Sunday, March 27, 2011

At the Gun Show in 'Baja Arizona'

Went to a gun show in Tucson yesterday, and here's the first thing we saw when we came in the door [photo, above]. Yikes! Nazi flags.

I went to the show with a young friend, a businesswoman who is a foreign-born Tucson resident. She was interested in purchasing a handgun for personal protection. She also happens to be Jewish. Guns and ammo are one thing. Nazi-era paraphernalia -- the real stuff, not replica material, incidentally -- is quite another.

On the other hand, to apply Andre Gide's maxim to Tucson, "please do not understand me too quickly." This being Tucson and not Phoenix, nothing is quite as pat as it might seem on first glance.

For example, at the same stall that had the Nazi flags on display, there was a cornucopia of military memorabilia, including scores of trays of insignia from U.S. troops in World War II, war medals from all over the world, and even a selection of antique postcards ... from places like Ocean City, N.J.

They also had used books, including one assessing the explosion of Nazi terror that followed the Reichstag fire in Berlin in 1933. So I was quite willing to regard the Nazi flags as nothing more than weird memorabilia -- though they did focus the attention right off the bat.

In fact, unlike at some gun shows elsewhere in the country, none of the books being sold at various tables seemed to be works of crazy right-wing extremism like the "Turner Diaries" copies often peddled at such events. One used book on display at one counter at the Tucson show: Tom Friedman's "The World Is Flat."

There also was a big display by volunteers who provide foster care for pets that U.S. military personnel need to leave behind for a year or so. (Tucson has a big Air Force base that deploys troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.). Here is the Web site for that group, which is called Operation Noble Foster.

There were tables upon tables piled up with surplus military gear, including camouflage jackets and boots. It occurred to me that we have not been at war for so long that surplus GI equipment is flooding the market, much as it did in the 1950s, when massive quantities of World War II gear was sold at retail shops called Army-Navy stores.

Naturally, there were thousands of weapons of all kinds for sale at the gun show. My friend got very informative, sensible advice from reasonable gun experts on what to look for in a personal handgun, and how to assess things like recoil.

All of the gun dealers we spoke to, by the way, said they required a background check and paperwork for any sale.

Outside in the parking lot were only a handful of cars, pickups and SUVs with blatantly extremist bumper stickers. There also were a few with "Proud To Be a Tucson Democrat" stickers. One SUV had Fraternal Order of Police sticker and National Rifle Association stickers on the front bumper, and stickers that said "Keep Your Theology Out of My Biology" and "Obama '08" on the rear bumper.

Most of the people at this weekend's gun show (they occur throughout the year), sponsored by a company called Roadrunner, seemed like normal citizens. On the other hand, there was a couple circulating the exhibition pushing a baby carriage with an infant in it, and propped beside that infant, literally tucked into the swaddling clothes, was a rifle with its barrel sticking up. The mother told me the baby was two weeks old.

But rather than crazed and dangerous extremists, the hapless couple just struck me and my friend as amiable chowderheads, proud of their tiny, red-faced infant -- who was, we agreed, adorable, despite having to share his baby blanket with Daddy's brand new rifle.

So as always, and especially in a place like Tucson, impressions made in a flash, or through easy stereotypes, are usually not accurate impressions. At least here in what the locals have begun to call "Baja Arizona," to distinguish it from the nut-farm territories up north in Phoenix.


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