As I drove to my new home – an old cottage in southwestern Missouri – a sign on the freeway caught my attention: Gun and Knife Show, at the Ozarks Empire Fairgrounds inSpringfield.
I’ve never shot a gun – or even held one – but they’ve nevertheless impacted my life. I’ve lost a family member in the U.S. to gun suicide. I was present for a drive-by shooting at my high school in Vancouver, Canada, when one student was shot in the leg. I’ve been robbed at gunpoint while hiking in Venezuela. And like many other people, I’ve been horrified by the mass shootings that have taken place in schools, night clubs, churches and shopping malls across the nation.
Guns for sale at the RK Gun and Knife Show in Springfield, Mo.
I’ve also worked on farms across the U.S., where gun ownership was often considered a normal and necessary aspect of everyday existence. I’ve camped alongside hunters, who used a range of rifles to hunt deer and bear. And I’velived with people who believed that high capacity, military-style weapons were an important right for people who wished to ensure their own survival in an unstable world.
Signs for sale at the RK Gun and Knife Showin Springfield, Mo.
As someone who generally aspires to be apeaceful person, I have no real desire to own or operate a weapon – particularly one that is semiautomatic, like an AR-15. Yet considering the divisiveness of the issue, and the strong opinions held by many individuals on either side, I decided to attend the Gun Show to enhance my own perspective.
Here’s what some people had to say.
My business here is sharpening knives and selling knife sharpening systems, but I relate to the gun show crowd, for the simple fact that I grew up in rural Texas, hunting and fishing. That was a part of life, a way of life, because we had five sisters growing up. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, my dad was a hardworking man, and we supplemented the grocery bill with what we could hunt and gather from the land. So for us, guns were a part of our household culture. Now we didn’t go out raising Cain shooting everything up – they were secured, put away. Actually they weren’t even what we’d call secure today, just hung on a gun rack on the wall. And Dad raised us kids to know that those weren’t toys. They were a tool, and they presented a potential danger if mishandled, and he taught us how to handle them. Most of all he taught us to respect them and everything that comes with that. You know – Know your target. Don’t point a gun at anything you’re not willing to shoot. And only use it for the purpose of gathering food that you’re going to eat, or if need be, when you have no other option, to defend yourself. We never had an issue with a gun in the house, and Dad had a few.
So for me, I’ve always been around them so they don’t bother me. I understand that every gun has the potential to kill, and ultimately that’s their purpose, whether that’s the intent of the owner or not – they were designed for killing. But for me, I believe it’s how you’re taught and how you’re raised. If you grow up in an environment where life is not respected and, I’m not sure how to say it – if killing people is more common than it should be – then problems are going to arise. But I see that as a societal issue far more than I see it as a way of life. I guess you could say that it’s a way of life for some.
I didn’t grow up that way. And my sons – I have two sons, a four-year-old and an eight-year-old – and I have a few guns in the house. They both know where they’re at, and they’re secured away from them, but they know they don’t get to touch them without Dad being there. And all of the safety issues that go along with that – we teach them respect. What our intent is for, what our way of life is for. I took my son, my eight-year-old, out for his first hunting trip last year, and we spent months prior to that teaching him how to shoot, how to care for the gun, how to handle the weapon. And then we also spent an equal amount of time talking about the ethics of hunting. We don’t go out and kill living creatures just for the fun of it. We eat what we kill. So he knows that even if he’s out in the yard with a BB gun and decides to take a potshot at a bird, to be prepared to eat that, because we’re not wasting life. We also teach them to pay respect in our own way to the animals that we take when hunting, to be thankful to God for providing them.
As far as the 2nd Amendment goes, I’m a history student, I have a bachelor’s degree in history, and I’ve done some research and have spent some time studying and reading. And I perfectly believe that the Founding Fathers intended for every citizen to have a gun – not just the standing militia, not just those involved in defending the country. But it’s every person’s right to own a gun, with responsibility. Now, times have obviously changed since then. It looks a lot different – we’re not a country trying to establish itself. But in today’s climate we are a country trying to protect our future existence. Now, is an average hunting rifle or an AR-15 going to be sufficient to defend against an invading force? Probably not. It’s certainly not going to be enough to defend against a tyrannical government with some of the most advanced technological weapons in the world.
Personally, I believe that back in ‘07, ‘08 when the economy crashed, we were far closer to a total economic meltdown than most people realized. And I believe that’s not an unlikely event at some point in the future. Tomorrow, next week, probably not, but ten years from now, I don’t know. I believe it has its potential. And I believe that within that time frame, should that happen, what you’ll find is local chaos – where once the grocery stores run out of food, the money’s no good to buy food, then folks that aren’t versed in providing for their own, gathering for their own, are going to be looking for ways to secure food for survival. And I think that’s where weapons such as that come into play. Defending your home, defending your property, in that situation. That perspective is a little bit conspiracy theorist, some would say. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I see the potential for economic fallout should we ever approach that brink again and potentially fall over. So I do own what some would call an assault rifle – which is a huge misnomer. I believe it’s my right to own it, but I also believe that I have a huge responsibility to protect that right with the proper handling of any firearm that I have, and teaching my sons how to properly handle and respect any firearm. And ultimately, the respect for life itself.
What a lot of people consider an assault rifle is not really an assault rifle. It has a military look to it, but it’s really, other than the amount of rounds that it can carry in a magazine, it’s not really different from the hunting rifle that’s laying over there on the counter. This hunting rifle is what we call a bolt-action rifle. Meaning that for each shot you have to cycle the bolt, ejecting the spent round and chambering a new round. Now this hunting rifle will hold three rounds – maybe four or five, depending on its design. Most hunting rifles hold 3-5 rounds. Whereas an AR-15 or an AR-10, which is commonly mistaken for an assault rifle, has a bolt that will automatically cycle, but it’s one trigger pull, one shot. It’s not pull the trigger and it empties the magazine. You have to pull it for each shot. So the biggest difference there is the magazine capacity. You can get large capacity clips. For most of us that have those style of rifles, they’re for fun. We go out into the woods, we load it up, and we find a target and we unload the gun on the target as fast as we can. It’s a rush, it’s a thrill. But the vast majority of people that I know, and all of the people with whom I associate and enjoy that kind of entertainment, there is no ill-will or intent involved. It’s just – we’re going out to have some good ol’ boy fun.
But you know, you have that responsibility. No matter what the weapon is – whether it’s a single shot, and you can only load one round at a time, or if it’s a handgun, a semiautomatic or a revolver – whatever style of weapon that you have, you have the responsibility with the right to own that gun. It’s a burden, I would call it – you have the burden of responsible ownership. You keep them secured, you make sure that nobody can get to them that shouldn’t have their hands on them, you teach those within the household proper operations. Just like if I, you know, bought a new lawnmower for my son to go out and mow the lawn with, I’m going to teach him how to safely operate that piece of equipment. And so that’s the way I view this – as another tool and another piece of equipment that people should be taught how to handle properly.
I haven’t really known any victims of gun violence. Self-inflicted – I’ve known a couple of people. I did have a buddy in high school, years ago, he was a star basketball player, and him and his younger brother were in the yard shooting a BB gun. And his younger brother shot at a Frisbee that was laying on the ground, and the BB deflected off the Frisbee and hit him in the eye, and that ended his basketball career. But other than that, no.
People are talking about needing to change the system to prevent the wrong people from their hands on firearms. And of course people are always saying that guns don’t kill, people kill – and I agree with that. But at the same time, when guns are so prevalent and easily obtained in our society … they talk about the gun show loophole. Its not really a loophole here. If you’re buying from any licensed dealer in here, yes, you have to fill out a background report and pass it to get a gun. Now, it’s probably more correctly described as the private sell loophole. What that means is I can take any one of my guns and sell it to anybody as a private seller without them having to pass a background check. I’m uncertain about that. I see the potential pitfalls there. And so perhaps yes, we do need to tighten that up some way, somehow. But what I do know is, whatever regulation, restriction, law – whatever you want to put out there – those with the intent of creating harm, they’re going to find a way around it. If there’s not a loophole they’re going to create a loophole. They’re going to figure out how to get what they want, to do what they choose to do.
With the simple number of firearms that are out there and available, some of them not so difficult to obtain, we probably need to do something. But I’m leery of doing anything that infringes on the right of the lawful owner – that infringes on their right to own and use firearms as well. So it’s kind of a double-edged sword.
I served in the navy out in Norfolk, Virginia, out on a tin can –the USS Basilone. It’s a small ship. I was in the navy for just five years. I wanted to ship over, but they wouldn’t do it – I went in through the naval reserves. And when they wouldn’t let me ship over I came home. I was planning to go back in again, but I met a woman, and she said, “I will not be married to a sailor.” So that was the end of that! It was all good, though, because I’ve got two wonderful daughters, and a son – he’s a good one, too. He’s traveled with Bob Hope, going to these different countries. He was quite an actor. One of his main shows was “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” He was really good.
I do have guns at home, and I had to bring this one in to show people. It’s really old and it’s called a thumb trigger. See, there’s no trigger down here, there’s a pull-back. It’s the first one I learned how to shoot, so I’ve just held onto it all these years. I used to hunt with that gun – rabbits, squirrels. If I killed it, we ate it. I’m not one to go out and shoot them and leave them. I’m 82 and soon to be 83, so I don’t hunt anymore. But these people up and down the line, when I told them how a thumb trigger worked, they said, “I’ve never heard of such a thing!” So I brought her in today to show them. It’s from 1908, I think. It’s older than me.
I have mixed feelings about [gun ownership], but I know that I don’t want my guns taken away from me. Because I have quite a few guns. I have shotguns, and I’ve got .22 rifles – that’s what this is. There’s just so much orneriness going on right now. And the thing I’d hate to see worse than anything is for people to gang up on our police departments and shoot and kill them. But I’d probably cry if someone took my guns away.
I’ve got another story about a gun. My dad used to work for the state of Missouri, and he was working at a weigh station. He was going to leave them and go be a guard out at one of their stations in Kansas City. And this state patrolman, he used to come in there all the time. And he sold my dad this pistol, and he said, “It’s one that Pretty Boy Floyd dropped in a bank.” And so whether that’s true or not, I have no clue. But when I watched the American Heroes Channel, and they had him on there, the gun – a long barrel – that Pretty Boy Floyd dropped, it was that type of gun. I’ve got a lot of stories like that to tell, about old guns.
I’m not purchasing a gun, I’m trying to sell one [a Winchester .270 hunting rifle]. I’m from 20 miles north of Springfield.
I was raised with guns, and I’ve hunted since I was 10 years old. I own mostly hunting rifles. I’ve got a few pistols and some for personal protection, but mostly just for hunting. If you’re legal to have a gun, I think you should have the right to keep one. As long as they’re not fully automatic, I think each individual should be able to have whatever their taste can afford.
I don’t have any children at home, but I have gun safe, and I keep them locked up to where people couldn’t just come and just break in and take the and use them illegally. I make sure that they’re put away.
I think [regulation] is really a deterrent. I don’t agree with open carry. Because if you allow open carry, then anybody can carry, and I think you ought to have some kind of training. If anybody can carry, then – you know, a lot of people are not qualified to safely carry a gun.
My training started with my dad growing up. I was taught not to touch a gun. But I’ve seen people buy guns, and I’ve sold guns to people, that had no clue how to load them or anything else. So they ought to have instructions on how to safely load one, unload one, and carry one. Whether it’s paid for, or some other way – they ought to be trained, some way, somehow.
I’m a little bit hesitant to have a background check on individual guns, because to be honest with you, I don’t trust the government enough to where they wouldn’t come in and tax everything – any guns that you’ve got. And if they know exactly what you’ve got, then they can come and confiscate them. So I’ve got really mixed emotions about that. If you inherit a gun then I don’t believe the government ought to be able to tax you on that. If you’re buying and selling for a living, then yeah, sure.
Would it help with safety concerns? Yeah, it probably would.
I sell rifles and pistols to the general public. I’ve been doing it for about six months. I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and then moved to southeastern Missouri in 1988.
I do have guns at home – all kinds of guns, pistols and long guns. I use them for hunting. I think having guns in the home is a personal choice for each individual, and each family member.
I use an AR-15 for hunting and shooting – I hunt deer. I also have a .22 that’s based on an AR-15 platform that I use to hunt squirrels and rabbits. AR stands for Armalite Rifle, the inventor of this style of platform. There’s no such thing as an assault rifle. The term assault came up in 1994, from Diane Feinstein, to get the Weapons Ban passed. The military has one weapon that has “assault” in its name, and it’s a rocket launcher. There are no weapons on my table that are called assault rifles. AR-15s are called semi-automatic firearms. [Read ahistory of Armalite Rifle, including its development of the AR-15, here.]
There’s no such thing as an assault weapon. Anything can be classified as an assault weapon. If I pick up a soda bottle and I beat you with it, it becomes an assault bottle. So people use these words without knowing – the mainstream media, and the news – it’s sensationalized, because that’s what draws people in. It creates an audible gasp from the people that don’t know.
Automatic rifles have been heavily regulated since 1986 – you cannot just go and buy those. They are heavily regulated by the government as it is. So the fact that people interchange the words for assault rifles, machine guns and automatic rifles shows the lack of intelligence on their part, because they want to talk about stuff about which they have no clue.
You ought to ask the government [about background checks]. For the last eight years they’ve dropped the ball on keeping people informed. Terrorists just use different methods. Timothy McVeigh used ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel. He killed 168 people, including  kids, but you don’t hear about that on the news. Because it’s not sensationalistic enough. They used an airplane full of jet fuel to take out a building – two buildings, actually – and kill 3,000 people, but you can still go buy diesel fuel, you can still go buy fertilizer, you can still board a plane.
I take my daughters out to go hunting and go shooting. One of the first things that we did was go over gun safety. That was two hours before we ever did anything. Do I think that gun safety is paramount? Absolutely, I do. They’re not play toys – people need to realize that. They’re always as dangerous as you make them. I’ve never seen a gun automatically just go off and kill people. Just like you’re not going to see a car start up and run through a festival like you did in France. But I can go up to the truck stop here and spend $100,000 and buy a truck that weighs 40,000 lbs. That’s just one point. I’m a retired police officer, and the average response time is somewhere in the neighborhood of four minutes. A lot can happen in four minutes.
Everybody says that it’s easy to buy a gun. It’s not easy to buy a gun. There are all kinds of forms that you have to fill out. You have to get run through the background check, through the FBI. I don’t do private sales. But they talk about private sales where you don’t know who you’re selling it to, right? Well, what happens if you sell your car to somebody that has 12 DWIs and is not supposed to be driving? And what you didn’t know is that they just got out of prison for vehicular homicide, and you just sold them a car. Next thing you know, they go out and have an accident and kill three people. It’s one of those things. There’s nothing in this world that is going to make anything perfect. There are no perfect answers to anything. They say, “Hey, make it illegal so nobody can get it.” Works wonders with drugs, doesn’t it?
But you have to mitigate. Do I think that background checks need to be a little more stringent? Absolutely not. Departments all need to start sharing the information the way they should be. Mental health, criminal justice – all of those need to be reported the way that they should, and then we won’t have the problems that we do. As far as expanding background checks – it’s not going to do any good. We need to fix what we have now as opposed to regulating more. More regulations aren’t going to help.
I didn’t buy anything today, but my husband bought something.
I do have guns at home – yes. I’m really not sure what kind mine is, because my dad gave it to me when I was little. He gave it to me when I was in my 20s, because he bought it the year I was born – ‘69.
I hunt deer. We have rifles – deer rifles, pistols. I’m not sure what else my husband has. But it’s a lot of different guns.
I don’t think they should regulate gun ownership. It should be a right to have one if you want one. There is gun violence, but if criminals want to get ahold of guns, they’re going to get ahold of guns – no matter how they regulate them.
We do have children at home – two of them will be 15 tomorrow and one’s 11. The guns are locked up. They also deer hunt, but they don’t go without an adult.
I sell high-capacity drum magazines for AR-15s, AK – Basically, if it’s out there, we can find it. It’s been too long to count – I’ve been doing the shows for about a year, but altogether it’s been six or seven years. A long time. I can’t even keep up with how long it’s been. My boyfriend and I went to a gun show at one particular time and they didn’t have what we were looking for. Now, I can honestly say we are probably the only people who have the range of high-capacity drums that we have.
I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I have a Glock – I don’t recall the number, but it’s one of the smaller ones – and then I have a revolver. It’s little, and pink – it’s cute.
I can’t hunt because I don’t like the whole shooting animals thing – I couldn’t do that. No. It’s for safety – home invasion and stuff like that, safety-wise. But no sport shooting. There’s one in the car and one at home, or they’re both at home. It makes me feel a lot safer compared to going out there without one. I guess I’ve had one for so long, that it wouldn’t feel right to just go out there – I would say naked. If you just have that one opportunity, and you have to protect yourself by any means, I don’t know karate or any other self-defense. I doubt as women that we would have to use it. But you still need it, just in case.
I have no feelings toward [stricter gun control] at all. Business-wise, yes, it would impact me. But honestly, I don’t see it happening. Nope – I just don’t see it happening.