Woke up at 8:30 AM today, which is odd for me any day but especially today since it's a Saturday. Gulped coffee, dressed minimally acceptably, and made it out the door to the car. I've been having my biennial Car Upgrade Argument with myself, because a) my car has a bunch of annoying things wrong with it -namely, no aircon, body dings that need fixing before they rust, front brakes need replacing soon, and the damn stereo had just stopped working a couple of days ago. Since I use my car 90% of the time as a long-distance cruiser, the no air conditioning/no audio thing is a SERIOUS PROBLEM. And since my car is a 13 year old 'luxury coupe' the stereo was this monstrously complicated proprietary one-off, so there's no real way to fix it - just replace it entirely with something non-original. Even that's a problem, because the actual stereo in my car is in the left rear fender.
Yeah, see what I mean about proprietary? It won't even take audio inputs. Only digital sources. Which in a car is really annoying.
Anyway, the other factor is that a few really nice examples of The Car I've Always Wanted (the one that's basically my car, turned up to eleven) are on eBay for...less money than is in my bank account. I've never been in a position to just buy the car I always wanted before. On the other hand, I've never been in the position of having this much money in my bank account before, and some part of me is screaming that I should keep said money in the bank account and use it to make more monies.
On the other hand, broken car and potential dream car.
Given that I recently made some serious if temporary changes to my life strictly for the purpose of trying to enjoy said life more, the whole 'fun dream car thing' gets more attractive.
I think my car heard me muttering, because when I got in it today, the stereo magically worked again. :-P
ANYWAY that's not the point of the daylog.
I was up this early because I was off to see Gun Mentor and one of his buddies - because we were going to a gun show.
I've never been to one of these before. I have a weird image of them in my head, from many many news and opinion reports on the goodness/badness of the phenomenon. As a New Yorker who likes gun control in his home town, the fact that there are these perennial swapmeets where people can just go buy guns and throw them in the trunk of their car is troubling to me. As a n00b gun owner/shooter, they're a potential source of eccentric supplies and parts and accessories. And as someone just curious about humanity, they sounded fascinating. So we went.
So we picked up some cash for incidentals and drove through the rain to a nondescript convention center/fairgrounds in Massachusetts and parked the car. We paid $11 each for admission, which got us into the world's most boring cinder-block and flourescent-light square box of a building whose main attraction was that it had a lot of space in it.
The show was set up like a lot of trade shows. There were tables set up in rows and along the walls, and on (and under and alongside) them, vendors plied their trades.
The place was stuffed with firearms. Even as someone whose eyes have opened to the whole phenomenon, it was a bit offputting.
In concession to safety and sanity, visitors were not allowed to bring guns into the venue unless they were in locked cases and unloaded, for offering for sale or trade with vendors. There was a gun check, staffed by local uniformed police. In another concession to safety, there was no live ammunition allowed in the main building. Ammunition sales and sales of powder and primers were relegated to a tent outside, connected to the exhibit space by fencing - and no guns were allowed in that tent. Apparently, two years prior, someone's nine year old kid had managed to pick up, load, and kill himself with an Uzi which had been lying on a table.
Anyway. I walked in. We got there early to be able to scope the show before it got crowded. We had a shopping list - I was looking for a leather sling for my M1 Garand as well as for a small item that a fellow noder had asked me to look out for (9x18 Makarov magazines, if you must know). Gun Mentor was looking for .223 stripper clips, a magazine for his .25 Beretta, and a magazine for his first kidhood gun, a Mossberg .22 Long Rifle.
The first thought that struck me was that holy crap, there was a disparate set of people walking around this place.
The second thought was that in fact, there were only a few demographic groups there, and as I looked around I began to be able to slot people into those groups.
We spent a few hours there, and I spent the time happily cataloguing people into those groups in my head and - when it looked possible and safe - approaching them to converse to verify my evaluations. Here are the groups I came up with, as I explained to Gun Mentor while we sat having a beer in the cafe a couple of hours into the show.
- Collectors. These were fairly obvious - they tended to make beelines for particular vendors, clustering mostly around the antique gun vendors or memorabilia vendors. Some carried reference material. You could see them skipping over surplus and new-gear booths entirely, hunting out the tables with stacks of half-sorted things, dark woods, dented stocks. Some were gun collectors, some were collecting things like coins or books or bayonets or knives or surplus gear. I saw one guy walk past carrying a MOLLE belt with no fewer than seven different types of canteen attached to it, proudly pointing out something about one of them to his pal.
- Professionals. These folks work in the gun business, either in manufacturing or selling or both, or in the business of accessories for firearms. They were mostly hear to scout the market, take its temperature. A few were there to see if they could find any good deals on guns to sell in their stores; these you could spot by the fast walk and the way they slowed near high concentrations of guns, eyes flickering, and how they ignored the gear, accessories, memorabilia and the like and went straight for the guns. Then there were the ones scouting the market; they weren't very plentiful, but you could see them taking notes and looking through stuff.
- Vendors. As distinct from the professionals, these were folks here to sell at the show. They were immediately obvious as they were all required to wear big stickers with the show name on them on their shirts to prove they'd registered.
- Preppers. Also fairly obvious, they could be found carefully looking at how-to books, buying things in bulk, and looking at relatively modern, interchangeable and durable weapons. Many of them were chatting about their quest, so a quick listen was sometimes all you needed. They browsed relatively slowly, unwilling to miss bargains or haggling.
- Shoppers. Of such number were we. These were folks who were interested in finding a deal, but also usually had something specific they were looking for. You could see them preferentially approaching tables that specialized in the thing they were looking for - magazines, bayonets, knives, scopes - and scanning them carefully before asking the proprietors if they had their target under the table somewhere. Some were finding deals. I managed to find a single, solitary 9x18 Makarov magazine in the entire show so I bought it. I hadn't believed they were hard to come by, but I believe it now. Several vendors shook their heads and said "Ask Dmitri" when I inquired. Dmitri was an older Russian man at a table along the wall near the door - many seemed to know him. I guess he's a regular. He had a huge collection of Lugers and Walther P.38s and Mauser C9s, along with a couple of cases of vintage M1911s and some antique or special interest pistols like WWII Liberator .45 ACPs. When I got his attention and asked about the Makarov mags, he shook his head decisively. "No," he said. "Not now. Were some last show. Hard to find now."
- The Curious. There were a few folks who were there for the entertainment and maybe to see what this whole gun show thing was about. They could be seen wandering about, looking at the people and the sights and infrequently poring over the contents of a table.
- SAWPs. This stands for 'Scared Angry White People.' There were a lot of these, rounding out the crowd. They were wearing anti-Obama t-shirts. They were wearing anti-(insert foreign country here) T-shirts. Many of them had shaven heads and tattoos. They seemed to be fascinated with AR-15s and their variants - the Black Rifles - and Ruger Mini-14 or M1A carbines. They were mostly interested in semi-automatic weapons and handguns, and the more brutally functional/tacticooled the better. I didn't approach any of them, to be honest. Many of them gave me somewhat suspicious looks.
I should point out that of the several thousand people I saw at this gun show, I was able to find four
who were darker than standard Caucasian
. I was one of them. Two of them were a pair of nice African-American
women who had a table to represent an anti-gun crime charity and were registering folks for a 'charity shoot' to support gun education, I think. And the last was an older gentleman who wore a "Negro Veteran" shirt and knew a lot of folks there. But that was it. Coupled with the huge
amount of Nazi
memorabilia on sale, and the high prevalence of the SAWPs, this was an environment that was made this black Jew very, very 'peripherally aware' as Gun Mentor calls it. But not quite aware enough, as he pointed out when we met for the beer.
"Didja see the Feds?" he asked. (Demographic: Feds.)
"Walking around with the button cameras looking so bland they blend into the walls, grasshopper."
"How do you know they have button cameras?"
As far as I can tell, there are always a few investigators around at shows like this looking for evidence of illegal gun trafficking. Button cameras are really handy to catch vendors offering illegal sales, as well as to document illegal goods or serial numbers of questionable guns for later lookup. Now I know. Maybe they're also taking all of our pictures for the Fed as well. It's possible.
In the end, I never even picked up...wait, that's not true. I picked up a Lee-Enfield Mark 5, I think it was, with the permission of the vendor, to examine it; and I lifted a couple of Garands and a 1903 Springfield to look at them. Gun Mentor says the guns there were very overpriced, maybe 30% above the prices of the last show three months ago, which was 30% above the prices of the show before that. The Prepper movement and the general upsurge of anti-Federal government feeling that has the Black Helicopter Worriers upset apparently means that guns and ammo are pricey.
Although I didn't buy any, I found out that were I to actually buy a Mosin-Nagant like I've been considering, ammo is relatively easily obtained. A couple of vendors in the ammo tent were selling cases of 2 440-round sealed metal cans of Romanian surplus 7.62mmx54R for $190.
In the end, we came away with pretty much everything we were looking for except that Gun Mentor didn't find a Mossberg magazine. He did find a .25 Beretta one. I found a Makarov mag for the requesting noder, and I got a leather sling for $10 off the asking price. I bought a bore light for $3.50, handy when examining cleaning results. Gun Mentor found a bunch of .223 stripper clips for $0.15 each and bought out the vendor. Finally, we each picked up six surplus .50 caliber ammo cans for $50 - a good value! As I make and buy ammunition, I'll need a place to store it, after all - and reusable waterproof metal cans are generally useful in so many cases. They hold tools. They hold ammo. They hold miscellaneous things in the workshop. They hold cigars, even, if you drop some cedar sheets and a humidifier in them - although probably not a good idea for long-term storage.
So. Gun Shows. Interesting as heck, probably not somewhere I'd ever go to buy a gun unless I was looking for a relatively eccentric gun that was hard to find. Someplace it seems handy to go for accessories, even camping and survival supplies, as well as interesting memorabilia (yes, they had lots of stuff that wasn't Nazi) and a place to go looking for weird ammo that's expensive new.