A Gun-Dumb Brit's Journey Into American Gun Culture

To conquer his fear of guns, a British immigrant takes a road trip to gun lovers' mecca: the NRA Convention

I wander off, pushing aimlessly down rows and between booths. After some perambulation, during which I observe every rifle ever imagined, some swords, an ax and a VW Campervan with a chain gun on top, I decide to make my exit for the evening. But just as I'm ready to leave, I'm swept back in by the sight of a man's dream dying.

He's standing in a booth with machetes and swords and spears, basically all the weapons you're left with in video games when the real pixel-killers are out of ammo. He's wearing a 10-gallon hat, and his face has a gray-and-white handlebar mustache so fulsome it could shelter an entire family. He is purchasing what I think, from my extended playing of Soul Calibur II, is a halberd.

The weapon—a giant medieval ax, basically—is on display as one glorious piece. But this clerk! This clerk separates it and hands it to him in two pieces, with the business end tucked safely into a bag. The man looks confused, then crestfallen. As resigned to his fate as a man with a mustache and weapon that size can be, he walks out of the hall, head down. His hope, it seems, was to gaily parade his killing implement throughout downtown Houston, past the ranks of police outside and past the baseball game going on at Minute Maid Park. Or maybe in the baseball game, to put the Astros out of their misery? We'll never know. His dream, like so many, was crushed by the laws of the nanny state, and he's heading home. I'm not far behind.

Ted Nugent
Ted Nugent
Glenn Beck
Glenn Beck

*     *     *

It's Saturday morning, and I'm back, ready for another day of occurrences I don't understand conducted by people who don't understand me. (My accent's still thick enough it takes at least three tries to order "water" in restaurants.) As I make my way, I notice several new road closures. Police are in the intersections, directing people and cars alike. After a few minutes' walk, it becomes apparent what the fuss is about:

There's a Cinco De Mayo parade, and it's heading straight for the NRA convention.

It's an explosion of color against the gray Houston landscape. A float is decked out in green and red streamers. Up and down the street, Hispanic families wave at the extravagantly dressed populace on slow-rolling display. I'm just waking up, so I'm slow to piece together the wonderful dissonance happening before my eyes, but it eventually it hits me. I spend the rest of the walk imagining the committee that plotted this route, presumably late at night and after a few drinks too many, a decision made of either ignorance or mirth. I'm rooting for mirth.

The main float turns away at the last minute, and despite some confused looks from NRA badge-wearers, the powder keg of racial hilarity is defused. One man, neat white beard prominent under his sunglasses, shouts something at the float, but it's drowned out by the kind of fast-paced Spanish-language song you hear in one of those scene-setting shots in a film set in Mexico.

I pass more protesters—today, Obama is a "puppet of the British government," which gives us a level of respect I never even knew we had—and soon I am back on the packed convention floor. I skim around the side of the stalls, following a loud crackling noise I could hear yesterday above all of the aural chaos. Eventually, I find the source: a stall selling "personal defense equipment." Mainly, this means stun guns of extraordinary strength, which flash intimidatingly and emit a noise akin to the electric fence from Jurassic Park.

I approach one of the sales guys, who's handing out stun guns to people without looking at them. I ask him what the best seller is.

"Definitely the flashlight Taser," he says. "It's got a flashlight at one end and the Taser at the other."

Logical enough. How many volts would that carry?

"About 2 million. It'll incapacitate an attacker for 10 to 15 minutes."

"That's a pretty long time. It must be some serious equipment."

"It really is," he says. He picks one up and presses a button, and a deafening burst of electricity fills the air. "It's the perfect non-lethal defense."

There's a guy next to me, can't be more than 20, swishing one around and grinning. He's about a foot away. This feels considerably less safe than standing around a bunch of assault rifles.

"What's this?" I ask the salesman. I'm pointing at something that resembles a phone case.

"It's a Taser iPhone case."

I probably should have expected that. It's a miracle of engineering, really, a normal-looking pink iPhone cover with a flip-off top concealing a stun gun. I picture the epic battles my phone and I have as I try to wrest it from my pocket while driving and listening to the superior music of my homeland. I imagine the consequences of throwing the best part of a million volts into that mix.

"Six hundred and fifty thousand volts," the salesman says proudly, "and 20 hours additional battery life!"

Would be pretty useful if someone tried to steal your phone, I guess. They'd never see that coming.

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