Asheville Argus: Fear and the Gun Show

The other day I was walking downtown with three of my co-workers, having a lively conversation. As we approached a corner, a man came around it and drew from a bag a very large chainsaw. Without acknowledging us, he bent over, cradled the chainsaw between his knees, and began fiddling with it.

Needless to say, our conversation suddenly became less lively. 

We passed by him silently, and he made whatever adjustments were needed, stowed the chainsaw back in the bag, and went on his way. We all looked at each other, and said, “That was weird,” and went on our way. In a moment, we’d forgotten all about it.

I remembered it yesterday as I was standing outside the Land of Sky Gun and Knife Show at the WNC Agricultural Center, and I had this thought: All public mass killings start that way. Someone walks into a space where everyone feels safe and produces a weapon. I bet the beginnings of most mass killings are very similar to the moment I had with my co-workers. You feel fear, but not enough to break social norms and propel you into action.  At least, not until it’s too late. 

I didn’t go inside the controversial show, which some on city council want to ban, and at which the Asheville Tea Party planned to raffle away a AR-15 rifle in a publicity stunt that has gained national attention in the wake of recent events. The line was 100 yards long, and, according to AccuWeather, the temperature was 33 degrees. Cameras are prohibited at such events. So I shot some photos of the crowd, which was bristling with long-arms, and went home, bringing “lazy journalism” to a whole new level.

I half-heartedly went to the gun show (which, by the way, drew record crowds) to try to get a grip on local gun owners and the crisis they feel they are facing, but I knew it was a fool’s errand. The issue can’t be wrapped up by covering a single event. Every gun owner is unique, and each has complex motives for self-armament. Some support more controls, some don’t. Some are troubled by the dramatic upheaval in the firearms industry and looming legislation. Some couldn’t care less. The same is true of gun control advocates: Some want to see a total ban, some really do want to preserve the rights protected by the Second Amendment.

But, like a good sensational journalist, I advocate ignoring the gray areas: Right-wing gun nuts cling to their guns and religion, and commie gun grabbers want to disarm the populace. That’s what we all want to talk about, right? What fun is admitting that the other side might be composed of well-meaning people just like us? 

I grew up in Burnsville, N.C. Guns were everywhere. Chainsaws, too. Most stores that sold one also sold the other, and owning one was about as innocuous as owning the other. Guns and chainsaws were tools to be respected, but not feared. It wasn’t until I got to college and began pursuing my liberal arts degree that I realized most of the world doesn’t have that attitude.

In a sociology class, I proposed a paper on gun ownership. The professor gave me the green light, but it was very clear that she expected the paper to illustrate “how dangerous it is to have those things around.” I decided to write the paper on something else. But doubt had been planted: Was I in danger? Was I dangerous?

I began to investigate in the best way I knew: photojournalism at the local shooting range. In one high-level photography class, after showing my photos, I was asked by another student how long I had been “documenting the white race.” My instructor said my photos were a good peek into “gun culture.”

These comments mystified me — and, frankly, hurt my feelings. I knew that I had no ill intentions as a gun owner, and neither did my friends. I felt that my peers were judging me to be a bad person, or, at the very least, part of a bad “culture.” Was I?

To find out, I intensified my project. I wanted answers. These photos were shot over several years, in lots of different places, with lots of different people:

Can’t see the slideshow? Click here.

What did I learn? Nothing conclusive. I spent years on this body of work, but I can’t point to any of those photos and prove which side is right. No, guns don’t kill people. Yes, they do make it easier. But then, so do chainsaws.

I did learn that we’re all afraid of each other. Gun-grabbers say gun-nuts live in fear; gun-nuts say gun-grabbers fear guns. Both sides think they are reasonable and safety-conscious, and that the other side is sinister and unbalanced.

So as we “have a national conversation” (yell at each other) and “engage in dialogue” (reinforce stereotypes) in the wake of mass murder, and as we have a local conversation about the Asheville Gun Show, remember that whether you’re a gun-nut or a gun-grabber, there are lots of the other type very close at hand. The proof is the long line at the gun show in our own progressive city, even as city councilfolk try to shut it down.

Yes, there’s conflict. But for the most part, Ashevillians aren’t killers or fascists. If you really want to stop violence, as both sides claim, maybe try being nice to your neighbors. It can’t hurt.

And, if you’re walking down the street and realize your chainsaw needs adjusting, maybe wait till you’re back at home. Thanks.


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18 thoughts on “Asheville Argus: Fear and the Gun Show

  1. Dionysis

    A thoughtful and rational article, with much truth.

    However, on this often-cited point:

    “No, guns don

  2. sharpleycladd

    I grew up in the South and have lived down here all my life. I don’t have a problem with guns, but don’t understand things like high-capacity magazines and tools that pretty much turn single-shot weapons into automatics. Are the deer armed these days?

    • constitutionluvr

      Sir or Mam, if your a deer hunter with a bolt action, and with most now having a detachable box magazine (dbm) with 10rds (legal for hunting) and with a qualified shooter he can run the bolt just as fast as an automatic. It’s a “fact” that Jerry Mikulek can shoot a revolver pistol, faster than a full auto Uzi. And what is your definition of “Hi cap” 5,10,20,1000,? The fact is the 2nd Amendment doesn’t state what magazine capacity you can own. This seems “moot” to me, but if you’re worried about the deer, would you rather have a wounded deer, because the shooter had a single shot rifle? Or would you rather the deer be humanely killed, if it takes 3 shots to do that. Look at the Guns History. Each one was invented for “War”. Yes even the single shot muskets, but as it always has been, the guns that were made for war, are used to hunt, and protect. I’m sure you would rather have a “Hi Cap” magazine if a 275lb man jumps through your window to beat/rob you, and to the shooting sports, such as “3 gun” events you shoot many rounds at targets from 10yds to 500yds.
      The whole Truth about it is, if you give them 1 right, I can promise you they will take more. Law abiding citizens, should be able to own as many guns, and as much ammo as they would like, and if you like jobs in America, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to put thousands, and thousands of people out of work. Remember, the biggest reason we have robberies in the 1st place, is that person can’t get a job, so they steal it from you. the best equation is . (More people carrying guns+ More jobs= Less Crime, and assaults. Criminals want the guns to be taken. If it was that easy to stop crime,by taking guns, why don’t we just make meth/cocaine illegal? Oh wait.. They are. I say put a gun in every law Abiding American Citizen’s hands, and then let’s see if the criminals want to rob people. You better keep all you can as far as rights, as they are being taken every day.

  3. Carl

    I believe your exactly right. “Guns do not kill people” It’s the person behind the gun. And until we stop calling some guns “Assault Weapons” We’re never gonna understand it all. Yes they may have a “tactical” look. But if you will look through History, every single gun that was invented, was invented for a “war” all the way back to the bow and arrow. It was used to fight battles, but is not considered an assault weapon. Then there’s the musket. Used in many Wars but also adopted by the “Civilians” as a way to put food on the table and protect families. Look ahead to the “AR15/M4/AR10/AK47. What was it designed for? Glad you asked. WAR. Just as the bow, Musket, Bolt action, Lever action, and semi auto guns. Are we “racist” for saying “black guns” are bad? Not toward people that’s for sure. I guess it just looks “more evil” Kind of like a Pit Bull or Doberman Pincher. The “Modern day Sporting Rifle” the AR15 is used by millions of people to shoot targets, game, tin cans, and some people make their living doing this. I say GREAT. It’s just another gun, that normally shoots a little .223 bullet, for small game, and now in NC., Deer. I think that’s awesome, that a kid who is taught gun safety the correct way, and not by “video games” to get their “Trophy Deer” in the freezer, and on the wall. It’s also a great way to spend the week end, I love spending my weekends shooting with my Family, and I’m sure their are many, many just like me. God Bless our 2nd Amendment. Let’s fight for it, The Gov. has already taken many of our rights away, simply because we “gave in” to something, to make a deal. Let’s not “Make a Deal”

    • Jason

      The Gov. has already taken many of our rights away, simply because we “gave in” to something, to make a deal.

      I am curious as to what “rights” you perceive our government has taken away. Please elaborate.

  4. constitutionluvr

    No, No, No. If you hunt you know you can have a 10rd mag only. The hi cap as you call them are meant for target shooting, 3 gun competitions, self defense etc. I promise you don’t want a person on meth attacking you, when you have a 5rd mag. You probably won’t even slow him down, unless you have had training, and know what to do. We have given away way too many of our rights already, and if we give them an inch we know they will take a mile. Use common sense, when shooting a firearm, that’s what God gave you a brain for. Until you have to hunt to put meat on your table, or are attacked in your house, you will wish you had something to protect you.

  5. Margaret Williams

    Thank you all for commenting on what can be an emotional issue for many. Please continue to keep the discussion civil and respect other views.

    Per our policy, we will not allow comments that diminish this civility. If you have commented and don’t see your comment here, please understand that Mountain Xpress staff review all comments.

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  6. boatrocker

    Myths about guns disproven:

    sharpleycladd- funny how no posts have addressed the last sentence in your post. You make a very good point.

    constitutionluvr- (1st post)yes, guns were always used for war. They also ended the age of Chivalry by changing the rules of armed conflict aka putting an untrained illiterate European peasant on the same level as a knight and introducing the idea of indirect power over humans.

    Carl-bows were musical instruments a heckuva long time before being used as weapons. Ask any American Indian or Australian aboriginal type.
    Let’s ask God to bless the 1st and 4th Amendment while we’re at it too as long as we’re at it. By “giving in” and “making a deal” I’m assuming you refer to the Patriot Act?

    Color me officially sick and tired of NRA apologists.

    • constitutionluvr

      If you missed President Obama’s press conference yesterday, he announced that he will indeed be supporting a ban of AR-15 and similar rifles, even though statistically they account for a tiny fraction of all gun violence, and much less in numbers of homicides than hammers, clubs, knives, and even hands and feet. It was a big disappointment because he acknowledged in the debates that “assault weapons” weren’t the problem in the neighborhoods from what he has seen. Boo! Mr. President. You should have had a heart to heart talk with the American people about what really is our problem. We glamorize violence in the media and in video games, and this has de-sensitized our children to violence and even wanton killing for no reason. We have also gutted the manufacturing base of America by sending all of our jobs to China, and this has decimated the prosperity of our inner cities. Inexpensive guns in the hands of these poor victims would at least give them a chance to fight back and defend their own freedoms, the freedoms you seem to care about for white people in Connecticut, but that you don’t seem to care much about for the racial minorities in your own state of Illinois in the Chicago area, as well as places like Detroit and Flint Michigan, and right around the corner from you Mr. President, in Washington D.C. Bring back our jobs Mr. President. Arm the victims in our inner cities Mr. President. Bring back a prosperous and hopeful America.

    • Jason

      much less in numbers of homicides than hammers, clubs, knives, and even hands and feet

      Hammers, clubs, knives, hands and feet can’t kill over 20 people in a few seconds.

      We glamorize violence in the media and in video games

      America’s number one export is probably our culture, (i.e. Movies, TV, Music, and Games) yet other countries don’t seem to have the problem with violence that we have.

      Inexpensive guns in the hands of these poor victims would at least give them a chance to fight back and defend their own freedoms

      I’m no expert, but I doubt an AR-15 tactical assault rifle in an inexpensive gun. Those “poor victims” can probably fight back just as well with a Colt .45.

      • Adam

        You can buy three ar15s for the price of one colt 45. So yes you are definitely not an expert.

  7. lmehaffey

    Nice job, Max! A balanced approach to a “touchy” subject, laced with enough humor to “defuse” the blowback from either side, and a sensible conclusion which re-humanizes the issue of controlling violence in our communities. The comments posted as a result of your article certainly indicate how strongly people on both sides of this issue feel about gun control — perhaps, just perhaps, a reminder that civility and a “know your neighbor” approach to community will go a lot further toward controlling violence (of all sorts) than drawing lines in the sand over specific issues.

  8. constitutionluvr

    Boatrocker… How many “boating accidents” occurred last year? Stats say over 5,000. Should we ban boats? What kind? Fast boats? Try to get this in your mind everyone. In the last 10 years over 250,000 (yes 1/4 of a Million) people died due to alcohol related accidents… Should we ban alcohol? I believe so, but that’s another story. Is it really fair that your children doesn’t have the right to be protected, while Mr. Obama’s kids walk around with several CIA agents carrying the FN PS 90. That’s a fully automatic, armor piercing 5.7mm projectile. Do you know why American’s have the right to own guns? It’s to protect ourselves from the Government! Let’s not give an inch, so they can take the mile. Stand Up!
    BTW YES! People shouldn’t be able to get guns without a background check, but at the same time an 18yo shouldn’t be allowed to own a 200mph motorcycle, if we’re trying to get rid of accidents, and deaths.
    Also, I was not talking about a musical instrument, I was talking about weapons. And just a lil History lesson, here’s an excerpt about the Bow and arrow’s history.
    The bow and arrow was not the first composite projectile weapon to be invented. It was preceded by the sling and by spear throwers such as the atlatl of the Americas and the woomera of Australia. A number of cultures in historical times lacked the bow and arrow, and in others oral history records a time before its acquisition.

    The earliest potential arrow heads date from about 64,000 years ago in the South African Sibudu Cave.[6][7] By 16,000 BCE flint points were being bound by sinews to split shafts. Fletching was being practiced, with feathers glued and bound to shafts.
    America needs to get back on track, when Prayer was in schools, our Leaders were “God Fearing People” and like the paper in your pocket says “IN GOD WE TRUST” That’s when America had jobs, had a “Secure Border”. I am not getting off track, but I have worked with many “Legal Immigrants” from Moldova, Ukraine, and Mexico, and saw what they have to do to be legal. If we sent every “Illegal” Immigrant back, how many jobs would open up? Would that 25 year Veteran, that was fighting for our Freedom overseas be able to get a job? Just Perhaps.

    • Jason

      if we’re trying to get rid of accidents, and deaths.

      We’re trying to get rid of Massacres. A boat, car, motorcycle, baseball bat, chainsaw, or whatever cannot massacre dozens of people in cold blood in seconds, but an assault rifle can.

      America needs to get back on track, when Prayer was in schools, our Leaders were “God Fearing People” and like the paper in your pocket says “IN GOD WE TRUST” That’s when America had jobs, had a “Secure Border”

      I guess that’s the same time as when blacks couldn’t use the same facilities as whites, women were expected to stay home, homosexuality was hidden, and intellectuals were “commies.”

  9. ParaTwelveBravo

    When the 2nd Amendment was drafted into the U.S. Constitution, the American government deliberately kept the standing army and navy as small as possible and with limited missions: guard the frontier and police the sea lanes.

    The citizenry themselves were the militia and were expected to be armed and prepared to be called upon to defend the Republic against “all enemies, foreign and domestic”. This included the possibility of a standing military under the authority of a centralized and powerful Federal body controlled by one political party over any other.

    Today, the U.S. maintains a standing army/navy/air force of between 1.4 and 2 million, with even more National Guard and Reserve troops in all 50 states, all subject to FEDERAL recall and orders.

    One of the early acts of the Obama administration was to select 10 governors to form a council on the organization and utilization of the National Guard against domestic “terrorism”. Despite the fact that a majority of our 50 state governors are Republican, 6 of these 10 selected governors are Democrats. This council, along with the powers invested in the office of Commander-In-Chief, effectively places our entire active and reserve military under the command of the President’s Democratic party and its’ slim 51% majority.

    Unlike the 18th and early 19th century, there is no provision for the populace, i.e “militia”, to organize and defend themselves against this alignment, EXCEPT the 2nd Amendment (and a slim HOPE that our officers and soldiers will defy any illegal order from the President or the aforementioned state council).

    It is for this reason alone that Americans must not surrender the right to arm themselves AT LEAST as heavily as our police and ground forces, and as the AR-15 is the semi-automatic version of the weapon that all veterans have used since the early 1970s, it is the weapon of choice. It is the “brown bess” of today, and those who wish it to be banned are just as (if not more) interested in the political suppression of their opponents by military force as they are of the “straw dog” of protecting the children.

    • Jason

      The last time The National Guard attacked innocent people, it was ordered there by a Republican governor. Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes at Kent state in 1970.

    • WitchDoctor

      “those who wish it to be banned are just as (if not more) interested in the political suppression of their opponents by military force as they are of the “straw dog” of protecting the children.” You’ve gotta be kidding! This makes you sound like a paranoid tin-foil hat type. I would suggest that this idea would never occur to 99+ percent of people who are for more gun control. People have all sorts of reasons for wanting more sensible gun laws, but political oppression? Come on.

      It’s actually becoming pretty clear that the ones most likely to attempt to suppress their political opponents by force are the folks on YOUR side. Face it, people that are fearful, paranoid, and heavily armed seem like a threat to a peaceful, civil society.

      And, by the way, if the US Government wants to take you out, it will take you out. Your AR-15 with its 100 round drum is useless.

  10. boatrocker

    Just for the record, today (Sat. Jan 19) 2 people were shot in Raleigh- at a gun show. It seems the idiot of a gun dealer’s shotgun went off and injured 2 innocent bystanders.

    At a gun show, by the way, supposedly the safest place to be and immune from gun related injuries.

    Sigh, truth is still stranger than fiction.

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