In her book Gun Show Nation, Joan Burbick argues that gun shows are about much more than guns. They are a political spectacle, a venue for the (often emotional) expression of individual and national identity. As I hope my previous 9 entries have demonstrated, the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting and exhibits are also about much, much, much, much, much more than guns. (See posts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine.)
At the same time, the NRA annual meeting and exhibits is (also) about guns. Guns as weapons, guns as tools, guns as sporting goods. The vast majority of the record 80,000+ people who attended the event visited the exhibits to look at guns and gun-related services and merchandise, not the political speeches at the NRA-ILA Leadership Summit, the “Stand and Fight” rally, or even the annual meeting of members.
Which is not to say that the exhibit area is a politics and ideology free zone. Far from it. But I can say from personal experience that one can attend and enjoy the exhibits without subscribing to the conservative or libertarian political philosophies, or Christian theology, promoted at the other events. A lifelong Democrat, I could still appreciate the technology that goes into a Cabot Guns 1911 pistol, the craftsmanship behind a $64,000 Krieghoff shotgun, the utility of a grip mounted laser, the tenacity of a wounded warrior, and the shooting ability of an Olympic gold medalist like Kim Rhode or champion shooter like Jessie Duff.
The broader, more long-term question is whether one can have the exhibits without the meetings, the guns without the politics? Without the political efforts of the National Rifle Association, how much of the country would end up like New York City or San Francisco?
The restrictions placed on guns and shooting in some parts of the country certainly give strength to the NRA’s claims of a slippery slope when the issue of “reasonable” regulations on firearms are raised. In this sense, those who want to engage in constructive dialogue are undermined in their efforts by those for whom no guns (or perhaps only commonly held muskets) are good guns.