DENVER, Colorado _ It was family day at the gun show for Heather Alexander.
Alexander, a full-time mother and part-time hotel clerk, is from Aurora, the town near Denver where a gunman opened fire at a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie last summer.
At least once a month in Denver, hundreds of people like Alexander browse gun dealers’ tables.
On Friday, May 3, 2013, more than 1,000 miles from Denver, Sarah Palin took the stage in a t-shirt that read “Women Hunt” in pink lettering. She was prepared to give a speech at the NRA convention in Houston, Texas. Former Governor Palin spoke for approximately 12 minutes about her strong defense of the Second Amendment amongst outer principles she holds dear as she rallied the crowd to support the NRA. Though she had her own agenda, I couldn’t help but to imagine, Palin could have argued that for some Americans, guns mean control; until they don’t.
At a December vigil in Connecticut, just after a gunman killed 20 children and six staff members at a elementary school in that state, President Barack Obama asked: “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, Obama called on lawmakers to at least vote on proposals making it tougher to buy guns and banning military-style weapons. Gun control legislation was later defeated in the Senate, even though polls showed Americans were moved by the Connecticut shooting to become more supportive of gun control. Such and addition to Palin’s argument would have certainly added balance to her opinion.
It’s interesting that after November’s elections put Democrats like Obama in control of the Colorado legislature, gun control measures were passed in the state, including one requiring more background checks to ensure criminals and others barred from owning guns can’t buy them. Sales via the Internet, by mail or from unlicensed dealers now also require checks.
Before the new law was signed in March, only purchases from a federally licensed dealer or exhibitor at a gun show required checks – a gun show loophole was closed after a 1999 shooting near Denver in which two students at Columbine High School shot and killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves. These are the facts.
Another Colorado proposal that became law in the state in March limits ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.
Still, the day after the Newtown shootings, authorities in Colorado say they received a record number of requests for background checks that would-be gun owners need. For a glimpse at the opposition gun control advocates face, go shopping.
Everything from old Winchesters that evoked the Wild West and modern rifles marksmen use in competition was for sale at the show Alexander attended. An AR15, the semi-automatic weapon police say the Aurora shooter used, was selling for less than $600.
Alexander was with her husband and 1-year-old daughter. She and her husband, she said, buy guns often at such shows. They bought a gun safe after their daughter was born because, Alexander said, she’s read too many stories about children getting hurt or killed with their parents’ guns. She and her husband have at least 10 guns, she said, “for safety, mostly.”
“We have a family, so that’s important to us. And it’s a freedom, so, why not take advantage of it?”
On the surface, the mood at the show was like a Saturday morning anywhere in middle America. The show was in a hangar-like building that hosts antique fairs and comic book conventions as often as gun shows. U.S. flags were a major decorative motif, in two basic sizes, large and larger. Fathers in shorts and flip-flops pushed strollers.
A father, pointing to a light machine gun in a display case, could be overheard telling his teen-age son, “It’s fun to shoot. You can’t kill anything with it, but it’s fun to shoot.”
There were hints of a fearfulness that may explain why someone like Alexander believes she needs a gun to defend herself, even though, she said, she’s never been threatened or attacked.
A book stall offered guides predicting that when the government fails and social order breaks down, only those who can fend for and defend themselves will survive. A bumper sticker at one stall declared: “Speak English. Or go back to the sorry-ass country you came from.”
It’s the prickly paranoia of a world power that worries it is slipping. Demagogues flourish in such an environment. More mainstream politicians tread carefully.
BW Garrett, a Denver engineer who bought his 15-year-old son to the gun show, said he fears gun control laws are slowly closing in. He says that current laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable are enough, though he conceded enforcement can fall short.
Garrett says he hunts, and grew up shooting in competitions. He owns more guns than he can count, but unlike Alexander, his guns are not for protection.
“If I lived in a neighborhood and felt I need it for protection, I’m gonna move,” he said.
The early American lawmakers who drafted the Second Amendment, which became part of the Constitution along with the rest of the Bill of Rights in 1791, were wary of another government trying to control its citizens by depriving them of weapons, as the British had done to upstart colonists. Interestingly, this ground was somewhat covered in Palin’s speech.
The Second Amendment, in its entirety: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Some Americans today argue the right applies only to members of trained militia prepared to face a despotic ruler. But absolutists say no lawmakers anywhere in America should limit the right to bear arms.
Colorado was once a frontier state, and people there are still known for looking askance on government and its rules. But in the wake of the Aurora shootings, it isn’t unusual to hear even Coloradoans who support the right to bear arms questioning whether anyone really needs a semi-automatic weapon.
In 2008, America’s highest court, the nine-member Supreme Court, struck down a ban on handguns in the nation’s capital. Questioned, in light of Aurora, about the majority opinion he wrote in 2008, Justice Antonin Scalia told Fox News that some limitations on gun ownership are “undoubtedly” constitutional. But he would not speculate on what rules would pass his test.
In his 2008 opinion, Scalia said Americans consider the handgun “the quintessential self-defense weapon.
It can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other dials the police… vividly expressing the sense of control some Americans want to buy along with a gun.
The Alexander family was looking to buy another gun at the Denver show. Some on display catered to women, including a .357 Magnum revolver with a pink grip scaled down to better fit in a woman’s hand. Alexander said she practices regularly, at a shooting range or on property friends own in the country. She added, she’s comfortable with everything from a revolver to a rifle. When she works late at the hotel, she sometimes carries a gun.
“But I usually just carry my Taser.”
Perhaps, the best argument a politician can make is to simply lay the facts on the table and let the public decide. But don’t get me wrong, this is not a critique of Sarah Palin, I just believe the facts from both vantage points tend to make the better argument.
Sources / Supporting Links / Works Cited (If none, please type “none”): Interviewed shoppers at gun show, reviewed Supreme Court decision, White House statements, media reports
Brief description of how and where you uncovered your news story (eg. conducting interviews, investigation, eyewitness etc) : I arrived in Colorado just after the Aurora movie theater shootings, and soon after that was curious enough to visit a gun show. I was fascinated by what I saw and heard there.
Written By: Donna Bryson