Fresh Eyes: A Canadian at the gun show

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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.

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.

  • jeff ruben

    Some interesting observations. As a gun owner, I am not a supporter of gun shows nor the NRA. I am for documented background checks to purchase firearms. But also we need correct information when justifying change to our way of gun sales. There were no sales of fully automatic weapons at the show, nor does holding your finger on the trigger empty the magazine. Fully automatic guns are illegal. Holding the trigger gives you one shot, engaging the trigger over and over will empty the magazine. Thus if that was the information being told to the author at the gun show the sellers of the guns are misinformed and should not be selling guns. If the NRA representatives or gun seller won’t give their names what does that say about their reputations? If you want to really learn, know and enjoy a great hobby, go to a real gun store. Talk to a knowledgeable dealer who has made a investment in his community and abides by the law.

    • Chris Nafekh

      Thanks for the input, Jeff. I only quoted the man conducting the fundraiser. Fully automatic weapons are illegal, so he was either mistaken or worse.

  • Mark Brookhart

    Chris, as a gun owner since the age of 10 (I am presently 60 years old) I have safely owned guns of many kinds for over a half of a century and have never used any gun in a violent manner or harmed anyone with any of my guns. My experience is just one of literally millions of law abiding gun owners in America who never harm or threaten anyone with their guns. Far less than 1% of people possessing a firearm ever use their guns in an illegal or harmful manner, statistically far less than people who own cars, or for that matter, use their fists. http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2012/05/bruce-krafft/comparing-car-and-gun-fatalities-is-misleading-and-irrelevant/ Your article contains misinformation, a blatantly negative bias and what I hope were not intentional lies. As the previous commenter said, automatic guns in the USA are illegal to buy, sell, or possess without a special federal license which requires significant background checks and legal qualifications. The “semi-automatic” guns fire only one time for each trigger pull as the previous author noted. I am confident that the NRA booth people did not tell you otherwise. You either misunderstood, didn’t carefully listen or intentional wrote that piece with an anti-gun bias in order to present guns in America in an evil light.

    A military styled rifle or shotgun is no more dangerous than any other style of gun and are not “automatic weapons.” Automatic weapons are reserved for the military and very few are in civilian hands. In fact, no gun is actually a assault weapon unless it is being used as a weapon to assault someone. The weapon is in the hands of the person with violent intent. No gun I have ever owned was an assault weapon. They were defensive firearms or tools used in hunting and for the enjoyment of target sports. Almost all guns in the US used in crime are obtained in an illegal manner, not purchased at gun shows or purchased at a licensed fire arm dealership. For that matter, an automobile or steak knife or even a shovel can be used as a weapon. To say that guns are dangerous and to be feared is similar to saying automobiles are dangerous and should be feared because some people use automobiles to hurt other people. An American is far more likely to be killed or harmed by a drunk driver than by someone with a gun. No one could have bought or won an automatic rifle and ammo at the coliseum regardless of their mental health or criminal record and left no trace, unless that gun was purchased illegally. These are uninformed untruths.

    In the 1970’s in Southern America, I learned about gun safety, hunter safety, and marksmanship in my public High School. Let me shock you by saying, we had a JROTC program with an armory in the school and marched with, cleaned and learned about military guns 2 days a week. These were real, operating, functional military guns with only their firing pins removed and stored in a safe in the armory. There was no gun violence at the school or in the town. We learned to respect and handle firearms correctly and safely. Perhaps if this still were the case, there would be less firearm crime and more understanding of the proper role of firearms in the hands of citizens. Much of the current gun violence culture is modeled in the movies and media and perhaps that is why youth and young adults have learned to associate guns with violent crime.

    Finally, I wish to remind you that gun violence is not a gun problem, it is a person problem. Gun violence is not committed by guns, it is committed by criminals who happen to use guns as their tool of violence. The way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun whether that is an armed and licensed citizen on the scene who responds immediately to the criminal threat, or several hours after the violence is committed, a policeman who comes to investigate the murder of innocent people in a gun free zone. Gun control will NEVER, I repeat NEVER stop criminals from using guns. While Canadian gun violence is somewhat less than USA gun violence, you still have gun violence in Canada. Perhaps the real reason is that you have fewer criminals in Canada. Perhaps there are a greater number of people with lower moral character live in the USA. But for whatever reason, it is not caused by the father with a shotgun over his shoulder who took his three children, two boys and a girl to the gun show.

    I sure with my response would be printed as a letter to the editor in the next printed edition of Triad City Beat. Another side of the story needs to be told; a more accurate, researched one.

  • Chris, I have a hard time believing the Raffle Story. Considering the ATF is ever present at large events like this, to Give away 3 weapons is down right doubtful. If the automatic weapon in question was actually misrepresented as a semiautomatic then a someone is going to jail on a federal weapons charges. I attend these shows quite regularly. Not just once for a column and rarely see full auto weapons on sale as the buyer must hold an FFL as well. The paperwork at a gun show for a full order would be very meticulous. The phone call to verify my FFL status would be close to an hour.

  • P Wolf

    Did not finish reading your opinion , but I can say they way you start off all gun owners are homicidal maniacs . Probably best for you to move back to Canada where its much safer. My opinion is all Canadians wish they could be Americans.