At the Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, spirits seemed high. People wandered from booth to booth, and the scent of popcorn filled the air. It could have been mistaken for a state fair or weekend flea market were it not for the rows of weapons and accessories — gun parts, AR build kits and body armor — laid out on every surface. It was easy to overlook the one common emotion underlying the event: fear.
Here were weekend shoppers intently inspecting tools of death: moms testing the heft of handguns and fathers stocking up on ammo. When I asked attendees and sellers what gun ownership meant to them, most replied with the same word: “protection.”
The previous week had brought three highly publicized shootings. Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager in Kansas City, Mo., was allegedly shot by an 84-year-old White man after he rang the wrong doorbell to pick up his younger siblings; a 65-year-old man in Upstate New York allegedly shot and killed a 20-year-old woman who accidentally pulled into his driveway; and two cheerleaders in Texas were shot after trying to get into the wrong car after a practice.
For all the talk of protection, gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. Yet over and over, people told me they needed their guns to keep themselves safe.
Safe from what? Most couldn’t answer; they simply had a feeling that the world had become a more dangerous place. How would they use their guns in a crisis? Their confidence in their own abilities seemed inflated.
This manifested in the constant invocation of the word “tactical” — a gun-industry buzzword used to suggest that buyers of weapons, body armor and shooting courses will be able to engage with enemies like trained soldiers. In other words, a fantasy.
Republican leaders, including Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, have resisted calls for increased gun regulation after shooting deaths, arguing that the root problem is mental illness. But the paranoia that fuels gun-buying has come to seem like a mental health issue in its own right. [Continue reading…]