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I've got one for you:
Two guys in wraparound shades with "Wetback Power" gang tattoos saunter past a Maricopa County sheriff's volunteer posse member. Both are openly armed with pistols and combat shotguns.

The weekend cop looks 'em over and says, "Have a nice Sunday, guys."
It was all part of the gun show April 10 and 11 at Crossroads of the West--a.k.a. "The Big One"--the annual cash-and-carry firearms megamart that occupies two exposition buildings and two tents on the Arizona State Fairgrounds.

I spent most of my weekend's daylight hours at Crossroads of the West, looking for a hot deal on a gently used, high-grade .380-caliber semiautomatic.

Some deride the .380 as a chick's gun. I say when it comes to urban self-defense, bag Dirty Harry and his clumsy, .44 Magnum penis extender. Think speed, style, stealth. James Bond packs a .380. You sacrifice a little stopping power, sure, but a good Colt .380 holds 10 hollow-point rounds. Forty feet or closer, you'll still put the bad guy on his back.

I saw at least 50 used .380s for sale, but they were all shabby brands. Saturday night (or early afternoon, in this case) specials, priced--and selling--at 120 to 180 bucks each. Even so, I came away convinced that the bumper-sticker booths alone at Crossroads of the West justified the $7 entrance fee.

Check it out:
"Have gun, will shoot."
"Save a child. Shoot a drug dealer."
"Boycott Jane Fonda--American traitor bitch!"

[Picture of a Waco-raider in black ski mask, with a machine pistol] "I'm with the government. I'm here to help you." (I bought five of these.)

"Earth First--we can mine the other planets later."
"Work--It's the White thing to do."
"There is nothing that can't be solved with high explosives."

"Proud to be politically incorrect, straight, white, pro-life, Christian, and of the opinion that Spotted Owl tastes like chicken."

[Picture of mushroom cloud] "Built by lazy, illiterate Americans. Tested on Japan."

And the cake-taker:
"If I'd known it would turn out like this, I would have picked my own damn cotton."

I would have jotted down a few more for you, but I got the idea the guys in the bumper-sticker booths didn't like me writing in my notebook. I got this idea when one of them, wearing a Glock .45 on his hip, yelled, "Hey! What the fuck are you doing?"

As you might deduce from the bumper stickers, nearly all of the gun people at the gun show--hawkers and customers--were white men, or white men with their white families. I saw only one black guy, and he was buying body armor.

I did, however, see several contingents of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans whose arms, necks and chests were inked with Olde English, prison-style gang tattoos.

I don't mean to get across that the only criminal-minded gun buyers at Crossroads of the West were Mexican or Mexican-American, or that all (or even most) of the gun buyers there were criminals. But some at least dressed the part.

Gun shows like Crossroads are basically flea markets for guns and gun paraphernalia. Which means that alongside your Y2K survivalist booths and your militia literature booths and your bulletproof-vest booths and your fighting-knife booths and your blowgun/crossbow booths and your Sheriff Joe booth pimping pink underwear, you have dozens if not hundreds of booths selling hundreds if not thousands of handguns, shotguns and/or rifles.

Now, some of these booths are operated by federally licensed firearms dealers, which means that before one can purchase a handgun, you must fill out paperwork, show ID and undergo a background check to make sure you're not blacklisted by the feds. (The dealer calls in your name and social security number to a database operator in roughly the same while-you-wait process used in established gun stores.)

Other gun booths are not licensed, which means they are private collections and are not subject to federal gun laws such as the Brady Act. At Crossroads of the West, these booths were marked by signs like the one that depicted Uncle Sam within a red circle with a slash, aside the banner, "Private collection. No hassles! No paperwork!"

Which means no safeguard to prevent a convicted felon, or an illegal alien, or a fugitive from justice, or a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with a day pass, from picking up, say, a used Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum and a box of 50 rounds for $300: cash on the barrelhead and no questions asked.

Earlier this year, in a weekly radio address, President Clinton called for Congress to enact laws requiring background checks on anyone who buys a firearm at a gun show, whether from a licensed dealer or not. He called gun shows "arms bazaars, where lawbreakers shop side-by-side with the law-abiding," and cited a recent Department of Justice study that reported there were 4,400 gun shows advertised in America last year. He described the shows as "forums for gun traffickers, a convenience store for weapons used to maim and kill."

As I alluded earlier, Crossroads of the West was not a media-friendly event.
Sunday, one guy watching the entrance had on a shirt that proclaimed, "No drug dealers, child molesters, federal agents, attorneys or media!"

For "security purposes," I was told, no cameras were allowed anywhere near the show. New Times photographer Doug Hoeschler got off a few shots of proud new gun owners in the parking lot, but organizers threatened to confiscate his film when he snapped a picture of the gun-check table outside the show's entrance. At this table, security guards inspected any gun openly carried into the show to ensure it was unloaded (a policy that made little sense to me, since there were all sizes of bullets and clips all over the place once you got in the show).

Inside, I learned quickly to keep my note-taking on the down low, or risk paranoid interrogations by the black-helicopter set. (Interrogations I defused by producing my old Alaska driver's license; people from the Last Frontier have beaucoup street cred at gun shows.)

My comments on the poor selection of .380s notwithstanding, I have to say there were a lot of sweet guns at the Crossroads. Football fields of gleaming black-and-chrome weaponry. High-powered, high-tech. I lingered over a pistol-grip, eight-shot, 12-gauge Mossburg with heat shield. "$250," the price tag read. "Ideal 4Y2K home defense."

Clearly, though, the weapon of choice at Crossroads of the West was the AR-15 rifle, the semiautomatic, for-sale-to-civilians clone of the U.S. Army's standard infantry issue M-16.

I saw more people buying AR-15s, at $800 to $1,400 a pop, than any other type of gun. There's a good reason for that: AR-15s don't fake the funk on the nasty dunk. They were made for inexperienced (read: "drafted") soldiers in Vietnam. AR-15s are lightweight and user-friendly. You don't really have to aim them--you can just sort of point and fire. Fast. They hold 30 rounds of high-velocity .223 ammunition, which will cut through dry wall or stucco as easy as dense jungle growth.

In the words of one towheaded lad: "Wow! Dad, those are tight!"
Did I mention I saw a lot of kids playing with guns at Crossroads of the West? Not saying that's a bad thing, necessarily, just an observation: There were lots of families at the show, and lots of kids fondling, fiddling with and pointing guns.

For some reason (perhaps it was the smiling fathers overseeing the fiddling, fondling and pointing), the kids playing with guns didn't disturb me nearly as much as the rude fool in the Outback duster and fedora selling bullwhips--and, according to a placard stuck in his hatband, "Buying switchblades! Will pay cash!"--who kept cracking his whip behind my back. I mean, come on, dude: If there's one sound I don't want to hear at a gun show, it's a sudden, sharp snap!

Fortunately, Crocodile Dundee left the exposition hall before I had to soak him down with Mace, and took his act to the parking lot, where, in a surreal, uniquely Arizona tableau, pinch-faced housewives in vibrant polyester suits arriving for the Amway convention at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum chatted with a "Peace Through Superior Firepower"-shirt-wearin' Soldier of Fortune fan with two Colt Python .44s in his belt and a Ruger Mini-14 rifle slung over his shoulder, a Magic Markered sign taped to its barrel: "Make an offer."

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: dholthouse@newtimes.com


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