ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: GUN CONTROL
Glocks, stocks and barrels
Ohio gun show crowds secure, courteous
CINCINNATI - As I waited in the parking lot for the doors to open at 9 a.m., two guys pulled up next to me in a black Chevy pickup.
They wore camo ball caps, jeans and sweat shirts. Nothing unusual there - until one slung a rifle over his shoulder as they headed for the door.
Anywhere else, people would grab their cell phones and dial 911. But this was the Pro Gun Show. Dozens of guys were toting shotguns, rifles and handguns, not to mention swords and knives.
It looked like a not-very-well regulated militia from Red Dawn, reporting for duty.
As the line spilled out the door, each gun was carefully inspected and tagged to certify that it was unloaded, and safe to sell or swap.
"No cameras," said a sign. It occurred to me that I could get kicked out for carrying a Kodak, but nobody would blink if I flashed a Glock. Apparently, gun owners and dealers value their privacy.
I'd heard ads for these shows and always wondered about them. So when a guy in my concealed-carry class last month gave me a flier, I decided to find out what a gun show looked like. The pictures I couldn't take would show:
• It looked sort of like a craft show. There were leather belts, German helmets from World War II, polished stones, wood carvings and special handbags for women who carry guns.
• It looked sort of like an Army surplus store, with bayonets, canteens, Samurai swords and even a box of disarmed grenades that could make panic-inducing paperweights.
• It looked sort of like a convention of hunters, with lots of bright orange and camouflage.
• But mostly it looked like a gun show.
Once I got past the surprise of so many firearms in public, it was quite interesting. There were John Wayne Winchesters, Davey Crockett muzzleloaders and Dirty Harry magnums. A retired cop showed me his WWII Colt Commando .38 in vintage condition: $425.
Nearby, new Glocks sold for $490. And for guys who need to have the biggest gun in the woods, there was a .50-caliber Barrett rifle for $11,500, with cartridges as long as ballpoint pens and as thick as broom handles.
Long tables displayed teddy bears, targets and nearly every kind of ammo known to mankind.
And everywhere in the crowded aisles, men talked guns; buying, trading, selling or just swapping bullet points about magazines, holsters and ammo.
They all were very polite - as people are prone to be around so many guns.
But there was one cringe-inducing item: a T-shirt that said, "One Person Can Change the World" on the front. Then on the back: "With Enough Ammunition."
Not the best message after five college kids were killed by a deranged campus shooter at Northern Illinois University.
And that's a shame, because the gun owners I've met are among the nicest, most helpful, most law-abiding people anywhere. They're no scarier than collectors who hoard coins, baseball cards or Beanie Babies.
In fact, gun shows are probably safer. Even the world's dumbest criminal is not stupid enough to hold up a gun show packed with armed NRA members.
The rules are stricter, too.
Private gun owners can sell guns to anyone of legal age (18 for long guns, 21 for handguns), without federal regulations or paperwork. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence wants to close that "gun-show loophole."
But the so-called loophole applies anywhere. You don't need paperwork to sell a gun to your neighbor. And you don't need a gun show to buy a "nine" in Over-The-Rhine.
The notion that gun-control laws can disarm lawbreakers is so irrational there's no place to even begin that conversation. And when I see media stories about outlawing "assault weapons," I just wince.
I'm not a gun expert. But I'm not that ignorant.
Yes, there were guns made to look like military M-16s at the gun show. But they're not automatic. Real automatics are regulated almost to extinction. The ones on sale at the show are no more deadly than any semi-automatic varmint gun. They might look scary. But a pellet gun in the wrong hands is scary enough.
The truth is, there's probably no way to keep mentally ill or dangerous people from getting a gun. But gun shows do their best.
Gun-show dealers do instant, while-you-wait federal background checks. If there's a wrong answer to any of the 15 questions about mental health, criminal records, drug use and citizenship, the buyer has to walk away empty-handed or find a private seller.
Gun-phobics refuse to believe it, but researcher and author John Lott says state after state has proved that concealed-carry laws reduce shootings by putting more guns in the hands of law-abiding people. The title of his book says it all: "More Guns, Less Crime."
His comment on recent shootings: "At some point the news media might begin to mention the one common feature of these attacks: They keep occurring in gun-free zones. Gun-free zones are a magnet for these attacks."
I guess that gun show might have been the safest place in Ohio.
Peter Bronson is a columnist with the Cincinnati Enquirer and former editorial page editor of the Tucson Citizen. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org