“There’s a gun for everyone.” That’s what Nick assured me after he announced that we, along with a few friends from his class, would be attending a gun show.
I had reservations about going because guns aren’t exactly my thing. I didn’t share Nick’s sentiment. Unless by “everyone” he meant, “James Bond.” While Georgia is the South and maybe significantly more “conservative” than northern states, I come from a liberal part of the state. I went to art school. Moreover, my dad’s sister was killed in a gun-related accident. Guns make me uncomfortable. And Nick was asking me to willingly enter a warehouse filled with them. The fact that I went shows how much I trust this guy. But I also felt like I had to go. I told myself it was a Texas Cultural Event. Like The Rodeo or The Texas State Fair. Wasn’t it? I envisioned playing David Foster Wallace for the afternoon and then writing up some sort of essay about it. A brief foray with The Natives. Yes, I think I would attend The Gun Show.
In my two months living here, no event we’ve attended has been all that crowded. Save for the Pearl’s Saturday Farmers Market. Clearly, fresh vegetables weren’t the only hot ticket in this city. This Gun Show was packed. Or rather, the Saxet Trade Show was packed. Per the website, it’s a “one-stop shop” for guns, ammo, knifes and other weapon-related paraphernalia. Located in a large conference center off 410, the Saxet Gun Show must have attracted every gun enthusiast the county. Cars (mostly trucks, admittedly) were streaming into the complex. Some stopped at a red tent to pay for parking.
On the side of what I could only guess was the convention center, a yellow tarp with an inverted Texas logo and “Saxet Gun Show” stenciled across it rippled in the wind. It’s a stretch, but apparently when you draw Texas backwards it gives the vague impression of a gun holster. Convienent.
Next to the conference center an empty strip mall with a large sign read: “The Door”. Apparently, “The Door” led to some sort of Christian church or organization. The Door’s parking lot was carless, but many signs posted throughout the convention center complex warned, “Do not park at The Door.” Since we didn’t want to pay for parking, or get into trouble with The Door, we had to squeeze our Beetle between two F-250s and just inches away from a no parking sign. A few trucks sneaked into the nearby IHOP parking lot.
When we got to The Gun Show entrance, an NRA tent promised perks if you joined during the event. In the corridor of the conference center, a line had formed and shuffled forward as a blonde woman in a snug black t-shirt took up the $5 admission fee and stamped hands.
After a moment of standing in line, I realized that there were three lines. One for the stamp, one for the ATM, and another one. Near the admission line where Nick and I stood, a man in a denim jacket inspected a hunting rifle at a long folding table while other men stood waiting, rifles in hand. These men were checking in their rifles. My stomach tightened. They allow guns in the gun show. I don’t know why I was surprised. They allow pets in PetSmart, don’t they?
The convention center smelled like spiced nuts. Probably from the stand selling red and white paper bags of the confectionary nuts for the hungry shoppers at $2.95 a pop. Maybe it was the smell, but the whole event reminded me of a state fair or a flea market. Why hadn’t they made a musical about a gun show yet?
The State Fair of Guns: endless rows of tables and booths. Only instead of local farmers selling honey and homemade candles, men and women dressed in camo and Levis were selling everything from Glocks to Civil War Era rifles. Occasionally, I spied a wife setting up a Scentsy booth or few teenage girls gathered around sterling silver necklaces laid out in black velvet trays. But it was mostly guns and knives.
And of course there were t-shirts and bumper stickers for gun enthusiasts. One t-shirt I saw said something about “Guns and Starbucks.” It had a knock-off Starbucks logo printed across the chest. Maybe it was a band? Like Guns ‘N’ Roses? I pictured a firing range where people shot Starbucks cups instead of cans. Someone in aviators jamming on the bass in the background.
Probably the most horrifying of them all was a bumper sticker sold at several of the booths. “I voted for Trump and I carry a gun.” I blinked hard and tried to imagine what that might mean. In another universe, I suppose it was meant be funny. A dark joke.
I looked out at the rows of guns and patrons who moved like molasses through the aisles. Picking up guns. Turning them over. Feeling the weight of the unloaded weapon in their hands. An older man shuffled past me. He wore a military-issue backpack with a makeshift yardstick sign sticking out of the back pocket. A piece of white paper listing the guns he was selling was taped to the stick. I imagined they were real bargains.
For everyone woman in leggings and a vest I spied in the crowd, I saw three men in cowboy hats. At one point Nick and I lost our friends in the crowd. “Do you see them?” Nick said, standing on his tiptoes.
I scanned the masses. I tried hard to look at faces. I did. But the only thing I remembered was that Nick’s friend was wearing a camo baseball cap. When I looked up, more than a dozen camo hats bobbed in the crowd—a funhouse mirror—it was impossible to tell who was who. I’d fallen down the rabbit hole. This was Texasland.
The Gun Show was a fantasy world of extremes. Everyone there seemed to fit the “stereotypical” Texan I’d drawn up in my head. A man in a Stetson and cowboy boots with a gun on his hip. Teenagers who wore hunting gear to school. Anyone who worshiped John Wayne, voted for Trump, and probably knew how to ride a horse. But the truth is, these extremes were something I rarely saw on San Antonio streets. Texas is too big to fit in a box.
But more than any other time since I got to San Antonio, I felt like a tourist. A true outsider. I didn’t understand The Gun Show. I didn’t understand people who liked guns enough to attend a festival like this. I couldn’t relate.
“Don’t you want a gun?” Nick whispered in my ear. He likes to heckle me.
I’d given up on looking for his friend. I shook my head; my eyes had landed on another booth selling the Trump sticker. “I’m not Lara Croft. No one is threatening my life on a regular basis,” I replied. “I don’t see the point.”
I thought about all the other things I’d rather be doing. A craft brew fest. A coffee convention. A performance art exhibition. What had I gotten myself into? I’d stumbled into this gun show the way a loud-mouthed tourist might stumble into sacred temple in Bali. I hadn’t realized the seriousness of what I’d come to see. I was out of my depth. In my head, I scoffed at Nick’s earlier declaration: “There’s a gun for everyone.” Guns—this show wasn’t for me.
Turning away from the Trump booth, something caught my eye at another table. Something teal poking out from all the black, chrome, and camouflage that consumed the room. If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with the color teal. All my electronics and appliances are teal.
At closer inspection, I realized that what I saw was a gun. It was small, chrome, and teal with pearl overlay on the handle. A Kimber Special Edition for about $695. Nonetheless, it was the most beautiful gun I’d ever seen.
This gun knocked me on my ass (figuratively speaking, of course). Because I thought guns were supposed to be cold, gritty, and masculine. Accessories for characters in action movies. But this Kimber was gorgeous. Something to place in a shadow box and blog about on Pinterest. An exhibit piece in a vintage museum next to pastel 1950s refrigerators and mixers.
I couldn’t explain why. But I wanted this gun. Not to shoot cans or small animals. Just to have.
Don’t worry. This didn’t instantly transform me into a John Wayne-worshipping Trump supporter. But I did briefly entertain the fantasy of taking out a home intruder while mixing up a cake in the kitchen. When the window burst open, I’d whip my teal pistol from the pocket of my matching floral apron and shoot the intruder right in his nylon-stockinged face.
We left the gun show empty-handed and headed to lunch with our friends. But I couldn’t get the teal Kimber out of my head. Was it possible that no matter how lost I felt in the extremes of Texasland that I’d found some common ground? Something I could relate to, even if I didn’t agree with most of the gun show folks’ ideology? Before I saw the Kimber, I didn’t consider myself “the kind of person” who would appreciate a gun. And I’ll probably never be interested in using a gun. But Nick was right. There is a gun for everyone.