A Whole Building Full of Freedom

The Uniquely American
Phenomenon Of The Gun Show

By Will Dabbs, MD

My buddies and I looked forward to its arrival in a manner approaching unseemly. We counted down the days, hoarded our pennies and plotted out our strategies well in advance. The event was an hour’s drive from home so the trek to and from provided superb fellowship.

Tradition held we would each buy an antique MRE from a surplus vendor for lunch and eat them together in a lonely corner of the venue while scheming out our conquests. Tripping over some unexpected treasure, horse trading to swap something you could live without in favor of something you simply must have, and the thrill of finally landing the Big Score all conspired to make the annual trip to the gun show a surreal, almost magical time.

Gun shows are demonized by the uninitiated like so much of this quirky lifestyle of ours. The political left would have us believe gun shows are the sole purview of lurid gangsters and the merchants of death who provide them their diabolical tools. After a literal lifetime of patronizing gun shows, I have found reality to bear no similarity to the fiction.

Gun nerds of both genders are almost unexceptionally friendly, patriotic, responsible Americans. Ours is the most regulated sport in America so it behooves us to mind the rules. Given the opportunities to establish and renew friendships while expanding my gun collection, there is little I enjoy more than hitting the local gun show in pursuit of something cool, black and oily.

I had been married less than 6 months, and my bride slaved away as a high school computer science teacher while I wrapped up the last year of my Mechanical Engineering curriculum. We barely kept body and soul entwined on $18k per year. I hit the show with a Franchi LAW-12 shotgun I could do without and $400 in cash collected over several Christmas/birthday cycles.

The M1A I saw sported a heavy barrel along with a gorgeous oiled walnut stock and looked cooler than Elvis in his prime. These rifles have never been cheap, but this one could be mine for my Franchi shotgun and $700. In a moment of truly breathtaking stupidity I put the balance on the plastic and left with the scoped sniper rifle of my dreams.

My wife has never cared much for firearms but she could tell at a glance that my gleaming new smoke pole was worth more than a beat up old shotgun and $400. I sheepishly admitted my error and cast myself on her mercy. To her immense credit she neither applied violence nor divorced me though either option would have been legally justified, at least down here in the Deep South where we lived. Now 29 years later I still have both the beautiful woman and the smoking hot rifle, so I guess it wasn’t such a bad deal after all.

Each of my boys earned their own money to buy themselves handguns, and the trip to the gun show to pick them out was always a treat. At the show most everything was represented, so it allowed us to try out the particulars. One son opted for a Steyr M9 because it fit him well, looked like a Star Wars blaster and was reliably different from most everything else.

My other man-child started out with a black powder revolver before trading up through the years to a .22-caliber Charter Arms Explorer pistol, a Hungarian Hi-Power clone and eventually a Walther P99. James Bond brandished one at the time so it seemed a reasonable enough impetus. The P99 keeps him company nowadays when he has to transit the sorts of places where the Wild Things roam.

We three of us pooled our resources to land a beautiful Colt Frontier Scout .22 revolver as well as a WWII M1 Carbine. When the kids are fully settled in their own places I’ll pass these guns on to them. The memories of huddling in the corner and scheming out such stuff with my boys are some of my fondest. I do miss them so.

Behold the face of a home wrecker. This seductive Springfield Armory M1A, now
adorned in 21st century Archangel garb, very nearly cost Will his marriage.
Fortunately his bride is as patient as she is gorgeous and they weathered
the storm intact.

This combat veteran K43 came with the strange story about spending a
couple of decades in the bottom of a boy’s toy box before it joined
Will’s collection via an impulsive gun show purchase.

War Stories

Mel Gibson’s character in the 1987 action classic Lethal Weapon sold me a Beretta 92F. Uncle Sam was just swapping their old 1911 warhorses out for this amazing new Wondernine and I just had to have one of my own. I needed it so badly I traded a .357 Magnum Desert Eagle even for the new gun. What an idiot! Now cop-surplus Berettas are reasonably priced and available while Desert Eagles cost more than my first car.

The German K43 scoped carbine sat battered among sundry used deer rifles, high mileage revolvers and the obligatory beef jerky. The gun was mechanically sound but sported the obvious stigmata of combat. The owner made me a decent offer and the K43 was mine. The gun’s story was worth the purchase price.

A local veteran had brought the old sniper rifle home from Europe after World War II. The gun was unspoiled at the time and he intended to use it to hunt deer. After a cursory search he gave up on finding proper ammunition for the surplus Nazi rifle and did what any Southern dad at the time would have done. He gave it to his 10-year-old son as a plaything.

These were different times and the fully operational German sniper rifle accompanied the man’s son on missions of imaginary daring and valor all around the neighborhood. The scuffs and dings it subsequently incurred came not from hard combat use but rather from a few decades resting in the bottom of a toy box. Along the way the original scope, magazine and front sight hood were lost. Oddly, the cleaning rod and scope mount remained intact. I found the scope mounting straps tucked inside the buttstock cleaning compartment. A little searching on Gunbroker found me the parts I needed to restore the rifle to its former glory.

I have dozens such stories. I hand-selected my Mosin-Nagant M91 out of a shipping crate filled with 30 or more. My Norinco AKM underfolder set me back $325 new in the box with three magazines, a cleaning kit and a bayonet back in 1984. A new .44 Magnum Desert Eagle, acquired to fill the space left by the old one foolishly frittered away, was a trade for an AK pistol and a little change. A tricked-out Ruger 10/22 along with some cash became a vet bring-back P08 Luger. Each quest was unique.

“Close the Gun Show Loophole” seems to be the rallying cry of the anti-gun mob this week. While we all want to make life difficult for criminals, a new law not affecting them, but making me a felon for giving my dad a pistol for Christmas doesn’t make a lot of sense. As is always the case, these laws seem only to affect the law-abiding.

This Norinco Chicom Type 56 folder set Will back $325 NIB at a gun show back
in 1984. He picked it out of a stack of maybe half a dozen just like it.
The gun came with three magazines, a cleaning kit, a sling and a bayonet.
Who could have imagined then it would attain today’s exalted collector’s status?

There are those whose livelihood stems from travelling the country hither and yon peddling their wares at gun shows. These professional gun show dealers frequently pull utility trailers to transport their inventory. One such caravan I spied at a show had “Yet Another Load of Fine Snakes” stenciled artistically across its side. This comical bit of fiction was intended to dissuade ne’er-do-wells from becoming unduly inquisitive.

I recall spotting a shapely lass in a leather bikini top once many years ago at a show in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s the sort of thing a 16-year-old boy remembers. Nowadays, however, gun shows are unexceptionally wholesome, family-centered events.

The gun show is a uniquely American phenomenon. We free citizens can gather periodically to swap lies, expand our collections and generally contribute to the national economy. Nobody gets rich but everybody has a good time. I will admit I frequently take such stuff for granted.

A friend inadvertently made it to India on a mission trip last year with a 50-round box of .22 LR ammunition in her backpack. Her husband had used the bag earlier and forgotten to remove the ammo and the TSA missed it outbound. Indian security made the discovery as she was loading up to return. The unfortunate woman ended up in an Indian jail. It took a lot of money and a few greased palms to get her home. Freedoms lost always taste the most bitter.

Ours is the most extraordinary nation in all of human history. The freedom we manifest sparks innovation and industry on a scale previously unimagined. However, this precious gift is fleeting and delicate. A man much greater than myself once opined the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. Ours is indeed a costly heritage. In few pursuits is American freedom made more purely manifest than in the gun show.

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