Leia a seguir a versão completa, em inglês, da tese apresentada pela jornalista Adriana Küchler ao programa de mestrado em jornalismo em artes e cultura da Universidade Columbia —adaptada e traduzida nesta matéria.
Guns, ducks and country
Inside the 650,000-square-foot complex where the Great American Outdoor Show takes place, right at the end of the Shooting Sports hall and just behind the Precision Small Arms store, a ten-year-old sells children's books. His name is Robert H. Jacobs III and his father is the author. There are nine titles available, including "My First Rifle," "My First BB Gun," "My First Bow," "Little Jake on Safari," "Little Jake Hunts Alaska," and the newly released "The Elk Princess."
His father started to write these books after trying to buy literature online on the subject for his kids. "Do you mean anti-hunting books?" the Internet corrected him when he first searched. "Not one children's hunting book!" says Robert III, a particularly articulate boy from Oak City, Utah, who wears glasses and a fake bear claw necklace. "The real ones are not legal anymore," he says. He got his first BB gun for Christmas when he was five or six. Now the proud owner of a BB gun, a .22-caliber rifle and two bows-"I can also shoot pistols, even though I don't have any"-little Robert likes to hunt "pretty much everything: antelope, elk and stuff."
It felt pretty good to kill an antelope, Robert says, though he wasn't the one to kill it; his father did. Actually, he has never killed an animal with a gun, just birds with a slingshot. When you kill an animal, he tells me, you will have mixed feelings about it. "Teddy Roosevelt killed a squirrel one time and this is how he stopped hunting. He felt mixed emotions." His father's books help the young hunter to be prepared for these moments, so he won't stop shooting animals like Roosevelt did. On his website, Robert the father explains that to ensure a healthy future for hunting and shooting sports it is essential to recruit today the sportsmen of tomorrow.
At their home —and Oak City has a population of 600— a room has food storage on one side and guns and ammunition on the other. In another room, they operate an improvised bullet factory. To save money, Robert Jacobs the elder reloads the shells of used ammo, instead of buying new ones. And, with the help of a lead melter and a mold, they make their own muzzleloader bullets. Little Robert proudly shows off a Swiss army knife he recently got from his father, "so that I could take care of my guns by myself."
While Robert teaches me a trick to find out which eye is my dominant one for hunting and shooting, a man stops by the booth and asks: "Where is the author?"
"The author isn't here right now," the boy replies.
"Ok, tell your dad an elephant hunter from Pennsylvania stopped to see him."
At ten, Robert understands the cultural prejudices involved with shooting sports. That, however, just makes him more of an advocate. "A lot of people at my school are actually anti-hunters. We try to convince them to be hunters. It's fun to go out and shoot guns, and the meat tastes good. It's just a common thing to like hunting."
Apart from Robert and his father, there are around 1,099 other exhibitors serving 200,000 visitors that paid $13 per ticket to be at the Great American Outdoor Show this year. It is, organizers say, the world's biggest consumer event on hunting, shooting sports, guns and fishing, and it takes place during nine days in Pennsylvania's capital, Harrisburg, each February.
Throughout this election year, the President, presidential candidates, political groups, parties and the media have been discussing the necessity, futility or absurdity of gun control. Meanwhile, participants of gun shows all over the country consider events like these as a way of sharing and reinforcing their own culture and lifestyle. They don't connect guns with violence, but with traditions, sports and recreation.
Though it is impossible to determine exactly how many guns exist in the U.S., America is notoriously known across the world as the country in which there are more firearms than people. According to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report, Americans amassed 310 million firearms in 2009. An estimate by the Washington Post found that the U.S. reached a mark of 40 million more guns (357 million) than people (317 million) in 2013.
Being 4.43% of the world's population, Americans own about 42% of all the world's privately held guns. The country has the highest number of personal firearms per capita on the planet, with 88.8 civilian-owned guns for every 100 people, according to a Small Arms Survey report from 2007. Yemen, an Arab country torn by civil war, comes in second place, with just 54.8 firearms per 100 people.
If the United States has successfully exported most of its culture to the rest of the world, from entertainment and the cult of celebrity to high productivity, meritocracy and self-help, the gun culture is its biggest exporting failure.
At the fair, it is almost inevitable to get lost at least once, trying to find a way between the Smith and Wesson booth, in the Shooting Sports Hall, and the Family Fun Zone, in the Hunting Hall, while zigzagging around the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Christian Bowhunters of America booth, the Wall of Guns or the the National Rifle Association store. At the outdoor show, everything is indoors. Temperatures are just below freezing outside-but almost t-shirt hot inside.
Among the items on sale at the NRA shop are an $80 five-day survival backpack (with "32 servings of gourmet entrées and milk," including creamy pasta, southwest beans and rice and hearty tortilla soup), NRA bibs for babies, a child-resistant barbecue lighter that looks like an AR-15 rifle and "coexist" mugs on which the letters are written with bullets and guns.
Since its foundation in 1871, the National Rifle Association was mainly focused on hunting and marksmanship. Only in the late 1970s, with a change in leadership, did it become political and the country's main lobby group for gun rights. Now, both interests, the political and the recreational, converge at the Great American Outdoor Show.
The NRA took over the 65-year-old event only two years ago. Until then it was run by Reed Exhibitions, a company that produces events as diverse as the London Book Fair, the Aircraft Interiors Expo and the Yachting Festival in Cannes. After the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself, the show's former producers announced they would ban the display and selling of assault weapons, like the ones Lanza used, at the 2013 event.
At that time, many exhibitors resolved to boycott the event. "It was a huge show of solidarity among them," explains Jeremy Greene, director of marketing and media relations at the NRA. "It was something like, if the show's producers are going to decide that one part of this lifestyle is unable to be seen in the show, that doesn't make sense to the industry, gun owners, hunters, outdoorsmen and women. It didn't make sense for those exhibitors to be part of that show."
Due to the boycott, Reed Exhibitions had to cancel the 2013 show. They soon released a statement: "It is unfortunate that in the current emotionally charged atmosphere this celebratory event has become overshadowed by a decision that directly affected a small percentage of more than 1,000 exhibitors showcasing products and services for those interested in hunting and fishing." In 2014, the event was already in the NRA's hands-with the addition of a new shooting sports hall. The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show was now renamed the Great American Outdoor Show.
To learn more about the type of guns that can mobilize so many people and cancel such a traditional event, I decide to attend a seminar called "Understanding the AR-15." Seminars simultaneously provide knowledge on guns and hunting topics and a respite from walking several miles through the fair. There are many. On February 11, for instance, one could choose between "Becoming the Ultimate Predator Hunter," "Lethal Force and the Law," and "Filming your Hunts," all happening at the same time.
The problem with my choice is that I am one of the few who does not raise a hand when the lecturer asks who in the room owns an AR-15. "What's the problem with you? Are you not American?" Pat Rogers, a 69-year-old retired officer of the Marine Corps and the NYPD, asks us.
So the lecture is not an introduction to America's most popular firearm, but a talk to the initiated. Rogers discusses if one should clean a rifle and what lubricant to use ("Vagisil, saliva, urine"), argues that gun owners don't touch their firearms as often as they should ("You should pass the handshake phase with the gun") and advises the owners to buy as much ammunition as they can, while they can.
"With the actual political environment, if you don't buy it now, you're stupid," he says.
Fortunately, like many people at gun shows, Rogers is a gun nerd and takes great delight in explaining the basics of guns while adding historical elements to the explanations. Rogers is also one of the guys who situates firearm ownership in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. "When it first became enacted, our Constitution said that people's right to keep and bear arms should not be infringed. It says we should have a weapon, and the inference is that it is a weapon the military uses. That's what the military uses," he says, pointing to the AR-15. "Because the military uses it, it's popular. If the military is using this gun, it should be a good gun."
Rogers argues that the AR-15's popularity is also due to its versatility. It's good for hunting and for competitive shooting, it's ergonomic, inexpensive and easy to use. "It's everything that somebody needs in a gun," he says.
From 1994 to 2004, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act prohibited the selling of variants of the AR-15 in the United States. Some states still impose restrictions on the trade; others, like New York, have banned the sales of AR-15 and similar arms after Sandy Hook.
Though it can look big and scary, Rogers explains that the AR-15 is a lightweight gun considered a "small arm." Small arms are less than .60-caliber, and it is a .22. "So while people look at this as a weapon of war," he says, "I could say that pretty much everything is a weapon of war."
Through the aisles, some showgoers are disappointed by the fact that they cannot actually buy guns at the show. Or, at least, most of them. The big firearms brands, such as Beretta, Colt, Smith & Wesson and Taurus, are not sellers. They are just showing off their classics and new lines of products. The fact that the guns are not for sale doesn't stop some people from simply taking them. On February 6, a woman and two men stole a prototype 9mm SBR rifle from Precision Firearms.
The biggest hit of the show is a t-shirt with the inscription "Responsibly Armed American." Entire families, fathers, mothers and kids of all ages, wear the garment, not by accident or by trend, but because the U.S. Concealed Carry Association gave them away. The group promotes training for gun owners and has its own magazine and show devoted to the "concealed carry lifestyle."
Other t-shirts for sale bear messages like "Obama, gun salesman of the year," "On the 8th Day God Made a Farmer" and "Veterans before Refugees." No one is wearing these, though. Apart from the creative t-shirt contest, the event seems to have a rigid dress code: everyone wears "camo"-camouflage outfits, with a hundred patterns of leaves and twigs-some from hat to boots, as if they are about to embark on a huge group hunt.
One shop sells swamp monster versions of the camouflage look, in the colors "mossy," "leafy green," "desert" and "winter white." It offers discounts for military, police and government officials. Another one sells perfumes that eliminate human odor or that make you smell like the forest.
These are not in use at the food areas, which have the scent of a dizzying mixture of fried food, smoked food and cinnamon. Nothing says organic, there is no green juice, and nobody cares. Instead, there is a great variety of pretzel and hot dog dishes, like the elk hot dogs, the pretzel sandwiches and the pretzel dogs (those come in regular, cheese and jalapeño cheese). Peter Peppers Pickles, "the home of the crazy cucumber," offers 17 pickle flavors with four levels of piquancy. Several men line up for "award winning" Texas ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, while families eat tons of funnel cakes. Beers are for sale, while signs on the walls warn about "VIPs": "If you appear to be a Visibly Intoxicated Patron, we cannot serve you any alcohol. IT'S THE LAW!"
Ducks are quacking everywhere, though they are not flying around. The shrill, loud sounds come from duck-calling blowing devices being sold and skillfully tested all around. Sometimes, there are turkeys and other birds' sounds too, but only a professional can tell the difference.
While resting or eating, the attendees can keep up to date with gun news by exploring magazines that companies give out at the show. One has an ad asking the hunter to "Stay Hungry" and donate a portion of his hunts to the 49 million Americans who face hunger. One article about the federal background check system, in the Concealed Carry magazine, quotes Plato and Lao-Tzu to argue the futility of restrictive laws and the fallibility of the government's system.
Another discusses in which situations one should respect or ignore gun-free zones. Still another calls gun owners to action by lobbying to defend their gun rights. "In doing so, we are applying Patton's principle of putting our adversaries on defense, forcing them to react to us." And it ends with the message: "Attack. Attack. Attack."
At the pressroom, Jeremy Greene, the NRA's spokesman, tells me that one of the association's goals at the event is to bring in major celebrities that can draw a national audience to the show. Besides country music concerts, the main attraction is an "inspirational evening" with Phil Robertson, the 69-year-old long-bearded star of the reality show "Duck Dynasty." The series follows his family of duck hunters and was once the most-watched nonfiction show on American television. At the fair, 3,000 fans paid between $20 and $30 to see the duck patriarch talk about "God, Guns and Country."
In January, Robertson had announced his support for Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Soon after, the two showed up in TV ads hunting ducks together. Cruz later suggested Robertson as a UN ambassador. On the duck hunter's page on Facebook, however, his fans are more ambitious and ask that Robertson run for president.
The show's audience loves the duck family. So much so that Phil's son Jase Robertson, another duck hunter, gave a lecture earlier in the day on a farm-like stage, with a fence, synthetic grass and mounted animals. So many people filled the arena and corridors that some almost fell over the fence.
With his heavy Louisiana accent, sunglasses atop a headband and a bible in his hand, Phil Robertson evangelizes about God, which seems to be his favorite subject. He speculates on what can happen to empires when they turn their backs on God. "What happened to the Roman empire? They are down to making pizzas, certainly not an empire anymore," he says. "But we're still here."
While he reflects on the matter of hippies and the consequences of sexual revolution ("gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis"), two people take to the stage in a protest. As they scream, Robertson doesn't interrupt his speech and doesn't even glance at them. In under 30 seconds, they are expelled from the stage. What are they protesting, I ask a man behind me. "I guess it was something about not killing animals." No one seems to care.
Half an hour later, he starts to lecture about guns. He reminds his audience that commandment number six is "do not murder." That was 2,800 years before firearms were invented, he says. "Evidently, there was a murder problem. Then how did they kill each other? Cause they certainly did not do it with guns. If we could just have done something about those spears, those rocks, or those sharp pointed sticks, think of the lives we could have saved!" Everyone laughs.
Robertson, once again assuming a preaching tone, announces a prayer for his country, where "we're burning our own children, we practice perversion, we're a depraved nation." He prays for America and for the group that tried to disrupt him, so that they will repent from their sins. "Amen, I'm done," he says. On Instagram, one woman writes that the talk "was cool, because he pissed off a lot of liberals by talking about God, guns and country." Outside the Farm Complex, it's snowing and the protesters are nowhere to be found.
Another protest took place a few days earlier in front of the National Civil War Museum, the number one "thing to do" in Harrisburg, according to the users of the travel website TripAdvisor. Proud to be "the only museum in the United States that portrays the entire story of the American Civil War," "without bias" to Union or Confederate causes, the museum stages Civil War scenes with wax figures and lots of guns. Near the end of the exhibition, there is a tiny section dedicated to the "costs of war."
During the Great American Outdoor Show, the museum promotes a special exhibition, sponsored by the NRA. Called Guns & Lace-also the name of the NRA program that encourages women to learn how to shoot-the exhibit presents original firearms from the Civil War and dresses worn by women at that time. A group protested the exhibition of a Colt revolver used by Confederate guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill on a raid on Lawrence, Kansas, in 1863, where 180 Union sympathizers were killed.
On the day I visit the exhibition, there is no protest, and anyone who passes the museum entrance can get a free gunlock distributed as a courtesy of the Dauphin County sheriff's department. The visitor can also calmly observe the dresses and firearms alongside Abraham Lincoln. Dressed in a frock coat, top hat and bow tie, Lincoln is fonder of the arms. The president (actually the actor James Hayney, an impersonator) attentively reads the descriptions of each of the weapons on display.
Half an hour earlier, Lincoln was at the museum's auditorium lecturing about his involvement in slavery abolition as a part of Black History Month. People lined up to get selfies and asked him about his relationship with his wife and about his son, who was rescued from certain death on a train platform by the actor Edwin Booth. Even after Hayney finished his Lincoln performance, guests continued to ask, "After you died, what did you think of?"
On the following day, Valentine's Day, three historic guns, worth $650,000, were stolen from the exhibition.
Tourists' second favorite "thing to do" in Dallas, according to TripAdvisor, is The Sixth Floor Museum, the place from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy dead in 1963. The first favorite is a botanical garden.
Oswald bought his Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5 millimeter rifle, which is not in the exhibit, by mail order, and paid $19.95 for the gun and the scope and an additional $1.50 for postage. If adjusted for inflation, it would cost $166.21 today, ten times more than the ticket to the museum ($16) or a two-day pass to the Dallas Gun Show ($15), 2.2 miles away from the museum, where an enormous variety of rifles and other guns could be found one weekend in January.
The "largest gun show in Texas" does not show up in the TripAdvisor list, though it attracted some 8,000 visitors that one could not find on the empty avenues of Dallas that weekend. Javier ("You won't get many last names here. People are paranoid"), a schoolteacher, is there to accompany his father. He tells me he already has all the guns he needs. "I think the way to have guns is one or two pistols, one or two revolvers, one or two shotguns and one or two rifles, and that's it. I have about six." When asked why people need firearms, he has a prompt list: to protect their houses, to hunt, to collect, to practice shooting. "The thing is, in the northeast, in crowded places like New York City, there's no need for a gun. So they say to the rest of us: 'We don't want guns!'"
Just a few days before this gun show, President Barack Obama had announced his intention to expand background checks on gun sales. To some people these are useless measures; they say it would be impossible to conduct background checks in all gun sales in the country. To others, the defenders of the Second Amendment, this was the government trying to restrict people's rights to have arms. At last, the government was coming to get their guns. In fact, Obama's calls for restrictions often have the opposite of their intended effect.
After mass shootings, more Americans get worried about gun violence and gun sales always soar. In December 2015, after 14 people were killed in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, 1.6 million firearms were sold. The only month in the last 15 years with more sales than that was January 2013, with 2 million guns sold (seasonally adjusted numbers), just after the Sandy Hook shooting and Obama's re-election.
On the first day of the Texas show there were 5,500 attendees, the same amount as the entire weekend of the previous show, according to Albert Ross, the spokesperson for the Dallas Arms Collectors Association, which promotes the event. Ten years ago, the 81-year-old attorney, who calls himself a "very serious gun collector," put part of his treasure up for auction so he could buy his daughters a motel: 750 rifles and shotguns were sold. He now has 450. Ross has been dealing with firearms for 70 years, has been practicing law for 55 years, has had a federal license to sell guns for 53 years (when he first acquired it, it cost $1 a year) and has been teaching hunting education in Texas for 46 years.
Gun education is one of Ross' main activities. A nice training room at his house, "air conditioned, carpeted and with some of my game heads," is used for both his classes and his grandson's Boy Scouts group meetings. "Every high school used to have a shooting range in the basement, and now it's against the law to take a gun into a school. I'm opposed to it," he says. Ross believes that shooting is a sport like basketball or baseball, an acquired skill that "needs practice, practice, practice." The Dallas Arms Collectors Association, a nonprofit organization, uses the earnings it gets from its gun shows to sponsor activities like high school shooting teams. Renting 2,000 tables to vendors for $80 each, plus the attendance fees, minus the rent of the place, security, and incidentals, Ross says the association earns around $20,000 per show.
Gun shows are so popular that it is hard to accurately count how many there are in the country. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms estimates that between 2,000 and 5,200 gun shows take place in the U.S. every year. Data from 1998 reveals that more than 10% of gun shows happen in Texas, where an open-carry gun law has been in effect since January 1, 2016. On GunShowTrader.com, one of the main sources of information on gun shows, there are 33 shows scheduled for April in Texas alone.
Now in his tenth year of cancer treatment, Mr. Ross ran himself over with his own pick-up last July and is still recovering from the injuries. So I follow him and his walking cane while he slowly guides me through the aisles of the show. Here are the Second World War guns; there is a $50,000 Ma Deuce machine gun from 1953. Here are some leather cowboy belts and gun holsters (these are selling a lot more since the open-carry law); there are the colorful handbags for ladies to conceal their weapons. Ross wants to show me a Brazilian flag he saw the day before, but we can't find it: there are only Confederate, Lone Star and Don't Tread On Me flags.
"Fuck Isis" shirts cost $20 and "Bullets and Bibles" is the name of a vendor who sells both these things together. Patches display messages such as "Kill bad guys like a champion today," "I run towards gunfire" and "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." At one table, that of the Texas Open Carry Association, a man tells me I can get a license to carry after a three-hour course. I will not have to shoot a real gun. He gives me his card with quotes from four American presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Reagan) defending the right to bear arms.
Gun owners don't seem to have a favorite Presidential candidate, though they have a presidential target: the current one. Barack means "Banning American Rights and Constitutional Knowledge," says one t-shirt. A poster that depicts Hitler and reads "Adolf Hitler registered guns in 1935 for a kinder, gentler nation and the world lived happily ever after" is selling as a "Hitler Obama poster."
That's why it is impossible not to notice, the following day, among dozens of cars with stickers like "U.S. Army Dad" and "No Mo B.O.," a light grey Nissan XTerra parked right in front of the show's entrance stickered with "Obama'12" "Stand With Planned Parenthood" and "We are the 99%." While writing a note to the audacious driver, I hear a voice: "You want to talk to me, right?"
Charles is a man in his 60s or 70s and the "only Democrat alive" in his family. Son of a Republican father and a Democrat mother, the retired employee of American Airlines chose to follow his mother. He was pro-choice and thought that the Democrats cared about senior citizens and minorities. He has also hunted all his life.
"I have been listening to the conversations in the gun show. They are all Republicans and I have been a Democrat all my life. Here, I will never tell anyone," he says. "There's no reason for giving them a target." If Charles doesn't come to the show with a friend, there's a big chance he won't be talking to anyone. There is one thing he had in common with most of them, though: He will not say how many guns he owns. "Next thing you know, they'll be knocking at my door," says the Democrat. "Let's say I try to have one of everything I need."
What attracted him to guns? Charles, like many gun lovers, has a hard time explaining it. "I don't know," he says. "I probably had my first gun when I was five or six, mostly to shoot targets, and it's just been very relaxing to me. They were there all my life." Charles wants to keep a low profile, is tired and wants to go back home. "I'm just here today because one day they won't have gun shows-and that's probably good."
Democrats like Charles are not the only minority in gun shows. In two days, I saw just three families and two groups of African American friends, and around twice as many Latinos. Women are never alone or with a girlfriend: they always come with a male companion. Besides me, there is only one woman walking around the show by herself, selling a 40 mm Smith & Wesson AR carbine she carries under her arm.
The majority of the attendees are white men, mostly elderly or middle-aged. "Even if white men promoted gun ownership as a necessary right of every American, the reasons for gun ownership depended upon an often highly racial and gendered view of America's history," writes Joan Burbick in the 2006 book "Gun Show Nation - Gun Culture and American Democracy." In popular culture, "guns often are equated with male action. And white men get to act more than anyone else in our popular imaginations, defending our freedoms and making the world safe for democracy."
Burbick, a Professor Emeritus at Washington State University, explored gun culture without being an outsider to it. Raised in a family of hunters and herself the owner of guns, she has lived 30 years on the border between Washington and Idaho. Interested in the national narrative of the American West, she decided to research the history and daily life of gun culture in the country by visiting gun shows and NRA events.
In her book, Burbick reflects on how firearms are entrenched in America's identity, so I ask her over the phone if she thought American gun owners appreciate to be seen as part of a "gun country." "Some of them do, and I think most of the people I've talked with take that from a very Hollywood or westernized version of their past. They romanticized their national mythology," she says. "So you are not talking about history, you are talking about national storytelling. The language of patriotism under gun ownership is very emotional, very fantasized."
Burbick believes, though, that there are distinctions between the gun rights movement, which she considers more confrontational, and traditional gun owners, like hunters, who are not defending their rights to bring rifles to schools, churches or coffee shops. Those distinctions need to be made, she points out, by those who are not part of this culture, to promote a dialogue and reduce the polarization on the topic. "The discussion got so polarized," she says, "that there isn't a discussion going on."
"Part of the problem is that in the United States we have a very urban environment that doesn't know anything about guns. So if you want to have a discussion with them about specific guns you can't," she argues. "And then you have people who are fanatically involved with guns, who have up to 500 weapons in their homes and can go on for hours about the distinctions between weapons and their rights to have all of them. There is a huge chasm between these people. How can we bridge them? That is going to be difficult."
The chasm is a hot topic. In Dallas, although he looks like the typical white male gun show guest or exhibitor, Tony Green is there selling an original product: his self-published book about "the issues that are threatening our republic." "Dire Distress - Our Republic on Life Support," released in December 2015, has chapters with names like "Immigration & Border Protection," "Manufactured Racism" and "Barack Hussein Obama." It is the result of months of study of Islam, the Quran and Muhammad, a proud Green informs his audience.
Wearing a crucifix and a t-shirt with the American flag and the word Infidel (which means one without faith, but is used by people who oppose Islam), Green starts to talk about his book and then says that he has an intuition that this year's election might not even happen.
It all has to do, he explains, with the refugee crisis, or the "infiltration of refugees": "Allowing tens of thousands of people to come to our country unchecked creates the circumstances for an invasion. If it can be classified as an invasion, Obama declares martial law, suspension of habeas corpus, there are no elections and then it comes the total transformation of America." (In case the elections do take place, he would vote for Donald Trump.)
Does he really think all this could happen? "It is not as much a conspiracy as it is a prediction and a caution," he argues. Another of Green's forecasts says that, if the American government buries the Second Amendment, its population might rebel, and there will be "uprisings, shootings, innocent bloodshed." American people are, after all, worried that new attacks such as San Bernardino might happen soon, so they fear for their safety, he says. That's why they are here at the gun show buying firearms.
By the door to the show, there is a gallon-sized water jug with the inscription "bullets found in unloaded guns." Gun owners can enter the event with their weapons as long as they are empty. If they are not, security personnel take the bullets from the guns. The water jug is almost half-full of ammunition.
TV commercials for the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg announced a World of Family Fun. Comcast, however, tried to make it less fun by asking the NRA to remove images of children with guns from one of the ads before it went on air. The association said the images came from the air gun range, but agreed to make the changes.
The association promotes another national meeting, in May, which is restricted to its members and more politically focused. Another group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, sponsors the Shot Show, the largest event targeted at the shooting industry, every January in Las Vegas. That makes the Great American Outdoor Show the biggest family-oriented event of its kind. And it really feels like it, with the presence of dogs, kids and as many baby carriages as wheelchairs.
At the Great American Show, kids shoot air guns and play at the 3 Gun Experience. The Family Fun Zone has activities for small kids like archery, laser shooting and fishing for plastic fishes in a plastic pool. On Valentine's Day, it was decorated with a display for photo-ops with flowers, hearts, pink balloons and the words "be mine," "love" and "#NRA."
Just beside the NRA store, cute and colorful bird cartoon characters call attention to the Eddie Eagle and the Wing Team booth. Eddie is a beefy bird dressed in a red sports shirt with fingers in his wings who teaches children what to do if they run into a gun. The booth distributed DVDs with Eddie's videos, songs and lessons that reached, according to their material, 28 million children since 1988.
"With a firearm present in about half of American households, it's a vital message that all children need to hear," says the DVD cover: "Stop. Don't touch. Run away. Tell a grown-up."
At the air gun range, Barb Stossel waits for her 11-year-old Ryan to do some shooting. "He is having a blast," she says. She knew nothing about shooting or hunting before her son recently started to watch outdoor TV shows on YouTube and became addicted to them. This kind of addiction is not unusual for the show's audience. A couple named Lee and Tiffany Lakosky, who have a hunting show on Outdoor Channel, spent an entire weekend standing and giving autographs to a line of fans that was never shorter than 40 people. As soon as Ryan arrived in Harrisburg, he attended seminars and made instant friends. The next step, Stossel plans, is taking Ryan to a hunter safety course. "We are all learning during the process," she says. "One thing I learned is that next year I will have to wear camo from head to toe."
Meanwhile, Faith Deitrich is watching her kids play a bow and arrow game. She tells me that the children take part in an archery program at their school in Virginia, and that it is considered a very fun and social activity in schools that have money. Deitrich says she hunts with her husband sometimes, though she's not fond of it. "It's too early and too cold," Deitrich grumbles. "Every time I'm there, I wish I were home, sleeping. The good thing is that if you kill two deers you have food for a whole year."
Deers, elks, whitetails, antelopes, bears, wolves and boars are all around the hunting hall, some aisles with as many as 50 lifelike animals staring at you with their artificial eyes. Kids and big guys line up to take selfies with the ones that look most "real." Most of these booths sell hunting trips and gear or taxidermy, but not all of them. Hunt of a Lifetime is a nonprofit organization that promotes hunting and fishing trips for children and teenagers who have serious diseases.
The fact that the last or special dream of a sick kid can be to go out hunting and maybe killing an animal is not a problem for Marge Crider and Daniel Hughes, volunteers trying to get donations for the organization at the show. "Who's to say what your dream should be?" Crider asks. "Not all kids dream of going to Disney World."
Tina Pattison founded the nonprofit in 1998, after she asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help her stepson, who had cancer, to go hunting. The foundation said they had stopped doing hunts, so Pattison decided to do it herself. Eighteen years later, they say they have helped 900 kids with cancer or heart problems to fulfill their hunting dreams in Africa, New Zealand and across the U.S. "You should watch our 'Against All Odds' video," Crider suggests. "But you better have a box of tissues around."
Outside the show, Crider and Hughes promote Chinese auctions to collect money for the trips: the prizes are gift cards from gun shops, jewelry made from shell casings or candy baskets, all donated. At the show, they sometimes get $1,000 contributions. "There's no one here who would not give money for a kid to go on a hunt," Hughes says. "If you explain what you are doing, they are going to give you everything they got in their pocket."
Once you start walking around that part of the show, it is easy to see that Hunt of a Lifetime's initiative is not so unique. Various nonprofits benefit from charity from the hunting and shooting audience for their projects. The LEEK Hunting and Mountain Preserve offers a similar service for disabled veterans, with the help of impressive mechanical chairs that can help the veterans "walk" around hunting fields. At the booth, there is a sign warning that they have nothing to do with the Wounded Warrior Project, one of the most famous charities of this kind, which was recently the subject of a CBS News investigation that accused the group of wasting donated money.
"It's the third time you walk around here, you can ask your questions," says a man taking care of another charity booth that sells pins, pens and coins and has a sign that reads "Hillary for Prison 2016." Dave Jossart, a retired law enforcement officer, is the financial director of AmericanSnipers.org, an organization of "snipers that support snipers in the global war on terror." Since 2003, the group, previously known as Adopt a Sniper, provides operational equipment for military platoons around the world.
They argue that oftentimes snipers have to spend their own money to buy gear they need. That's why the group sends them things like accessories, magazines and even personal hygiene items. Jossart can't say if the donations go to Iraq, Afghanistan or somewhere else: The destination is secret. The group sends the equipment-which they get from former snipers, gear companies and with the sales at shows and on their website-to military bases across the country. Last year, the charity says it gave $62,000, collected with the auction of five rifles, to the widow of Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal who inspired the hit movie "American Sniper." Another veteran who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder killed Kyle at a Texas gun range. Kyle was trying to help him recover by taking him to the range.
Sean Maloney's job is to help gun owners and prevent them from being arrested or sued when they use a gun in self-defense. The huge (6-foot-2-inch) and bold attorney, probably the only man in a suit at the show, is the cofounder of Second Call Defense, an insurance company that offers "complete legal protection for armed self-defense" from a 24/7 attorney in the 50 states as well as defense fees and psychological support.
As many similar companies are emerging in recent years (the U.S. Concealed Carry Association also offers the service), Second Call proudly sells its product as the only one of its kind backed by the NRA. At the Outdoor Show, 40 gun lovers, some teenagers, kids and a baby in a stroller, converge on a seminar room to hear Maloney talking about "Lethal Force and Law Universal Concepts Gun Owners Must Understand." His seminar is a daily activity.
Maloney says the happiest day of his life was when he turned 18 and could, at the same time, drink a beer and get a concealed carry permit. His main goal with the seminar is to make everyone understand and remember when it's legal to use a gun in self-defense: when you are in "fear of immediate and unavoidable death or serious bodily injury or harm."
"That's the answer to 'why did you kill?', 'why did you pull a gun?', 'why did you do this?' Memorize it. You need to practice, folks, because it's not going to come out naturally. Honey, what will we have for dinner? I was in fear of death or serious bodily injury or harm. We know we use lethal force because of what?" he asks the audience.
Everyone answers: "We were in fear of death or serious bodily injury or harm." He would repeat the same mantra 22 times during the 70-minute lecture.
Maloney also encourages gun owners to reflect on whether they are prepared to kill someone and not to leave the "discussion with yourself" to the heat of the moment. "Crime reports show that us, law abiding citizens, we wait too long to make a decision. We are good guys with guns, we don't want to take another human life, but we have to be prepared if we are forced to."
A woman asks what she can legally do if she sees someone stealing a car in her driveway. Maloney explains that in the United States you cannot use lethal force to retrieve property. "So I just call 911 and watch?" she asks, annoyed. "Do you want to live with yourself when you killed somebody because they took your car?" Maloney replies.
The attorney offers the audience a special tip: always carry a loaded gun. "If you always, always, always load your gun, your brain knows that it is always loaded and your finger never touches the trigger. An always-loaded gun has never accidentally shot anybody," he guarantees. "That's the best advice that anybody can get."
One of the biggest advantages of the product Maloney is selling, he argues, is that whenever a client has a shooting self-defense problem, he will have a local lawyer, who will know how local police, juries and prosecutors think. It's quite different, he points out, to have a firearm problem in Kennesaw, Georgia, where gun ownership is required by law, and in San Francisco, California, where the last gun shop recently closed its doors.
"I'm from Ohio. If I'm outside of Cincinnati, I'm pretty safe and secure in my Second Amendment rights: the prosecutor is great, the sheriffs are great, they think like me, they encourage us to protect ourselves," says Maloney. "But if I go home to see mom and dad, I travel through Cleveland, where, if you mention a gun, is like mentioning bombing an airplane."
"They are not like me. They are not like us," he says.
Us, in this case, is almost a third of the country. According to the 2015 study "Gun Ownership and Social Gun Culture," 29% of U.S. residents have a firearm, and gun ownership is 2.25 times greater among those who are involved in the gun culture. Which came first, the gun culture or the gun ownership, is a question even specialists have a hard time answering.
"Parents buy guns for their children, so you could argue that the culture breeds the ownership. But you can also counter-argue that getting a gun and holding on to it perpetuates the culture as well. There's no point in seeing causality here. They are mutually reinforcing concepts," says the study's lead author Dr. Bindu Kalesan, an assistant professor at Columbia University and Boston University, during a Skype interview.
By conducting a rare academic study on gun culture, the researchers' goal was to understand gun ownership and use this data in future research on gun policies and public health strategies. They found out that guns are part of the social life with friends for 21.7% of gun owners and of the social life with family for 19.7% of gun owners. Ownership varies significantly between states, from a 5.2% population of gun owners in Delaware to a 61.7% in Alaska.
The information that most surprised Kalesan, though, was left out of the final publication. They asked non-gun owners if they thought about purchasing a gun in the future: 27% said yes. Which means if they do act on that 50% of the population will own guns.
The study also confirmed something that is not hard to figure out by attending gun shows and events: the typical gun owner is a white man, over 55, who only speaks one language —English.
Among the few foreigners at the show who sell hunting trips to their own countries at least one of them is familiar with Harrisburg. Gonzalo Martínez, an Argentinian gynecologist who has the words "Carpe Diem" tattooed on his back, is promoting a duck, pigeon and turtledove hunting territory in Northern Argentina. He is drinking mate tea with his business partner, Spanish urologist Peio Arrosagaray, who loves to hunt and break up kidney stones.
Many years earlier, in 1993, when he was 18 and dreamt about joining the military, Martínez came from Argentina to be an exchange student in nearby Millerstown. His American host father, the contractor Steve Willow, chose the Argentinian among other foreign students because he wrote "hunting" as one of his favorite activities. And the two would hunt together almost every day. At five o'clock, the young Martínez would wake up to hunt. At eight, he went to school. "On the first day of deer season, there was no class at school. It was holiday," he says. "I swear to you! The kids just didn't go to school so they closed the doors."
After the exchange program, he went back home and gave up becoming a military man, though he never stopped hunting. Both hunter-doctors highlight, however, that the hunting culture in their countries is completely distinct from the gun culture in the United States. "There, hunting is an elite activity. Here, the gun thing is massive, a life style. Do you know who organizes this? It's the NRA. Politicians win elections thanks to the NRA. Have you been to the gun hall? They are selling weapons with silencers," says Martínez. "Weapons of war!" replies Arrosagaray. Martínez vents: "Están totalmente locos."
"Every empire falls, and this country will fall at some point, because they are totally nuts," he says.
A sad and unexpected event brought Martínez back to Pennsylvania ten years ago. His American host father was shot and killed by one of his own workers. "These things happen here every day," says Martínez.
When he came back to the U.S. for the funeral, his host mother, Carol, offered him a gift. "She gave me the rifle with which Steve taught me how to hunt. I use it to hunt in Argentina. You see how things are. The same thing that connected us, a hunting rifle, was what killed him."
ADRIANA KÜCHLER, 36, editora-adjunta de Cultura da Folha, é mestre em jornalismo em artes e cultura pela Universidade Columbia.
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