What to wear? On a normal morning this is a question I don’t usually give too much thought. I’ll grab whatever shirt is on top of the pile, rule out shorts since all of my ankle socks are dirty, make a gut decision on which color Stan Smiths to wear and I’m on my way. But on this particular morning, I found myself picking my outfit according to a stipulation by which I never thought I’d have to abide: will this get me shot?
“You and I both come from the bubble of Santa Monica and then came to school in the heart of the south just to enter another bubble,” was my friend Charlie’s logic when trying to convince me to attend a gun show with him two hours away in Concord, North Carolina.
“There are so many different ideas and ways of life that I’ve never had the opportunity to explore—when better than now?” Even though I had already been to a Walmart in Baton Rouge and in the process experienced all the culture that “real” America has to offer, I agreed to join him.
And so I found myself early (10:30 a.m.) on a Saturday morning debating what item of clothing would allow me to blend in best with the gun show crowd. Now, I recognize that this is somewhat of an unreasonable worry, but when you voted for Hillary and look like the kickback of a shotgun would tear off your shoulder, these are the sort of things that run through your mind. Sadly, my camo windbreaker was at the dry cleaners and my orange Oakley’s were being repaired, so I ended up deciding on blue jeans so blue that one couldn’t help but think of Brett Favre playing football in the mud. I paired them with the closest thing I had to any sort of American iconography: a NASA shirt that instead of saying “NASA” says “WAYNE.”
At 11 a.m. four of us piled into Charlie’s car and set out for our first destination of the trip, a restaurant an hour away known as Barbecue Center of Lexington (meaning that today we would be making stops at both Lexington and Concord). My review: the chicken was delectable, the hush puppies superb, and the clientele older and whiter than Betty White’s pubes.
An hour or so of lusciously green North Carolina countryside and approximately 64,531 “Thank you Jesus” signs later, we arrived at the gun show and oh, what a beautiful sight it was. Pickup trucks as far as the eye could see sporting fun bumper stickers such as “American by birth, Southern by the grace of God” (naturally written under a confederate flag). Grown men beaming with a child-like wonder walking out of the convention hall with guns slung over their backs, the likes of which I had only ever seen before in movies about the Vietnam war. But nothing could compare to what the inside had to offer.
Imagine Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but instead of a magical wonderland with a chocolate river, candy trees, and trained squirrels it’s just an undecorated airplane hangar with a ton of guns. Like so many guns. Like the firepower in this room alone could probably have taken over the Roman Empire many guns.
Walking the floor of the gun show you are bombarded at all angles with things that in any other setting would seem ludicrous but for some reason are acceptable here. On one side of the aisle there may be a little girl holding a rocket launcher and on the other side, a stand with graphic tees saying stuff like “Black Guns Matter,” “Defend Freedom, Defeat Democrats,” or “I Load More Than Just the Dishwasher.” WWII helmets sit innocently next to novelty Hillary hunting permits as the sound of a Taser demonstration goes of periodically in the distance. You can really find anything gun related: the guns themselves, ammo, gear, scopes, etc., but also things you wouldn’t necessarily think of like jewelry made out of bullets, collectable coins, oh and fidget spinners. So many fidget spinners.
But more interesting than any of the items you can find at the booths are the people who work them. I was lucky to have my friend Dan with me, who in addition to touching every item on display had an uncanny ability in striking up conversations with these vendors. We met a man who worked at a booth selling holsters who gave us some good advice for navigating our first gun show. We met another man who owned a company called “ISIS Hunting Team” which sold stickers and shirts with the ISIS Hunting team logo. But none of them compared to our runaway favorite vendor: knife guy.
We first met knife guy when he saw Dan eying a Batman throwing knife and he swooped in to close a sale that was never to be. Knife guy sported a handlebar mustache and wore a Deadpool baseball jersey, flame do-rag, orange Oakleys and pirate hoop earrings. When Dan asked, “How many knives do you own?” knife guy answered, “Let’s just say there’s a room in my house that no one but me is allowed in, and if the cops ever found I would be going to prison.”
When asked if he had any formal training he answered, “Most of the knife stuff is self-taught. You just need to not be afraid to get up close and personal and a little bit bloodied up.” Knife guy spoke about knives with the enthusiasm that Steve Erwin spoke about animals. He said that ever since he was a kid nothing has brought him more joy than his knives.
While I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the gun control debate and how things like open carry or the gun show loophole are seriously scary possibilities, this really wasn’t my mission in writing this piece. My biggest takeaway from the gun show was that as much as I disagreed with these people’s politics or lifestyle choices, I can’t say that anyone I met was unkind or hostile in any way. In fact, everyone greeted us nicely with a smile.
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Sure, this may not have been the case if we weren’t all white males, but that’s not my place to assume. Modern media paints such an us vs. them narrative, each side portraying the other as more and more villainous with each day. I know I’m a victim of buying into this myself. But if people would just spend a day outside of their personal bubble, maybe they would realize that as Americans we all just want what’s best for our country, and we’re really not that different at our cores.
Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.