Surrounded with enough firepower to start a small war — everything from the old bolt-action Mauser rifles with which Germany conquered France in 1939 to the futuristically sleekly menacing Tavors carried by the fascist security police in The Hunger Games movies — the firearms aficionados who gathered for a gun show Saturday at the Miccosukee casino nonetheless felt a little bit like an endangered species.
“It really is a bad time to be us,” Monique Burn, 42, of Fort Lauderdale said as she browsed a table stacked with huge piles of pistol holsters. “There’s an outlook on gun owners out there that’s very, very inaccurate. Everybody seems to think we’re crazy killers.”
Since a gunman pledging allegiance to the radical Islamic State turned an Orlando gay dance club into a slaughterhouse last week, killing 49 patrons before police shot him down, the roar of recriminations against American gun culture has been deafening.
And to many of the gun owners who crowded into the Miccosukee show, all the rhetoric has sounded personal and unfair.
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“I try not to watch the news,” said one customer, a retired 59-year-old telephone lineman from Broward who has been shooting guns since he was 10. “When I do, I feel like I’m gonna have a stroke. ... What they’re saying about people who own guns just isn’t true.”
They think their critics are ignorant about both guns and the people who own them. And they believe they are the victims of a double standard — that the same people who are always careful to distinguish between Muslims and radical Muslims in discussing terrorism don’t hesitate to lump all gun enthusiasts together as mentally unstable people with a potentially homicidal fascination for “weapons of war.”
“Look, I could buy any one of these,” Burn, who works at Fort Lauderdale airport, said as she gestured at a display of military-motif, semi-automatic rifles similar to the one used in the Orlando shooting. “And nobody would get gunned down or murdered, because I just don’t have the mentality that would do that. ...
“I’ve grown up with guns. My family’s police. I’ve understood guns from a young age. If you teach kids to respect them, it’s not an issue. Just like you do with a knife — ‘This is a knife, here’s what it’s good for, but it’s also dangerous, it can hurt you if you use it wrong.’ ”
Many people at the show marveled at how the perception of guns has evolved — or, in their opinion, devolved — over the years.
“Here’s a Winchester .22,” said a gun dealer who identified himself only as Ed T., hoisting an old rifle from his table. “I got one when I was about 10. I remember I called every kid in the neighborhood and they all came over to see it and hold it. My parents were fine with that and so were theirs.
“Nobody thought my parents were psychos for getting me a gun, or that I was dangerous for owning one. Because every other kid had a .22 or would get one soon. For Christmas, or a birthday, or a good report card. There was some kind of rite of passage about it.”
Ed T., who buys, sells and collects guns as a hobby — in real life, he’s a Miami jewel dealer — is fairly optimistic that the political firestorm over guns will blow over without any serious legal curtailment of firearms. “There’s just too many people with too many guns,” he said. “How would the government ever get them all back?”
But his feelings weren’t widely shared at the gun show, which looked like a door-buster sale on the day after Christmas. Hundreds of customers poured in immediately when the doors opened at 10 a.m., and organizers said they were on pace to sell 5,000 tickets at $10 a pop before the show ends Sunday afternoon.
“My business has quadrupled every day since Sunday,” said Casey Burke, a Longwood gun dealer who brought about 4,000 weapons to the show and had already sold several hundred by lunch, which he was much too busy to eat.
“People are afraid of what’s about to happen with their [gun] rights and they’re voting with the wallets. I don’t blame them. Gun owners are going to turn into dinosaurs if we don’t do something to stop it.”
By far the hottest ticket on Burke’s tables was the AR-15, a semi-automatic (that is, it fires one bullet every time you pull the trigger) version of the automatic (that is, it fires bursts) M-16 rifle that gained such popularity with American soldiers during the Vietnam war that one of them wrote a song about it: My AR-15, she’s hard and she’s mean, and she ain’t built for love nor fun ...
Probably nothing illustrates the peculiar push-and-pull between gun lovers and gun haters than the AR-15. After it was erroneously reported that an AR-15 was used by the Orlando killer last week, it became the favorite target of anti-gun politicians demanding a ban — and went to the top of the wish list for gun enthusiasts.
“If my business has quadrupled every day this week, my AR-15 business has grown six times as big every day,” Burke said. Though he sells customized models for $2,000 and up at his shop, the ones he brought to the show were cheaper, at $599 and $725. And they were selling at such a crazy pace that Burke refused to do any of the haggling over price that’s customarily the lifeblood of gun shows. “How many times have I gotta tell you no?” he snapped at a customer pleading for a $10 discount.