I’m standing in the flea market of firepower, a gun show at Cashman Center, listening to a salesman pitch the value of a solar-powered flashlight. “But how do you make it work?” I ask, and by “work,” I don’t mean create a beam of light. I’m already sold on that. I mean how do I make it do its semi-lethal thing, like stun someone with massive volts of electricity, or emit a stream of burning pepper spray, or turn into an easy-grip dagger—you know, defend me? “Oh no,” he says. “This doesn’t do any of that. But it does charge your cell phone with its stored-up energy.”
I like that. In fact, it’s probably one of the few items at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show I’d really use. But somehow it’s not getting much attention here, where hundreds of people—all sorts of people—are milling around tables stacked high with deadly devices. Shoppers are pushing babies in strollers; they’re sipping Red Bulls; they’re wearing “Armed & Fabulous” T-shirts. They’re men, women, young, old, various races—some carrying military-style boxes of newly purchased ammo, others handling rifles or brass knuckles or Samurai swords. Above the hum of the crowd is the occasional crackle of a stun gun, zapping 35 million volts of back off.
It’s a mesmerizing scene, and I’m trying to steer clear of the dire and divisive politics and just experience a corner of American consumerism. I could even buy a gun. But unlike most others here, I’m wary—weary, really—of guns. So I check out everything else first.
Besides weapons and ammo, here are some other goods at the gun show: a collection of naked G.I. Joe dolls and assorted mini-clothing, affordable doctor-supervised testosterone therapy, crystal dishes, aluminum flasks, heating pads, cool-fast towels, life insurance, pain-killing muscle cream, bio-warfare handbooks, bamboo-themed bed sheets, collectible coins, Confederate flags, gun-shaped lighters, Las Vegas Review-Journal subscriptions, T-shirts galore, safes, old war patches, political bumper stickers, screwdriver-corkscrew-keychain combos and those multi-use flashlights. As I marvel at the breadth of the American arms bazaar—our freedom is captivating, no?—I determine that my visit will be incomplete without at least consulting with a gun dealer about my particular self-defense needs.
I wedge my way through the crowd to get to a table where I can buy a handgun. I’ve given this 10 minutes of semi-serious thought, and I want a gun with a laser-pointer light. He brings me a squatty handgun that he says will fit in my purse, even though I’m not carrying one. I push a little button on the side of the gun, and a red laser appears. I click the light off and on a few times, until he suggests I pull the trigger. I feel iffy about that, even though I watched him clear the chamber. But the gun is $400—a tad pricey to use strictly as a laser pointer. So I pull the trigger once, without event, and then return to laser buttonry.
Sensing my inexperience, which does not preclude me from bearing an arm, the salesman levels with me. I respect that. He says I’ll never get the chance to use the laser by the time I dig this gun out of my purse while being assaulted.
I have to agree, that sounds like a dicey scenario, especially since I would’ve left my purse in the car and my gun safely locked in a vault under my bed. Still, I appreciate his concern. He offers me a different handgun with no laser, and says it has a quicker trigger. Go ahead, he tells me, pull the trigger. Barging through my comfort zone again, I pull it, and immediately I see what he means: it’s easier to squeeze—almost gentle. A gentle gun.
But I’m still partial to the laser.
I explain the scenario to him: What if someone is breaking into my home, and it’s dark, and I want to unlock my gun safe and load my gun and turn on my laser and make my way through the hallways guided by the red light for pinpoint accuracy? Or what if I need the red light to help me see to unlock the back door and run like hell? Or to find and lure my cat to safety with a bouncing red light?
“Oh,” he says, pointing toward tables of heftier handguns and rifles across the aisle, “if you’re getting this for home defense, you’ll need a bigger gun.”
Or maybe I’m just better off with a solar-powered flashlight that also charges my cell phone, which calls 911.