Posted by: martinworster | June 8, 2013

152. The Day I Visited The OC Gun Fair (June 1st 2012)

Stop press – on the way to the coffee shop where I am writing this post I heard on the radio that 7 people were killed today (June 7 2013) in a Santa Monica campus shooting.

OC Gun Fair - Gun Gun Gun

OC Gun Fair

I wanted to approach my visit to the OC Gun Fair in an as measured and nonjudgemental state of mind as possible. I wanted to try to understand America’s fascination and obsession with guns – to get under the skin of it’s gun culture without getting mired in an emotional  ‘gun debate’. Without thinking, ‘those crazy American’s and their guns, glad I don’t live there’. But I do live in the US and I need to at least attempt to understand.

I tried to be balanced, but as I left the fair and looked at the queues (lines) of people stocking up from the massive ammo stands (with boxes upon boxes of bullets and magazines) I had an acute feeling of anxiety. Okay, so maybe some of those bullets are for legitimate purposes – shooting animals, hunting, an afternoon at the shooting range, target practice etc. But how many of those bullets aren’t? How many of them are potentially another Sandy Hook, or a drive by, or a suicide, or a domestic murder, or a robbery or a shooting in Santa Monica which is just up the road and has left seven people dead? Where are all the weapons and bullets going and where is all going to end?

OC Gun Fair - Racks of Guns

OC Gun Fair – Racks of Guns

Clearly the main demographic of the attendees was white, middle-aged, over weight Republicans. I’d say that one out of three of the attendees had camouflage backpacks and a slightly creepy loner aura, plenty of Christopher Dorners or Raul Moats in the making. There were lots of T-Shirt stands selling shirts with scary and violent messages:

‘Some People Are Alive Simply Because It’s Illegal To Kill Them’
‘I Like Guns And Coffee’
‘If God Wanted Us To Be Vegetarians…He Would Have Made Broccoli More Fun To Shoot At’
‘African Lion. Lying African’ (with a photo of Obama)

And other such often nonsensical and hostile messages. I saw lots of anti-Obama stickers and t-shirts. I was shocked by how frequently the weapons were marketed at females – pink shotguns, an assault weapon with flecked pinks splashes. I was also shocked by the amount of children attending and guns marketed at children – ‘Ideal for the beginning shooter’. All of this is represented by the photos I took, which are a bit shaky and low res as they were taken on my iPhone as you weren’t supposed to take photos at the fair.

OC Gun Fair - Guns for Girls

OC Gun Fair – Guns for Girls

American gun culture and the whole industry feeds off fear and irrationality. Fear is the main sales tactic used to suck people in to make purchases. It’s particularly the NRA’s defining philosophical thrust – ‘the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is by a good guy with a gun’. Fear of other people with guns. Fear of intruders. Fear of the impending apocalypse. Fear that someone else has a bigger gun or weapon than you. Fear of being robbed. Fear of societal breakdown and the need to protect yourself from a hostile government. Fear is a primitive feeling and not one you would imagine from an allegedly advanced, developed society. Fear is not an emotion that should be associated with civilized nations. As I walked around the fair I actually felt myself – gun hater and pacifist – fall victim to this fear. ‘Actually, maybe I should get a gun? Everyone else has one. What happens if the shit hits the fan and I need to protect my family?’ The hysteria of fear is dangerous.

OC Gun Fair

OC Gun Fair
Kill Acid House

I detected a slightly frenzied atmosphere at the fair. Post Sandy Hook the threat of stricter gun controls has lead to a sales glut as people clamor to arm up.  All the vendors I spoke to said that business was very good – and the four airport hangar sized spaces were packed with vendors and customers. Men (and some women) swarmed over the stands and racks of Glocks and AK47s. There’s something fetishistic about guns – the smooth and angular lines of hard, black metal, the staccato snap of a load, the power over other people a gun enables, the false sense of safety they offer the owner and an overriding faux-macho power that screams ‘I have the biggest dick on the block, don’t fuck with me’. Then, in terms of American history, there’s that romantic-heroic narrative link to the past that guns symbolize – the frontier history of the nation, the Wild West, rebelling against a controlling government, the nations very origins in revolt, a link directly now to the whole Libertarian movement.

The ‘Second Amendment’ was adopted in 1791 as part of the United States Bill of Rights and protects the right to keep and bear arms. Obviously at the time of it’s writing – over two hundred years ago – single shot muskets were the weapons of the day. Not semi-automatic weapons capable of mass slaughter as used in mass killings in US schools, campuses, cinemas and other public spaces in recent years. Plus, the NRA’s argument that having guns stops other people – ‘bad guys’ – with guns is flawed. The shootings on the military base at Fort Hood in 2009 were 13 people were killed occurred in a place where there were lots of soldiers with guns (and other weapons). I also never understood the Libertarian faction that felt they needed guns to protect themselves from a potentially malignant government – I can’t see how a lone individual with a gun could deal with the awesome might of the US military machine. It’s another case of highly irrational reasoning.

OC Gun Fair - Zombie Apocalypse

OC Gun Fair – Zombie Apocalypse

As part of the whole ‘doomsday preppers’ industry – fear driven individuals who believe the end of the world is nigh and hence need to tool up and knuckle down, there were many stands selling books with titles such as:

‘When All Hell Breaks Loose – Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes’
‘How To Survive The End Of The World As We Know It’
‘Patriots – A Novel Of Survival In The Coming Collapse’
‘The Ultimate Guide To Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse’

OC Gun Fair - Shoot Hostage Target

OC Gun Fair – Shoot Hostage Target

No doubt fueled by another fear driven thought system – Christian fundamentalism – which believes in impending Armageddon as written out in the Book of Revelation, this section of the industry exploits the apocalypse as a sales tactic. And there are plenty people stupid enough to buy into it. It’s quite a nasty cross current of rampant individualism, violence and anti-society that suggests to me that if anything bad did happen – earthquakes, mass civil unrest etc – then this would be a terrible place to be. Forget the London war time Blitz spirit of people coming together in face of adversity, here society would disintegrate into a nasty shoot out with no winners. Forget compassion and helping other people, lets hole up in our nuclear proof bunkers and shoot any intruders. Again, as it’s a fear driven movement it’s illogical and not very well thought through.

Living in the US for seven years I see a country desensitized to guns and violence. At first I was shocked by some of the things I’d read in the news. Drive by shootings with six people killed a small four paragraph News In Brief on page six. A two year old shot by her six year old brother – a page three item. Then the mass shootings – which would make the headlines, cause some shock, open up the gun debate again and some collective navel gazing. And then a few weeks down the line nothing happens. Almost like a shrug – ‘oh well this shit happens here’. Until the next one happens. A dysfunctional cycle of shock, regret and inaction. Just as parts of the world looks at suicide bomb attacks in other countries and sees those tragedies as part of that regions culture and thinks: ‘that’s awful, glad I don’t live there, they do crazy stuff.’ The rest of the world sees another US mass shooting on the news and thinks: ‘that’s just what happens there. They have lots of guns, it’s a shame they can’t seem to sort it out.’

OC Gun Fair - USA Gun

OC Gun Fair – USA Gun


So that’s it really. The Gun Show was interesting and scary. People like guns in the US. That’s just how it is. For me it’s a case of get over it. It will probably never change. It’s woven into the very fabric of society. If you don’t like it leave. The NRA wields such a power that even though 90 per cent of the public support tougher background checks on gun purchases it doesn’t become law. I thought this was a democracy?  If barley six months after Adam Lanzer shot twenty children to death nothing changed – then it never will. Call me a hippy, but less guns make for a safer more civilized and less violent society and it’s a shame the US won’t evolve to this.









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