The Anoka Gun Show was a two-day event that attracted more than 1,000 visitors to an exhibition that included more than 100 tables displaying assault rifles, handguns, hatchets, knives and a ton of attitude: A lot of customers seemed to be carrying Bill Clinton’s autobiography and Al Gore’s book about global warming. But not to read: The books had been hollowed out so that they could be used to store handguns inside, on your nightstand.
One young man was walking around the gun show clutching a piece of paper to his chest advertising that he was selling parts for an AR-15, the civilian version of the M-16 military rifle, and a rifle that is similar to the one used in the Sandy Hook slaughter.
Another person, a heavyset middle-aged man from New Brighton who said his name was Rich, was walking between the rows of tables cradling an H&K SR9 , a German rifle formerly banned under the now-defunct federal ban on assault rifles. Pieces of wrinkled note paper were taped over the muzzle of the rifle. On them, written in ink, it said: FOR SALE. Rich is not a licensed firearms dealer and had not rented a table to sit at. He was just hoping to sell the weapon, for $2,500, by displaying it to anyone who might be interested, showing it to people crowding the aisles.
Rich, I asked, if I want to buy that rifle, what do I have to do?
“Well, typically, you’d have to show me some ID,” he said. “But it is kind of a honor system.”
An honor system. Yep. There you have it: The gun-show loophole. Alive and well in Minnesota.
But just because the gun lobby is winning doesn’t mean that its members are letting down their guard against any — and all — measures to improve pubic safety.
“You probably voted for the ass—-,” a surly guy who was leaning against the wall in the Armory said loudly as I passed by him Saturday. I wanted to ask Surly Man which ass—- he had in mind but I didn’t need to: President Obama has never been popular with the National Rifle Association, and his efforts since the Sandy Hook massacre have made him the enemy of many who are convinced it is just a matter of time until Obama starts taking their guns away.
“He wants to totally confiscate our guns,” a Brooklyn Park man named Russ Mosey told me, with utter conviction. “He don’t like anyone having guns. The U.N. wants to try to get our guns because we have too many guns and they want to come in and take over.”
Mosey, 69, may sound a bit extreme in his views but he was far from alone. The owner of the gun show, a fellow named Jim Wright, told me that Obama “might do anything,” using an executive order, for example, to confiscate Americans’ 300 million guns. I told him I didn’t think even a Socialist from Kenya would try a move like that. We got along better after that.
But Wright wouldn’t let The UpTake shoot photos or video inside the gun show, and said he’d have us removed if we caused trouble, and that the media are untrustworthy. “They have done nothing but screw me,” Wright said. “They do not give us justice. They distort every comment.”
I did detect a certain anti-media sentiment in the air: One big dude came outside to confront me and videographer Hlee Lee with this: “The last time I talked to one of you, you edited my words and made me seem like a f—ing ass—-,” he snarled. “I am done talking to you.”
I had never seen The Dude before in my life, but, OK, we have some communication problems between the media, the gun lobby, the gun owners, the gun-safety campaigners and the politicians. It’s a thorny knot. But there isn’t any chance for improvement, not this year. And that’s a real shame. House Speaker Thissen cast his decision not to allow any floor votes on gun legislation — quashing debate and any attempt to get the pols on the record — as a sad necessity brought about by the failure of the interested parties “to reach common ground.”
Thissen tut-tutted as if he were the only adult in a roomful of squabbling kids. But he made few, if any, visible efforts to lead the children out of the sandbox. “Common ground” in the country’s raucous gun debate, as Thissen knows, is noticeably lacking. But common ground is precisely what the president and his Minnesota gun safety allies labored mightily to find, coming as close to finding it, perhaps, as anyone can by agreeing to boil down their proposals to their lowest common denominator: Background checks. Now. Most Americans agree. Let’s git her done.
No, the NRA said. No, the DFL leaders said. My hands are washed, said the governor.
Background checks? Dead and gone, in Congress and Minnesota. Deader in Minnesota, probably.
There is plenty of blame to go around.
But I like what I heard from Jane Kay, head of the Twin Cities’ Chapter of Moms Demand Action, a mass movement gun-safety group that started up after Sandy Hook:
“They’re all chickens.”
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