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In My Words: What I saw at the gun show

In a newspaper opinion column, Associate Professor Anthony Hatcher recounts his experience at a gun show the day after the Newtown tragedy.

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The following column appeared recently in the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News, the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record (not currently posted online) and the Hickory Daily Record (not currently posted online) via the Elon University Writers Syndicate.

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What I saw at the gun show
By Anthony Hatcher - ahatcher@elon.edu

On a chilly December morning in a small Connecticut town, the second-worst school shooting in modern American history took place at an elementary school.

The next day I went to a gun show.

I didn’t attend the Capital City Gun & Knife Show at the NC State Fairgrounds in Raleigh to buy a gun or a knife. And although I teach journalism, I didn’t go to the fairgrounds to concoct a “gotcha” story about gun owners. I am a gun owner myself.

I was feeling melancholy about the school shooting, and I went to the show out of curiosity, wanting to gauge the mood at the event. There were no protestors in the parking lot, and people inside the hall seemed upbeat, although a few were overheard talking with concern about a renewed push for more gun laws in the wake of the previous day’s shooting.

Customers perused the tables displaying rifles, shotguns, handguns, gun parts, scopes, knives, machetes, nunchucks, swords, backpacks, pistol bags, camouflage suits, survival kits with freeze-dried food, targets and bulk boxes of ammunition. Most were men, but there were quite a few women and several children, including some the same age as the murdered Newtown kids.

Sales appeared brisk. One elderly man gently leaned his new rifle up against the cinder block wall beside his urinal in the men’s room. Several patrons rested guns on their shoulders as they marched through the aisles of the hall. Some had a “For Sale” sign affixed to the barrels.

The Jim Graham Building, named for a deceased state commissioner of agriculture and the largest facility at the fairgrounds, had been converted into a wall-to-wall marketplace of weaponry, as well as anti-Obama paraphernalia such as bumper stickers, posters, and tee shirts with slogans like “Obama wants to take away your guns”.

A friendly, soft spoken and white-bearded representative from Grass Roots North Carolina, a gun advocacy group, gave me some literature, including a leaflet headlined: “Newtown’s Victims of ‘Gun Free’ School Zones Act.”

The opening paragraph read, “Words cannot be found nor adequately express the sorrow accompanying the horrors faced at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton (sic), Connecticut. Our hearts brake (sic) at the carnage inflicted upon those rendered defenseless within the walls of a gun free zone.”

The First Amendment, with its free speech protections, appropriately allows publication of this handout as well as virulent anti-Obama (or whoever is president) material, even if it contains insults or distortions.

The Second Amendment is seen as the more important amendment in the Bill of Rights by gun rights advocates, reasoning that firearms in the hands of the people makes free speech possible. Yet a number of citizens, including many in law enforcement, question the need for anyone not in the military to possess a machine gun.

The arms used in the Newtown massacre were apparently purchased legally by the shooter’s mother, a gun collector, who was shot by her son with her own weapon.

How are we to tackle the topic of gun violence in a bitterly politically divided country?

Most people agree that felons and the mentally ill should be kept away from weapons. Perhaps the amount of ammo available for purchase can be the starting point of a discussion between the extreme camps of “anything goes” gun owners and those who want to ban all guns. Should lower capacity magazines be considered? There’s a limit on the amount of Sudafed we can buy in a pharmacy. Should there be a limit on the number of bullets we can buy in sporting goods?

My day at the gun show parallels my experiences with consumers at pen shows. Fountain pens, gel pens, ballpoints, rollerballs – if a pen works well and feels good in the hand, a pen enthusiast will buy it. A similar standard is employed by gun enthusiasts.

I was drawn to a vendor at the gun show selling exquisitely handcrafted pens. They were made from spent shell casings.

Depressed, I left empty handed.

Anthony Hatcher is an associate professor of communications at Elon University.

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Elon University faculty with an interest in sharing their expertise with wider audiences are encouraged to contact Eric Townsend (etownsend4@elon.edu) in the Office of University Communications should they like assistance with prospective newspaper op/ed submissions.

Viewpoints shared by this syndicate are those of the author and not of Elon University.

Eric Townsend,
Staff
1/2/2013 5:14 PM