By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
* * *
I retreat upstairs to the press room to restock my reportorial supplies (read: more cookies), passing the Not-a-Wall of Guns, the P.A. still blaring, "WAAAAAAAAAAAALL OF GUUUUUUUUUNS!" It's here that I end up sitting next to the media arm of AmmoLand.com.
Aside from the AR-15 they want so badly for me to hold, my Sherpas up the Mount Everest of guns are useful for something else: getting people to talk to me. My media badge and accent are a left-right combo of untrustworthiness for most people I approach. But at the Ruger stand, our first port of call after the Bushmaster display, I'm having the safety features of a Ruger SR45 demonstrated to me when a guy starts waxing lyrical about the safety of this particular gun.
"Best gun I ever bought," he says without prompting. "I got kids, and none of them are gonna be able to fire this. It's got a double trigger for safety!"
He motions for me to tilt the gun and look at the trigger, which my finger is wrapped snugly around, much to Fred's dismay. Sure enough, it has a second trigger in the middle, raised up from the first. Two triggers! I'm not sure what this means, exactly, but I assume it shoots two bullets at once, possibly in different directions so I can kill two bad guys at the same time.
I sense my opportunity to get a gun enthusiast to open up, surrounded as I am by the only media he can trust. I strike with all the subtlety of an untrained Brit brandishing a Ruger.
"What did you think of the recent gun-control reform bill?" I ask. We're just a few weeks removed from the disintegration of the president's plan for universal background checks.
"Ain't gonna change nothing," he says. "None of that crap would have stopped anything happening. You know, they interviewed guys in jail who went there 'cause of gun crimes. Less than 2 percent got their gun legally. Obama needs to try to help the good guys."
"How are the bad guys getting their guns?" I ask, earnestly.
"I could go to any high school in Houston and get any gun I wanted. I just got to know the right people. It's easy."
I sense the mood starting to turn. My Sherpas have to leave—AmmoLand isn't going to populate itself, I guess—so I offer my goodbyes. Popping outside for air, I see the anti-gun protestors stationed across the road in front of a huge piece of modern art. It's a weird series of white and blue shapes outlined in black, giving them a comic-book feel. In front of it stands a podium and behind that stands a lady calmly reading from a book.
A large man stands about 3 feet from her, shouting into her face. The woman, middle-aged with graying brown hair and glasses, is reading names and ages, slowly and deliberately. Spittle flying, the gentleman is shouting at her, his NRA badge riding the waves of his gestures, up and down, up and down.
"THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE NRA! YOU CAN'T CHANGE NOTHING!"
A policeman saunters over, intimidating in his sunglasses and no-fucks-given demeanor.
"I could do with your help, officer," the lady says. "This guy's giving me some hassle."
The policeman suggests the guy move along. He does, muttering under his breath. The lady, satisfied, returns to reading names.
"What's she doing?" I ask a young dreadlocked woman standing next to her, clearly associated.
"We're occupying this place," she says, gesturing toward sleeping bags hidden inside the art display, "and we're reading out the names of 4,000 victims of gun violence."
"Over what period of time?"
"Four thousand from Sandy Hook up until last week."
To our side, the names of minors and adults alike, from around the whole country, are being read out in the order they died. The giant yelling man is hardly out of sight, and another badge-wearing storm cloud is already forming.
* * *
The speeches happen in the convention center's auditorium, a room so surprisingly sprawling it feels like a really boring version of Doctor Who's TARDIS. Still, going by the numbers, it's not big enough.
The keynote event of the weekend—it's named "Stand and Fight," after the Wi-Fi password, I guess—is two hours away, but it's long sold out. People have plunked down $15 to sit in the overflow hall and watch on a screen. And the keynote himself is right now signing books upstairs, where a line is taking up most of the second floor.
The media platform is raised in the middle of the crowd, which is pretty rude if you consider the speaker and his disciples' feelings for the press. Before the big speech is the window dressing; Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president and chief shit-stirrer, rallies the crowd. Colonel Oliver North offers a prayer. The music is cued. The lights dim. A huge "G.B." is projected onto the screen, rapidly replaced by a very large, stylized drawing of what I think is an eagle. Glenn Beck, looking more frail and graying than I remember, takes the stage.