is being compromised. As a result, the NRA has challenged this law several times in the past several decades, but the Supreme Court, as of yet, has refused to review the case. (As an outsider to the gun enthusiast crowd, I must admit that it does seem odd to me that a person can become a soldier at 18, but can not buy a handgun – or have an alcoholic drink for that matter – until 3 years later.)
More Than Just Guns
Surprisingly, at least for this novice, weapons besides guns were for sale. One vendor demonstrated how to safely use tasers on an attacker. There were tables of knives, including swords, brass knuckles, canes with a hidden blade and even a flame thrower (with a video of how to use it). I discovered my weapons of choice were two ax-type weapons: one with a labrys on the end (a double edged ax as it were) and one with a spiked ball at the end. I’m fairly certain that one would win every argument with one of those!
There were still other things for sale like T-shirts, targets and target practice accessories, pro-gun keychains, drink cozies, flasks in the shape of guns, bullet thermoses, gas masks, protective gear such as bullet proof vests and even custom-made ear protection. One point of interest for me personally was supplies to actually make your own bullets. Conceal carry permit classes (2 hours long) were offered multiple times during the day.
The Tampa Gun Show found a way to pique my interest in travel and other cultures. A vendor had a display of famous historical and cultural weapons, namely well-crafted knives, daggers and swords.
I spoke with the NRA.
Every time I have heard anything about the NRA, it seemed they were always fighting against some sort of law designed to protect public safety. They always struck me as…well…unwavering guns nuts. I always wondered why they wouldn’t want everyone who owned a gun, for example, to know how to use it safely. Until the Tampa Gun Show, I had never (knowingly) come in contact with an NRA representative. Well, here was my chance.
I went right up to the booth and asked him if the NRA offered any safety classes. The representative was friendly as he answered. It turns out that they offer “all kinds of safety classes” and he directed me to the website. I asked him about the possible unconstitutionality of the Gun Control Act. I also asked him why he thought there was this distinction between rifle ownership, including AR15’s and AK’s, which can be purchased as young as 18 and pistols, which can only be bought at 21. We also talked about the status of the current lawsuit here in Florida after the former governor made it illegal to sell any guns to those under 21. Governor Scott had initiated this law in the aftermath of the Parkland Shooting (February 2018).
The abundant and obvious hatred for liberals
I fully expected the anti-Biden and pro-Trump vibe. While I fully support everyone having the right to their opinion and freedom of speech, I found that some things crossed the line. I was disturbed by a gun setting for “Full Libturd” as it implies that it’s ok, and perhaps even encouraged, to shoot liberals. I was also offended at a T-shirt stating, “Biden Lies Matter”. While I could care less about the anti-Biden comment, I was angry that they commandeered the Black Lives Matter logo, undermining the movement.
I spoke with a Republican who had never met a Quaker.
I approached a table helping those to register to vote. We ended up talking and I told him why I was there and that I was a pacifist, who wanted to learn more about an aspect of our country I don’t know much about. I picked up a brochure explaining the differences between the Republican and Democrat parties. I teasingly asked if it was a biased brochure. The man responded that “the brochure was pretty unbiased” and that “most Democrats would agree with most of the information inside”.
I read the brochure at home and I frankly couldn’t stop laughing. My favorite part was the section on abortion, entitled The Right to Life. Apparently, Democrats “believe that abortion should be permitted under any circumstance up to and after the day of birth and that taxpayers should fund abortions both at home and abroad”. Maybe Democrats eat babies too? No wonder Congress can’t work together!
The process of buying a gun
One of the reasons I wanted to go to a gun show was to learn directly from the source the rules about how easy or difficult it is to purchase a gun. A lot of talk gets thrown around and if I am to foster an opinion either for or against gun ownership, I figured it would behoove me to learn more about the process. It is important to note that the rules of buying a gun are connected to the state and not the federal government, so there are different steps depending on where in the United States you reside. The information below is only for the state of Florida.
Rules for Florida residents with no conceal carry permit
- You must present a Florida driver’s license or state-issued ID.
2. You must fill out an application with the state (this includes a background check to ensure that you are not a felon) The application fee costs $20 and the background check is an additional $5.
3. You must wait 5 days and then pick up your gun at the store the dealer agrees to send it to. Most vendors at gun shows have a local gun store that they regularly work with.
Rules for Florida residents with a conceal carry permit
- You must present a Florida driver’s license (or state-issued ID).
- You must present your conceal carry permit.
- The dealer will run a background check onsite to check for any arrests or pending legal issues since you received your conceal carry permit.
- You leave with gun in hand as there is no waiting period.
Rules for residents of another US state
- You must present a government issued ID from said state.
- You buy the gun of your choice and return to your state of residence.
- The dealer will send the gun to a dealer in the state of residence and the new owner must follow that state’s requirements for gun ownership in order to pick up the purchased weapon.
Rules for residents of other countries
It is important to note that any gun sales to foreign nationals is illegal as is transporting guns outside the United States.
A note about women and guns
There were many women at the gun show, both selling and buying. After receiving my taser tutorial, I realized that many women’s interest in guns stem from personal protection. This reminded me of a conversation I had once with a friend of mine. She told me of a harrowing experience she had had and how her gun saved her from getting raped and/or worse. When she was walking to her car after doing her sales job at a bar, she noticed a man she had previously gotten a bad vibe from following her out to her car. Needless to say, she was concerned for her safety. She managed to get to her car and was able to retrieve her gun from just inside the door, pointed it at the man and yelled. He backed off and the woman was more certain than ever that owning a gun was the right decision for her.
I had already also begun thinking about my personal safety a little more after I purchased a home and learned about previous break-ins and break-in attempts on the house. I thought a lot about ways of deterring people from attempting to break in. I considered everything from cameras, to alarms to sticker bushes in front of the windows. Thinking about how long it would take the police to get to my house if I called, I started to understand why women in particular might consider a owning a weapon.
At some point, I lifted my gaze from the tables and took in the show in its entirety. I wondered which gun there might be used to kill someone and even out of which ammunition box might the fatal bullet lie. This thought, however and perhaps for the first time, was followed up with wondering which gun might also save someone’s life.
I’m not sure that my view of guns has changed dramatically over the years, but my opinion of them has certainly softened a bit. After speaking with several responsible gun owners, as well as attending the Tampa Gun Show, my understanding of guns has increased. In addition, my position on gun ownership has also been slightly altered. Although I do not wish to personally own a gun and I think there are often better ways to handle most threats, I can now understand a bit more about why some people decide to own guns and simply owning a gun does not make a person nefarious.
I do, however, wish there were safety class requirements for guns ownership; otherwise, an idiot neighbor could end up shooting me from their living room, not to mention possibly hurting themselves, just because they don’t know what they are doing. It takes a responsible person to sign up for a gun safety class. But, irresponsible people are allowed to buy guns too. By way of comparison, in order to get a motorcycle license, one must take classes. Why not have the same stipulation for gun ownership?
I am glad I attended the Tampa Gun Show. It was very interested to peak into a world to which I was previously unexposed.