The first Easter I spent in San Diego, I found myself at a brunch populated by military and law enforcement types—friends of friends, that kind of situation. I arrived a little before noon, expecting a kitchen abuzz with brunch-appropriate baking, frying and mimosa-ing. Instead, I found the aftermath of a rager, a capitalized Morning After of the highest order. Bodies lay prostrate on any surface that could cradle their aching heads. My eyes fell on a chrome pistol resting on the table. A Desert Eagle.
Now, I spent my high school and college years making short, often violent movies. My friends and I shared a love of well-crafted action scenes and the narrative quickness that using a gun could achieve. For these movies, we had replicas that shot prop bullets, but they looked and felt staggeringly real and would assuredly get us arrested (or shot) if brandished in public. The Desert Eagle sitting on that table looked exactly like one of those movie replicas. Suffused with a mix of familiarity and nostalgia, I reached out to touch it.
"Hold on," a hung-over fellow said. "Let me unload that for you."
In my opinion, going hard in the paint to celebrate Jesus' resurrection is fine; that they'd been doing it with a loaded wrist-rocket powerful enough to send Him back, however, was terrifying.
He unloaded the clip and handed the gun back to me. "Feels like having two dicks, huh?" he said.
Feels like having two dicks, huh?
I'm thinking about that moment as I exit the highway, onto Jimmy Durante Boulevard to attend the Crossroads of the West gun show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. My car is the only non-pickup vehicle in the left-turn lane.
The date is Sunday, Dec. 14, marking the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Two years prior, we witnessed the greatest taboo that our collective conscious could imagine: Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six faculty members. The fact that Crossroads of the West has not permanently X'd out this anniversary to hold its gun shows speaks loudly of its malicious callousness or stupidity. Probably both. That Del Mar Fairgrounds would allow such an event to go down on this date is also disgusting and shameful.
I walk along a pathway toward the entrance. I've arrived early, but birds earlier than I have already made their purchases. We cross paths as they leave, and I can't help but look at the black cases they hold.
The black cases shake me more than anything else I see today. I don't know why. I think of the term "responsible gun owner," an oxymoron if there ever was one. I'm sure that Lanza's mom considered herself a responsible gun owner, but to use Anton Chekov's oft-quoted principle of drama: "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off." These guys and their black cases may never get to the third chapter, but they've established the plot.
Inside the exhibit hall, with its lack of décor and concrete floors, feels oppressive, like a military barracks. A T-shirt stand greets me at the entrance, selling shirts advertising the wearer's intent to murder: "DADD: Dads Against Daughters Dating" and "Brothers Against Sisters Dating Anyone." As an effort to counter-balance the gender-misrepresentation, Charter Arms makes lavender- and pink-colored pistols. You know, for ladies!
They just made everyone say the pledge of allegiance. #imatagunshow— Ryan Bradford (@theryanbradford) December 14, 2014
A group gathers around a fresh-faced kid selling Glocks and Berettas. People reach over each other just to brush their fingers against the black guns. Their caressing seems vaguely sexual—like, ungg.
The gun-show crowd is not an attractive crowd. Scared White Man stereotypes abound—everyone from the Republican grandfather to the Duck Dynasty look-alike. (Oops, that autocorrected from "fuck-faced lunatic." Whatever.) A grizzled bro complains that the gun show is "not as big as last year" like he's straight-up kicking rocks. Nobody talks about Sandy Hook; everyone wishes each other a Merry Christmas.
There are literally no attractive ppl here. Instead of fuck/marry/kill, they play kill/kill/kill #imatagunshow— Ryan Bradford (@theryanbradford) December 14, 2014
I think about the term "protection," as it provides the basis for the Second Amendment, which—like craft-beer bros who refuse to wear decently sleeved shirts but can rattle off the exact IBUs of obscure IPAs—evokes a savant-like knowledge of the Constitution in even the most mouth-breathy gun advocate. The idea that any of these people are here for protection is absurd, because guns are inherently aggressive; their function is not preventative. Body armor is protection. Insurance is protection. Condoms are protection. And unless you're actually shooting at—and hitting—bullets being fired at you, I don't buy that guns are protection.
The vendors start busting out the Tasers ("Great stocking stuffers!"), and the crackling, rattlesnake sounds they produce echo throughout the hall. Each crackle sets me on edge. I retreat to the food court. It's not even 11 a.m., but I need a drink. I pay nearly $10 for a Newcastle—undoubtedly my punishment for picking the beer of Red Coats.
Holla at cha boy if yer also drinking beer at a gun show at 10 a.m. pic.twitter.com/QP78CM0TCO— Ryan Bradford (@theryanbradford) December 14, 2014
Ryan Bradford: normalizing the am beers at gun shows since circa 2014. #imatagunshow— Ryan Bradford (@theryanbradford) December 14, 2014
I drink my beer and the Easter memory comes back. As gross as it is, I have respect for the "two dicks" comment—at least it feels honest, more so than "protection" or "responsibility." Gun ownership satisfies a vulgar attraction and remedies an inadequacy.
And then I wonder how many dicks Adam Lanza had to have had to blow away a bunch of school kids. A hundred? I consider the number for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and for Seung-Hui Cho, Darren Wilson, Elliot Rodger, Jared Lee Loughner, James Eagan Holmes, Michael Page, George Zimmerman and the countless others with infinitely more dicks than me.
Ryan is the author of Horror Business. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at@theryanbradford