Joshua Lott/Washington Post
WILMINGTON — I went to the gun show on Saturday with a few questions.
How many Massachusetts residents, the latest mass shooting still fresh in their minds, would really flock to the Shriners Auditorium to gaze at firearms?
How are gun dealers reckoning with the scrutiny that followed the Parkland shooting — scrutiny that led national retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods to change the way they do business?
And what, in a state with some of the toughest laws governing the purchase, sale, and possession of firearms, does a gun show even look like?
The last question was easy enough to answer. I paid my $12 admission and walked into a hall that looked a lot like other gun shows I’ve been to in other states. Vendors sat behind folding tables arranged into rows, some lined with rifles or glass cases filled with handguns. Most of the vendors appeared to be selling things other than guns: knives, ammunition, holsters, hearing protection, unflattering pictures of Hillary Clinton, and hot sauce, for some reason.
But the rest of my questions would have to wait. After wandering around for an hour, I identified myself and was told that the Globe was not welcome. I was not allowed to conduct interviews or otherwise speak with attendees or vendors on the premises. A request to allow a Globe photographer in was also denied.
The show’s organizer, Newman Chittenden, had seen the Globe’s front page from the days after the Parkland shooting —“We Know What Will Happen Next,” the story of the hypothetical future tragedy that we all know is coming. I wrote the story; Chittenden was not a fan.
We talked for a while about guns and laws. It was pleasant enough, although we didn’t find much to agree on. Chittenden, who lives in New York and organizes shows like this one around the Northeast several times a year, said he believes America has too many restrictions on firearms, and that those restrictions do little or nothing to prevent deaths.
Public opinion polls suggest that position is far outside the mainstream. And while there are plenty of complicating factors, states with the toughest gun laws, like Massachusetts, tend to have the fewest gun deaths — like Massachusetts.
We talked for about 10 minutes, and after it became clear that I would not be allowed to speak with attendees or vendors, I headed for the exits.
I wish I could have stayed a while and talked to folks in the crowd. They were mostly but not entirely men, mostly but not entirely white. They wandered from table to table, picking up shotguns and looking down their barrels, peering at handguns in glass cases, talking and laughing with friends. They signed up for door prizes and entered raffles and shared jerky from a stand in the back of the hall.
A model train convention would’ve looked pretty similar.
In the parking lot, nearly every car had Massachusetts plates, so I would have liked to ask attendees whether they thought the hoops you have to jump through around here to own any gun legally have helped Massachusetts have the lowest rate of gun deaths in the country. All gun owners here must have an identification card or license to carry approved by their local police — isn’t that a reasonable restriction that other states should try?
And I would have asked dealers whether Parkland scared them. If authorities missed so many red flags about the shooter there, how much confidence can anyone really have that the systems set up to keep weapons out of the wrong hands are working?
I would have asked whether our ban on assault weapons, which Mitt Romney signed off on in 2004 after the federal ban lapsed, might similarly make things at least a little bit more difficult for someone seeking to do something terrible. Even if it wouldn’t prevent every mass shooting, what if it prevented just one? Wouldn’t that make it worth doing?
And I would have asked the young man who bought a Colt AR-15 — legal for sale because the gun predated the state’s ban on assault weapons — what motivated him to spend nearly $2,500 on a rifle much like the one the Parkland shooter used.
Maybe his farm is overrun with varmints. Maybe he has trouble with squirrels chewing through the eaves and has tired of trapping them one by one.
Maybe he’s going to buy it and destroy it. That’s what Scott Pappalardo of New York did; a video of him sawing his AR-15 in half went viral.
“This isn’t the answer to solve all the problems. Quite frankly there is no one answer. There will always be people that will want to kill and will do it one way or another,” Pappalardo said in the video. “But they are not going to do it with this gun. And I’m hoping that maybe someone will see it and say: ‘Maybe I’ll do the same thing.’ ”
Maybe. But probably not.
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