Last weekend, I had a decision to make: should I attend a March for Our Lives rally or go to a gun show?
I had valid reasons to be in both. I am a gun owner and hunter. But I started advocating for gun safety three years ago, after a man at a town hall I attended in Morton loudly declared that it was his “right given by God to wear an AR-15 in the middle of the street.” I’ve owned guns all my life, and I didn’t want him to speak for me. Although I want to be able to continue to use my firearms safely for hunting, I want to stop seeing more children being killed.
I had been to many marches, but I had never been to a gun show. I chose this option because I wanted to learn more about the extreme gun culture that pervades our country. At the entrance, a policeman asked me if I was carrying arms (I was not); then i paid $13 and got my hand stamped.
READ MORE: Philadelphia’s South Street massacre demands action on guns, but the GOP hasn’t
Two huge halls were filled with all kinds of gun culture for sale. There was a “Trump 2024” store and a store selling toy guns alongside stuffed animals and pop-its. A vendor was selling clear glass pomegranates filled with spices and hot sauce called “Grunt Green” and “A Salt Weapon”. There were guns with the Confederate flag printed on the stock and “Let’s Go Brandon” t-shirts and stickers for sale. A tactical gear store sign read: “SPECIAL NOTICE! Body armor will soon be BANNED!” (It looked like a flash sale “get them before they’re gone!”.)
Stun guns, rifles, pistols and shotguns filled the aisles. Curious shoppers were trying out the stun wands, their electric crackle crackling in the air. And then there were the ghost gun kits.
“Stun guns, rifles, pistols and shotguns filled the aisles.”
These are kits that contain an 80% crafted gun. The kit is sold separately from the rest of the gun, so when you leave the gun show, it’s not a working gun. But a salesman selling Polymer80 Sig Sauer handguns told me that for $460 he could sell me all the parts I needed to assemble the gun at home. I could buy the magazine and ammo from another vendor, watch an instructional video on YouTube, and have my own fully functional handgun at the end of the day. No sophisticated engineering or metallurgical skills are required. No background checks required. This means that someone banned from owning a firearm due to a history of domestic violence or violent crime could still buy one.
As I wandered the aisles and saw firsthand how Pennsylvania laws allowed would-be felons to get their hands on firearms, it was crystal clear that ghost guns had to be treated like firearms: numbered parts, background checks required.
It wouldn’t have been difficult for me to put together a semi-automatic rifle like the one used in the school shooting at Uvalde, again using parts sold at the gun show. These required a bit more assembly, but with a few tools, I would have a semi-automatic weapon myself in no time. I could buy him a stock, ammunition and a noise suppressor. It would be easy as pie for someone who is not allowed to buy a military style assault rifle to get the parts and build one, no background checks required. Just like two teenagers who were arrested last year in western Pennsylvania because they feared being plan a school shootout with homemade AR-15s.
I also observed how the system worked: at many tables there were buyers filling out paperwork and sellers sitting down with a computer or iPad to take them through the required background check. But I also saw a man walking down the aisles who had a long gun slung over his shoulder with a “For Sale $950” sign taped to the barrel. By just walking out, he could have sold this gun to anyone without a background check. And that would have been perfectly legal.
Finally, I had had enough. Walking back to my car alongside a man carrying unnumbered parts for an AR type long gun and an ammo bag, I wondered: how would this be used? Not for hunting. The best I could hope for was shooting practice.
Carol Lastowka is CeaseFirePA Education Fund Southeast Coordinator and Giffords Gun Owners for Safety Ambassador. She lives in Swarthmore.