POSTED ON FEBRUARY 4, 2009:
Tickets to the Gun Show
Trip to Expo Square yields ethnography of an unexamined subculture
Shoot Dang. I saw many guns. Big and small. Old and new. Sniper and handguns. Some were pointed in my direction. It was not necessarily cause for alarm until the memories of guns going off at past Tulsa gun shows crept into my mind.
Reading this column for the first time while awaiting your pizza? Great! Let's make it more frequent, shall we?
To help you get to know me I'm going to start by imparting knowledge on you. I'll also probably say something personal and potentially offensive in the coming paragraphs. No promises. After which, you can share a little with me.
To start (this is the imparting), not everyone in the world is alike. It's clear; and I'm reminded of it frequently. At times it's more apparent than others. Sunday, January 25 was one of those times.
In order to fulfill an opportunity I've mentioned that I want to experience, I attended the R.K. Gun Show in the Central Park Hall at Expo Square.
First of all, I have never owned a gun and I don't see a time when I will, although I understand others' desire to own one for protection or hunting purposes. They make me uncomfortable, and I prefer to avoid their company. I don't think that in itself makes me pro or anti-gun.
Because of my discomfort around guns, knives and really anything that can inflict pain, I was admittedly nervous about the show. I've shot a gun before, but, like many things in my life, I didn't share my peers' jubilation for it. My father never owned a weapon, so guns and such were never a part of my upbringing. Obviously, this is not the case for many Tulsans. To each his own, right?
Proceed with Caution
After paying the $10 entry fee, I made my way to the back of the hall in hopes of learning about weapons from the vendors. On the walk through, I saw many guns. Big and small. Old and new. Sniper and handguns. Some were pointed in my direction. It was not necessarily cause for alarm until the memories of guns going off at past Tulsa gun shows crept into my mind. Yes, they're infrequent and that's what the rational mind would suggest, but I was out of my element.
Accidents have happened and I didn't care to be on the receiving end, I thought. Odds are as good as winning the lottery, but one of those two scenarios is more favorable than the other. Much more favorable.
I asked a vendor if I could take photos. They were suspicious of me and therefore asked my motive. I explained and they obliged but not before asking me if I was pro or anti. I clarified that my goal was to be neither pro nor anti-gun; rather I was aiming (pun intended) to be neutral and illustrate my experience, as always.
After shooting (that's right) some photos of war memorabilia and various guns, I thought I'd ask some questions to gain a better understanding of the vending process. I learned that for one particular seller, weapons and military service was a central theme for many of his family members. As a result, collecting memorabilia became a hobby. Because of the man's love for history, a logical and pleasurable business segued into retirement -- traveling across Oklahoma and neighboring states from gun show to gun show.
I understood him. As a child I was infatuated with sports cards. Many of the adults I encountered made a business from their childhood hobbies. Coincidentally, this same gentleman also collected and sold sports cards. Each time I see a display I am transformed back to the 12th year of my life when I invested every spare penny I had for them.
Oh, a Barry Bonds' rookie. I bet that's worth some money, I thought.
After scoping out his cards, I asked if I could use the vendor's name for this article. I was hoping to ask additional questions to further gauge my understanding of Oklahoma's gun shows. Unfortunately, he declined, and instead of being primed for more information I recoiled into the corner. A muzzle had been placed over my curiosity.
I felt as though the crowd was onto me. I assumed I was sticking out like a sore thumb. My own paranoia grew. Had I been singled out? Liberal. Media. Elite. Surely not!
As I shuffled around the hall, I did what I could to stay inconspicuous. I saw collectible cars, pepper spray, stun guns, rare money and even Samurai swords. I did my best to appear engrossed.
The most expensive gun I found was priced to move at $9,990 -- an ERMA SR 100. I felt right at home at this booth. Not because I secretly wished I could hold the pricey firearm, but because, for once, I fit in. No one got too close because no one wanted to break a $9,990 weapon. Observe from afar. Oh, I know the feeling, guys!
After moving on and losing that bond with other shoppers, I felt again like a fraud. I thought about my father's love for spiced meats as I approached the beef jerky table.
"Young man, would you like to try some of my jerky?" the man asked. "Young man?" he repeated. Surely he isn't speaking to me, I thought. Now I have to politely decline. Who turns down free jerky?
He'd be onto me if I revealed the reasons for my refusal. Again, for those who don't know, I am a vegetarian. I was stuck. Additionally, I always hated spiced meats, but I avoided sharing this information. I thought it in my best interest. The man was a professional salesman and went through many reasons why I shouldn't miss this opportunity to try boar, kangaroo, caribou, elk and venison (which I've tried, for the record) jerky. I politely declined.
As I sat down to record some notes, I thought, you're cool, Isaac. Way to play it cool.
I wrote and observed the crowds: swaths of pleased customers sharing their love for firearms, knives and the like. Many knew one another. I understood very little content from their discussions, but I could feel their passion.
Strangers parted as I re-entered the center of the show. Knives now caught my eye and I quickly found the knife Heath Ledger used in The Dark Knight amid the abundance of blades. That is the knife. That's pretty cool, I thought.
I left shortly thereafter without buying anything.
During my youth, had I been interested in knives or had a family member in the service this could have been different for me, I thought. Today, it's just not where my interests lie. For some, it is. We're different. I'm okay with that.
Please send comments and column suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A26205