by Chris Nafekh

When I was a young boy growing up in Canada my parents told my siblings and me that guns are something to be feared, not admired. They candidly told us: If you find a gun somewhere, don’t touch it. If a friend pulls one out, call home. And if someone points a gun at you, run the other way.

I never had to employ that advice, unlike many other kids — nobody I knew in the North owned a gun except my best friend’s father who was a cop. That’s why my nerves thickened when I walked into the Greensboro Coliseum this past weekend. I felt like a cat in a dog pound. Danger surrounded me and the hundreds of strangers who swarmed to purchase guns and ammunition, but it didn’t faze them a bit. While I am aware of the assembled AR-10 rifles which one could buy online without any hassle, I was not ready to be surrounded by them in the blink of an eye. People did not even flinch to the guns recoils and were acting as though this was their daily routine.

The Greensboro Knife and Gun show happens twice a year. About 300 arms vendors set up shop to buy and sell a mass of firearms to American citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights with little restriction. Although North Carolina law requires a permit to purchase and carry handguns, no state regulations exist for selling and carrying rifles or shotguns — people walked out of the coliseum with automatic weapons in hand. Only a handful of police officers meandered about the concrete convention center, and lax coliseum security allowed people to walk in without tickets.

Tables upon tables displayed an amalgam of weaponry. Kalashnikovs, like the one used in an attempted French train hijack only weeks ago, stood on pedestals. A mother, bouncing a baby against her chest, used her free hand to fondle a small, pink-handled pistol. In front of her lay a table of coal-black handguns. Her baby seemed uninterested, but fathers and sons throughout the coliseum marveled at the sheer amount of lethal weapons.

At one table labeled “Friends of NRA,” two men named John and Bob, who declined to give their last names, conducted a fundraiser.

“It’s a quote ‘semiautomatic,’” John described one of three firearms sitting to his right. “In other words… you squeeze the trigger and it goes rat-a-tat until the magazine is empty.” Raffle tickets scattered across their table. Underneath the semi automatic — an armalite .223 rifle — lay a Remington 45 caliber handgun and a Kel Tec 12 gauge shot gun.

“If you win you win all three.” John said pointing towards the prizes.

Gun culture has become normalized in America, where a complacency with violence allows mass shootings to continue on a regular basis. To a Canadian, and I’m sure to plenty of Americans, this is frightening. For 10 years I’ve lived in North Carolina working with and befriending Americans. I eat their food, speak their language, even applied for dual citizenship. Yet, gun culture confounds me. Anybody could’ve bought, or won, an automatic rifle and ammo at the coliseum this weekend, no matter the state of her mental health or criminal record, and leave no trace.

After the death of nine Charleston churchgoers, President Obama delivered a speech calling for gun regulation while close to tears. The media and politicians quickly redirected the conversation towards the Confederate flag. Usually, when there’s a mass shooting the media talks about adopting smarter gun policy for a week or two. Congress doesn’t respond and life goes on. We forget until the next shooting, when more people die from pointless violence and the cycle repeats.

At the gun show, members of the National Rifle Association actively recruited people from a small corner booth. One recruiter wore a “Ted Cruz 2016” shirt and referred to President Obama as an “overreaching tyrant” more than once. Like most people, he declined to give his name due to a mistrust of the media.

There’s a long history of distrust between the American government and its people; it reminds me I’m still a foreigner. In Canada, rifles are reserved for hunters to feed their families and handguns for policemen to preserve law and order. Mass shootings rarely happen up north because of the cultural climate. Canadians trust their government; Americans typically don’t.

As an outsider looking in, watching people spend lighthearted family time together celebrating the most deadly weapons available in this state, it bewildered every preconceived notion I held about gun culture. I thought a small number of folks merely appreciated their right to bear arms by keeping shotguns in the closet or small handguns in purses. But masses of families gathered to browse gun collections together, as if visiting the county fair.

As I left the coliseum, three children, two boys and a girl, poked one another giggling as they ran towards the parking lot. Their father, toting a shotgun over his shoulder, followed not too far behind.

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