Gun show reveals common ground, challenges

Through his school, my son is getting his first taste of activism. I made the inane comment that he should try to understand the other guy’s position, as well as his own. He reads my columns, knows my politics and never passes up an opportunity to poke me in the ribs. “Oh yeah?” he said. “Ever been to a gun show?”

He had me.

So this past Saturday, we went to our first gun show.

More than a merchandising venue, a swap meet or a congregation of enthusiasts, the gun show is the battleground between the pro-gun and gun-control factions in our country. Generally speaking, a private buyer can acquire a firearm at a gun show without background check or official recording of the sale. After the shootings at Columbine High School, the public paid closer attention to gun shows as a loophole for criminals to acquire weapons.

Whether you believe that or not, gun shows are ubiquitous, occurring 5,000 times each year in the U.S. We went to a show in Loveland.

As we stood at the entrance waiting to pay our admission fee, I felt like an atheist at the flap of a revival tent, but then I caught myself. Why the discomfort? I come from a family of gun owners, spanning generations of hunters, collectors and sport shooters. Dad used to reload his own shells and cartridges in the basement and send us kids upstairs in case something went awry dislodging a stuck cap. I’ve powdered my share of clay pigeons with Dad’s Remington pump 12-gauge.

But the politics divides us, and as I stood there waiting to enter, a crazy thought raced through my mind. Was I about to be tested on background checks, magazine capacity limits and President Barack Obama? The guy standing behind the check-in table looked like a war veteran who dug trenches with his face. If I answered any question wrong, he’d stamp my forehead with a big letter “L,” for liberal, and toss me into the parking lot, my kids shaking their heads at their idiot father.

But no. He flashed a genuine smile and welcomed us in. My younger son, who has lately taken an interest in all things World War II, made a beeline to a rifle resembling the classic M1 Garand. My college-age daughter scratched her head at a line of pistols targeting the woman buyer, the stocks bright pink. The owner of a knife sharpening business said with a wink, “Never a dull moment,” and wondered why spring-assisted knives are legal but switchblades are illegal, yet both designs accomplish the same thing. My wife and I chuckled at a Photoshopped poster of President Obama tearing the U.S. Constitution down the middle.

Every person we met behind those weapon-strewn tables was friendly and informed, and a few thoughts crossed my mind. One, that guns are more ingrained in our culture than blue jeans and soda. How could anyone feel their rights are being threatened? Two, that in spite of their deadly purpose, guns are fascinating.

My brother owns guns and hunts responsibly every season. He’s also an emergency room doc who patches up gunshot victims. He deserves to keep his guns, but the people who shoot his patients don’t. Why can’t we find balance between those extremes?

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