Order Arms

Why target gun shows?

Gun shows have changed over the last 40 years. They're bigger and they're more diverse in both offerings and attendance. They're not just for old white guys and a few wives anymore; there are a lot more young people, minorities and, particularly, women. (Those who are truly pro-choice understand that the caliber of the handgun a woman carries in her handbag is a matter strictly between her and her gun dealer in which government has no right to interfere.) Female gun ownership has skyrocketed recently, reflected by much higher numbers of lady NRA members--and officers. Tucson attorney Sandy Froman is currently the outfit's second vice-president.

There's also more stuff that has little or nothing to do with guns. And a helluva lot more items that are political. Like too many other things, gun ownership has become a political football and, as you'd expect, those who enjoy shooting sports defend themselves vociferously. It's not paranoid when they really are out to get ya!

Some are a little off the wall. In fact, the Birch Society stuff on the table over against the wall looked kinda moderate next to some of the more wacko stuff on a couple of other tables. And for those who turn up their noses, try to remember that it's all about F-R-E-E-D-O-M.

Chuck Bowden likes to remind us: "The First Amendment isn't about letting Girl Scouts sell cookies in the public park, it's about letting Nazis march in Skokie."

Franzi's corollary: courtesy of the rest of the Bill of Rights, rednecks get to sell obnoxious bumper stickers at gun shows held in community centers.

Both examples are about freedom and tolerance, two over-used and misunderstood words. Tolerance means that in a free society you can do stuff that some others find offensive, a lesson some don't understand, as the recent run of censorship on our college campuses indicates.

Many who would gut or eliminate individual gun ownership, known as the "anti-gun lobby," claim the issue is "safety," and mask their real intentions with lines about "common-sense measures." Like all zealots and too many politicians, they don't mind lying.

Were safety the real issue they would have broadened their agenda by now to include all forms of negative violence (as opposed to the positive violence of, say, football) and address its real causes instead of just hammering firearms. These folks often suffer from a malady known as "hoplophobia"--the irrational fear of inanimate objects and in some extreme cases the primitive attribution of volition to them.

I am constantly taken aback by the blind fear some people have of guns and the apoplexy caused them by the mere thought that someone other than a cop--or in Rosie O'Donnell's case, her hired security guard--may have one. "I hate guns" is as fundamentally illogical as "I hate chainsaws" or "Mercuries" or "lima beans." Holding the tool used to commit an act responsible for the action of the person who used it makes as little sense as blaming the 1997 Ford Taurus the drunk was driving when he ran into the school bus.

While there are many who advocate increased controls over gun ownership who don't fit this category, they are not driving the anti-gun agenda; the zealots are. And the reason so many gun owners oppose their even "moderate" proposals is the belief that, like in England and Australia, the "slippery slope" greased by those zealots leads to the total confiscation of private firearms and the negation of the right to self-defense. And an increase in violent crime, as has occurred in both nations after confiscation. The thugs are always armed, whatever the laws say.

The current squabble over what rules are used for selling firearms at gun shows held at the TCC is just one small skirmish in one of the many culture wars currently raging throughout America.

The issue is so narrow it borders on symbolic. Can gun collectors (a distinct minority of those selling guns at gun shows) continue to sell at gun shows held at the TCC without running the mandatory background checks required for licensed dealers? Is there any legal way under federal and state law for those background checks to occur? The vendors and collectors can find no way to comply even if they wished to do so. The issue clearly rests with the state.

The Tucson City Attorney's office, often the real power in City Hall, has told the City Council that they can close what anti-gun types and a sloppy media have dubbed the "gun show loophole" by inventing a loophole of their own to duck the state preemption law concerning firearms. They are led by the council's anti-gun wing--José Ibarra, Jerry Anderson and Carol West. West has declared she won't be "intimidated by the NRA." (West apparently has missed the basic principle of representative government--we get to pick her, she doesn't get to pick us. Public officials are supposed to get intimidated when they make bad calls; it's a civic duty.)

They're joined by Mayor Bob Walkup and Councilman Steve Leal (both of whom know better but are gutless) in supporting a method for private sellers to secure background checks by making it part of the contract to rent the facility, dumping it on the contractor, Pat McMann.

McMann who has promoted his Roadrunner Gun and Knife shows all over the west for years, objects because he can find no legal way to comply under current state or federal law.

The council's action will result in what many lack the integrity to admit is what they really want: elimination of gun shows at the TCC. Which is why the NRA--along with other gun rights groups such as BrassRoots and FACT--will support McMann, who is taking the issue to court.

The city's argument is arrogantly based on the premise that the TCC is city property and they can do with it what they wish. Not hardly.

Imagine an Arizona community has a majority of homophobes instead of hoplophobes on its council who decide that gay theater encourages unsafe sex and they will restrict the content of what can be shown--in the interest of public safety. How long you think that would last?

Damn, that freedom and tolerance thing again. And the Bill of Rights.

There are about 10 major gun shows held annually in the Tucson area. McMann does three at the TCC, while the Arizona Arms Association and other promoters stage the rest, usually at the Pima County Fairgrounds. In the old days, there were others at smaller locations such as the Sabbar Shrine, but they have folded because shows are now dominated by a few large dealers needing plenty of room.

Gun shows were originally set up for collectors only and banned dealers and the host of folks now peddling non-firearms-related merchandise. Tighter federal laws on defining "dealers" increased the need for more players and greater space.

Space is what it's all about. Gun shows now attract thousands of people, to the chagrin of the opponents. McMann could probably move his to the county fairgrounds, where there's a governing board with both less hoplophobia and less power to regulate, but that would cost him folks who wouldn't make the long drive. Some gun-rights advocates think he should move or even use tents (which would cause security problems) and deny the city of Tucson the revenue the shows provide. Others don't like being run off public property.

Moving the shows presents another irony. Everyone concedes TPD is understaffed. The revenue produced by McMann is more than enough to hire a full-time cop to pursue gun thefts and illegal purchases, a position that currently doesn't exist that really would make us a tad safer.

Gun shows are not the supply system for arming criminals. Too many cops there, mostly retired and off duty, who make the gang bangers and thugs too nervous--not to mention the federal ATF agents who are all over the place. And the folks who make up the legal "gun culture" are hardly into arming crips and bloods or any other bad guys.

Unless, of course, you consider them the bad guys.

Which is why we call it hoplophobia.