As a Southerner, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my first gun show

‘Folks who came to the gun show without a gun were all labeled ‘knife”

As someone who has been raised in traditionally conservative areas but now goes to school in a metropolitan, liberal city, I have political opinions that fall on both sides of the spectrum. I tend to be liberal socially, but economically conservative.

However, an issue I haven’t fully committed to having one strong opinion on yet is gun control. I’m always open to hearing arguments from people who stand on both sides of the issue.

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Growing up, I’d shoot beer cans with BB guns with family and friends, but that was the limited extent to which I had been exposed to guns. Yet, I’ve always had a natural curiosity about them. Going to a shooting range and going to a gun show are two items on my bucket list – the latter of which I had the opportunity to do this past weekend.

I wasn’t sure how well I’d fit into the crowd at the Jacksonville Gun Show, but I decided to take a chance and see if I’d enjoy it anyway. My friend Megan, a 20-year-old Florida State University student from St. Johns, Florida, and I drove out there around noon.

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The first thing we did was pay a modest $8 entry fee. This was reasonable, as the gun show was quite large and hundreds were in attendance.

We got a laugh out of the entry stamp on our hands, too – folks who came to the gun show without a gun were all labeled “knife.”

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The event was held Saturday and Sunday at the Greater Jacksonville Fair & Expo Center. Upon entry, we stood in a room full of people spanning wall to wall.

Sellers set up shop at individual tables, displaying guns, knives, ammunition, holsters, cases, tasers, mace, accessories and more.

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Megan had more experience with guns growing up than I did, so I asked what the significance of shooting was to her.

“My family and I will go shooting on my sister’s property now and then,” Megan said. “It turns into a family outing. We take turns shooting at targets or bottles, and we’ll become progressively more competitive as we go through rounds. My sister started us on pretending we’re shooting at zombies. If ammo wasn’t so expensive, we could go out more, but we have fun with it every time we do.”

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While looking at the displays, I asked Judy, a woman selling ammunition, what the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) meant to her personally.

“[The Second Amendment gives me the ability to] protect myself, my family and my friends,” she said. “I stand up for the rights granted by the entire Constitution, not just that one amendment.”

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While we looked around, we noticed that the crowd kept to themselves. I wasn’t approached by anyone wanting to sell me anything unless I was already looking at their items, and no one spoke with us unless we’d asked them questions directly. I liked this approach better, to be honest, as I’m not a fan of being pressured to buy anything.

Conversely, however, it was difficult to speak to people. About three or four people declined to be interviewed and the two women who accepted asked not to have their picture taken.

At one point, I even got a suspicious stare from a police officer while taking pictures. I’d made sure there were no signs in the building that said photography wasn’t allowed, but I still noticed side glances from people as I took photos.

It was clear that the gun show crowd was very interested in personal safety and privacy, which made sense.

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While Megan and I got a lot of laughs out of some of the accessories sold at the gun show, some of them pushed the envelope a bit too far. Two bumper stickers (not pictured) read: “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t get killed,” and “If you don’t speak English, go back to your backward-ass country.”

Needless to say, it was shocking to see messages like this being proudly displayed. However, I was also pleased to observe that I didn’t see anyone buying the particularly offensive stickers.

I’ll admit, though, I bought myself one sticker that read, “I’d rather be killing zombies.”

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Some of the accessories were lighter and more humorous, like the “guns and coffee” shirt I almost bought.

Curious as to how the current issues surrounding gun control had affected the dealers’ bottom lines, I asked May, a woman selling ammunition and holsters, how sales had held up.

“[Sales] are much better than what they are normally. The last few times [the show has been held], there’s been way more people here. If Donald Trump’s elected, [sales] will go way, way down … but if Clinton is elected, visitors will go way up,” she laughed. “But that’s what you could guess, isn’t it?”

May and a second woman explained to me that, as the push for laws restricting gun ownership increases, people purchase more guns because they’re afraid they might not have the opportunity to do so in the future. I originally hadn’t realized that the issue would have that effect, as I would have predicted public opinion would turn against guns, leading people to buy less.

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Of course, I had to get myself a souvenir – a throwing star.

Ultimately, I enjoyed myself at the gun show. I definitely didn’t completely fit in with the crowd, but there was diversity in both race and gender that I didn’t expect. While I have very limited knowledge about guns, I learned a lot from the visit and the dealers were always nearby to answer any questions I had.

The one resounding conclusion I reached was that people of all demographics at the gun show highly valued their safety and privacy. I realized that the lack of response from people I asked questions was a response in itself, demonstrating how the people at the gun show had very clear values. Privacy was essential.

Visitors and dealers alike kept to themselves, and I admire that just as much as if they’d all eagerly wanted to talk. It appeared that some of the people were a bit radical in their views, but overall, most people were just there to have a good time and purchase some supplies. I’m hoping to go to a shooting range next.

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