Sunday, April 5, 2009

Two Tickets to the Gun Show

Having grown up in small town Iowa, I should know more about guns than I do. Maybe that's just a stereotypical assumption about growing up in the country. I probably have more friends that hunt than those that don't. My dad wasn't much of a hunter, and I know my grandfater wasn't, either. Dad took my brother out a couple times to hunt pheasants, but with little to show for it. I think my brother learned more about firepower (real and homemade) from his Grandpa Bartu, a gruff, loud scrap iron peddaler/farmer of Czech heritage, on his acreage just outside of Crete, NE. This was where my brother's prized "Goose Gun" was fabricated out of Falstaff, Hamms, and Schaffer steel beer cans, duct tape, and some lighter fluid.

So it went that while we did have a couple of shotguns in the house, I never really did much more than shoot the occasional squirrel around the farm with an old, refurbished .22 rifle. One particular two-day killing spree netted 4 squirrels. I assumed that Granny Ocle would find this successful haul rewarding, and surely she would know how to prepare and cook the tasty varmints. Granny Ocle was refered to by some family members as "The Weasel" for her propensity to enjoy the bonier, gamier cuts of meat, such as the neck of a fried chicken, the chicken heart, gizzards, and, yes, her prophesed enjoyment of a well-prepared squirrel. Problem was, when it came to squirrels, she didn't really enjoy the preparation. Thus, the 4 squirrels' deaths were for nothing more than a young boy's brief & fleeting interest in small firearms. I don't think I've shot anything living since, at least nothing that I actually hit.

Recently we were in Clarinda, IA at my in-laws, doing the family thing for the weekend. My brother-in-law heard about a gun show that was taking place on that Saturday at the county fairgrounds. So in planning out our strenuous day of grilling, playing with the kids, shooting skeet (or Blue Rock, as it's called in these here parts) with some cousins, and enjoying a cigar or two, he thought it would be good to check out the show. Sounded good to me, I told him, with a hint of trepedation. Initially, I was not looking forward to the visit. It's just not something that's a hobby or interest of mine. At all. But over the course of the morning, I began to think about the gun show in a different light. Think of it like going to the State Fair, I told myself. I began to look forward to the potential people-watching aspects of attending my very first Southwest Iowa gun show. I am an admitted dirt track racing fan, although I don't wear the costume of an obnoxious racing t-shirt and a pair of Wranglers with a chew can ring in the back pocket. So how far off could a gun show crowd be?

Let's just say there were a lot of Bush/McCain votes in the hall this particular day. It was a bit of a mixed bag of a crowd. Of course, you had your overall-wearing farmer crowd, who were mainly there for sporting shotguns, maybe a high-caliber rifle, still for sport. Then you had the crowd who felt compelled to wear their camouflage. I suppose since it's customary to wear the colors of your favorite team to a sporting event, it's the same to wear your favorite camo brand to a gun show. There was the obligatory Rebel flag displayed at one booth, but I'm sure other booths were envious. Fathers brought their young sons, passing on their appreciation to the next generation. That seemed okay to me. Sleeveless shirts and dirty hats. Men trading stories of how their handguns had been stolen out of their trucks. An older man, the innocent-looking grandfather, brandishing an AR-15 assault rifle. Where does he work again?

Boxes of old handgun pieces were particulary curious to me. I commented to my Brother-in Law, "Hey, how many missing murder weapons are in here? Some poor bastard is probably sitting in a cell right now waiting for someone to find the evidence that will overturn his sentence. Hey, here it is!" There was a foul, pungent stench in the smaller show area, a fragrance derived from collective poor hygeine from some of the show-goers. It was an odor I remember a couple of kids in elementary school having, growing up poor, maybe not knowing any better. It bothered me then. That flashback made the whole vibe of the show a bit troubling; the sociology of it.

I suppose of all of the interesting faces at the gun show, I may have been the one that stood out to some. I seemed to be the only person who was taking the occasional picture. No flash, of course. That would be rude. I'm guessing there's either an unwritten rule about picutre-taking at a gun show, or it may have been clearly posted at the front entrance, right next to the huge raffle for a $1700 shotgun. Missed that. I was taking a picture of one particularly menacing assault rifle, although certainly not the most troubling weapon there, presumably used to shoo the occasional stray cat off the back porch. A woman behind the table asked me, "What's the picture for?" I told her the truth. It was my very first gun show. "It's like I'm on a vacation," I said. She sheepishly chuckled with an older woman who was there with her, maybe nervous at my too-inquisitive pocket camera. I got the message. Fair enough, I had seen what I had come to see.

I was hoping for some overriding theme to be taken away from the event. Maybe something of a good lesson to be learned that I didn't already have preconceived. But, truth be told, it was everything I thought it would be an, sadly, more. I'll leave the political discussions for another time & place, only to say that it would take a pretty damn convincing argument for me to not get behind some type of assault weapons ban. While I saw more guns for pure sport, I saw far too many guns for the sole purpose of taking human lives. There's protection, and then there's 10 rounds per second.

At least I can say that I've been.


Michael said...

My grandfather was a big gun collector and huntsman. He was also a licensed gun dealer and spent many a weekend at these shows both buying and selling. His house and office was full of trophies: taxidermied deer heads, squirrels, a badger, pheasants, geese, an owl, etc... even a bear skin rug. All taken with his own hands. Of course, the was always some fresh kills in the freezer if you wanted something to eat. I never understood the thrill of the hunt myself. What I liked about him (and many other sportsmen) was that even though they were avid hunters, they were even more avid conservationists. My grandfather was all about protecting endangered species and nature in general. He understood that if you killed something, you had to use as much of the animal as did not waste. I respect those that feel that way, even though I personally don't feel the need to kill my own dinner.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out at that "Take this Job and Shove It" was filmed in Dubuque.


Dixon said...

Believe me, I searched for reasons for about a half hour to buy that belt buckle.

supermom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

oh buddy, you got lots of time on your hands. i never have really understood the whole hunting/gun owning thing. not my style and i come from small town/ farm community. now, i live with pheasant obsessed, gun toteing south dakotan's. still don't get it. understand that we have to control the bird and deer population. it is such a man thing. kc:O)