The Nation’s Gun Show took place this past weekend in Chantilly, Va. I attended looking to meet a few members of armed America and, hopefully, D.C. residents shopping for revolvers—so far the only handguns they can buy.
First things first. After spending several hours trolling “one and a half miles of guns, knives and accessories,”I meet only two D.C. residents: two young men in khakis and oxford shirts who blanch as soon as I say I’m a reporter. When I ask if they’re shopping, one replies, “We’re being cynical, I guess.” Then they both scurry off, without buying the brand new Smith & Wesson commemorative Heller decision revolver. (If they had bought the gun, it wouldn’t have gone home with them. The seller would have to ship it to Charles W. Sykes Jr., the only federally-licensed dealer in D.C.)
More, plus photos after the jump.
In this show of force, swastikas outnumber rebel flags. One vendor is selling a German Army motorcycle helmet emblazoned with the symbol for $800. He wouldn’t let me take a picture, but said his target buyers weren’t racists. He says the antiques are proof we won. “They’re trophies of war,” he says. “We kicked their butts!” Apparently, offensive war memorabilia is a smart investment. He said values appreciate between 20 and 30 percent a year.
But I’m not here for a history lesson.
From my brief visit, I discern three phases of gun-nuttery: people who think guns are fun (for hunting, target practice, or just as sexy pieces of machinery), people who fear crime and think guns will make them safe, and people who think owning a gun proves their love of God, country, and freedom. The crazy spectrum seems to run from low to high as you pass from fun-loving gun fans to the God and freedom brand.
Of course, there’s lots of cross-over. I can’t quite place Nick Corrada, a 23-year-old Marine sergeant I meet at a table lined with semi-automatic handguns. He tells me he needs a small one and gestures toward his ankle. (Does that mean he needs one he can strap around his leg?) “I have all the others,” he says. “Others” meaning other sizes. “I have a 9mm and a couple of rifles and other stuff,” he says. When I ask what he needs the guns for, Corrada says he needs them in case someone invades his house, an off-base apartment near Quantico. At this point, I call his bluff. Come on, I say, the neighborhood around Quantico isn’t exactly known for home invasions. “You like guns don’t you?” I say, as if it’s revelation. The answer: “Of course.”
Then there’s the precious man I spot taking aim with a semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle. He’s bald and paunchy and wears a tactical green backpack. He’s eager to tell me what makes gun owners special. They believe in freedom. He breaks down the difference between gun shows and other shows I might attend: “You won’t find anyone burning an American flag at a gun show,” he says. Anywhere else, he says, I’ll find cowards who refused to serve in the armed forces. I tell him I recently attended an antique show in Arlington. Does he think they burn flags there? He doesn’t answer but seems suspicious.
Talking to the fun-loving gun fans is like talking to any other group of obsessives. Cool gear is cool gear. A guy with a musket points me to a gun everyone’s been talking about: a new .22 version of the MP5. This item is ironic, I’m told, because it’s a recreational version of a tactical submachine gun. You can’t do much more than shoot targets with the .22 bullets, while the real thing, a German-designed 9mm, is used by SWAT teams and commandos. I ask the vendor what else he’s selling and he tells me lots of people are buying shotguns because the price of ammo is up. He adds, “And AK’s, of course. Everyone wants one of those.”
Here’s that musket:
There are lots of t-shirts for sale. This one is designed to let the terrorists know we know what they think we are, or something. (Some Fairfax police officers admiring the shirt shake their heads at the state of affairs with immigrants in Northern Virginia.)
If you prefer a more domestic message, there’s this little number, modeled by a garroted mannequin.
One unpredictable element of the gun show: lots of little dogs. I keep spotting miniature pooches under the arms of burly men selling guns. Paris Hilton may have something in common with these people. At the table for Indian River Collectibles I meet Baby, a 9-year-old Pomeranian who serves as the company’s head of security.
“She’s been raised at gun shows,” says Curtis Ferrell, a former Navy commander who’s making a killing in his retirement on the gun show circuit. There’s a gun show every day of the year across the country, he says. “It’s better than putting your money in the bank,” he says.