A Gun-Dumb Brit's Journey into American Gun Culture

To conquer his fear of guns, a British immigrant takes a road trip to gun lovers' mecca: the NRA Convention.

A Gun-Dumb Brit's Journey into American Gun Culture
Eric Sauseda
"After the Sandy Hook massacre," a teary Glenn Beck told the crowd, "the government went in, seized the opportunity [and] exploited these families."

The AR-15 is lighter than I expected.

It's an intimidating chunk of rough-hewn black metal and rubber, but it sits softly in my hands. I bring it to my shoulder and, making sure I'm not pointing it at anyone, I peer down its sights. I'm not sure what to do, so I start to copy the man next to me, a big bearded guy with his baseball cap turned backward. He's turning the rifle around, upside down and side to side, to admire what I assume is some facet of the workmanship.

I perform a similar inspection, but I have no idea what I'm looking at. It's definitely a gun. It appears to mean business. There's a place where the magazine goes; I recognize that much from the movies. I can see where the bullets come out. After that I'm lost.

Ted Nugent titled his speech "Freedom is Not Free." Luckily the cookies in the press room were.
Eric Sauseda
Ted Nugent titled his speech "Freedom is Not Free." Luckily the cookies in the press room were.
A young girl looked pretty comfortable holding a rifle, which is more than can be said for the author.
Eric Sauseda
A young girl looked pretty comfortable holding a rifle, which is more than can be said for the author.

People swarm around Backward Hat and me as we perform this ritual inspection, thousands of people on their way from one gun to another, families on day trips, herds of young men in combat shorts that bulge under the weight of concealed carries and gun-company promo materials.

"It's not so bad, is it? How does it feel?" Fred, my gun Sherpa, has a glint in his eye. He thought we should get the big one out of the way, so we're standing at the Bushmaster display, in the middle of the NRA Annual Conference in Houston.

"The one that the liberals hate," Fred says, barely concealing his contempt. He's draped in a freshly pressed suit, face clean-shaven and hair perfectly cut. He might work for something called AmmoLand.com, as his press pass announces, but Fred wouldn't look out of place slickly anchoring a nightly newscast. "They've got a real hard-on for this gun. It's just a gun."

"I kind of like how it feels in my hand," I tell him, lying. The gun's entirely deactivated. It can't even be switched to "fire" from the safe position. A thin yellow cable prevents anyone from holding the trigger down, and there's a gaping hole where the magazine should be. But despite all these clearly necessary precautions for displaying a semiautomatic rifle in a place containing tens of thousands of people, my palms are slick with anxiety. I need to leave. Now.

"Put it up to your shoulder when you look down the sights," Fred says, grinning. "Take your finger off the trigger. That just shows people you've never held a gun before."

The far end of the rifle does fit snugly on my shoulder, but I still can't get comfortable. The model of gun that was used in the Sandy Hook killings and divided my new country is perched on my shoulder, and I can't keep my finger off the trigger.


It doesn't seem that long since I moved from Cardiff, Wales, to suburban Dallas, but it's been two years now — two years of bemusement at tank-sized pickups, non-ironic cowboy hats and differences in language, part of my never-ending quest to clumsily discover every British word that doesn't apply here. And of course, there's the difference in gun culture.

Before that AR-15, the first gun I ever held was an American friend's handgun, which I quickly handed back, half-paralyzed by some vague but very real fear. Before that — before I moved here for my wife's job — the closest I'd come to seeing a real gun was those arcade shooters, with their plastic cartoonish pistols and their imaginary lasers.

As you may have read on your most liberal friend's Facebook page, there are basically no guns in the United Kingdom, and basically no gun violence. In 1996, after a school shooting, the U.K. moved to ban or monitor every gun in the country. You can get hunting rifles on a five-year renewable license, but it will require references. There's a central database of gun owners. The whole place is basically one long Glenn Beck nightmare, right down to our strangely logical name for "soccer."

Given this backdrop, I was drawn to Houston by the chance to better understand Americans' fondness for guns — more than a third of households have one, although that number is falling — and to talk British to some serious patriots. Plus, as much as guns scare me, I was fairly certain I wouldn't get shot. "Journalist shot by NRA member" would be tough to spin, even for the guys who spin school shootings.

I arrive at the George R. Brown Convention Center on a Friday afternoon, the air and the mood outside heavy. The center is an industrial-looking monstrosity, outfitted, temporarily I assume, with 30-foot NRA badges, as if the building itself has been deputized. The closer I get, the more slogan-blaring T-shirts invade my sight lines, some funny ("Reduce noise pollution! Use a silencer!"), some gross (see previous parentheses). Protesters dot the sidewalk. Some are pro-gun folks wielding placards depicting Obama with a crudely stenciled Hitler mustache. The others are anti-gun, largely in pastels for some reason, muttering things incomprehensible toward an uncaring convention center.

I move inside and am hit immediately by a flash of bright yellow bursting from a huddle of noise and movement, heralding something called the Wall of Guns. It's not a wall. Several gigantic wooden cabinets are filled with everything from camouflage shotguns to revolvers to assault rifles I recognize from Goldeneye (the Nintendo 64 classic, not the film).

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56 comments
JRjr
JRjr

"The only way you can control a free people is to lie! The bigger the lie, the longer you deny reality, the more apt people are to believe it."  It's when he says "they've accepted the media lie that the NRA is malicious" that things start to turn. 

but...but... Glenn Beck IS part of the media, the lying media,  fed by the likes of LaPierre and abated by the likes of North and Nugent.

josh
josh

The "Wall of Guns" raffle was obviously not conducted without background checks. The story says the guns would be shipped to a local gun retailer, for the winners to pick up. The gun store will have to run the winner's name through the National Instant Check System, or face a felony charge. There's simply no other reason to ship the gun to a third party. Well, other than the fact that the NRA would commit a felony by shipping guns across state lines.

bop25062
bop25062

I'm sure the man that was run over and then had his head chopped off with a meat cleaver wishes he could had a weapon to defend himself what will the Brits or like the author of this story like to do ban the meat cleaver get real the lawless ones care nothing about a gun ban, gun control or a background check. If you hear this self proclaimed "red coat" we who believe in self protection of our life, property, and the pursuit of happiness are retarded country bumkins who believe in just wreaking havoc. Tell this to the man who lives in oak cliff Gavin stay a month not a day in the 5th ward in the wonderf city you were just in and talk to honest people who have to sleep in the tub to escape the bullets from drive bye's. I assure gangs, thugs, rapist, and murders don't think before they commit one of there horrible crime, " oh gee wonder of I'm legally authorized to do this." give me a break! I've been in law enforcement for 15 years the only deterant against bad people is for good people to defend themselves wake up we meaning law enforcement are here for "after the fact" when the son, daughter, or mom are already lying in the beatdown or dead. If you read you history books you would know that the so called "red coats" who you claim to were coming into the home of colonist and helping themselves to anything they liked it was only when a armed public of honest hard working patriots started defending themselves that the madness stopped. Welcome too the heartland of America brotha there are just some things you a self proclaimed "red coat" will never understand but it didn't stop you from coming to this country now did it. I'm love Brits even love the women of Brits but a "red coat" which term really is a derogatory comment toward the brittish people use by you sir which embodies what the colonist used to call the occupiers of this great nation I will not ever care for or understand.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

You and I will probably never find a middle ground to meet on when it comes to firearms ownership, gavin, but I do like the story.  You did more than most writers would have, even more than I would have.  I support an individual's right to keep and bear arms, but you would be hard pressed to convince me to go to an NRA event, and you'd have to kill me to get me anywhere Beck is speaking.  I think, on further investigation, you'll find most gun owners aren't all that much different than you, and have a host of topics they're more likely to bring up than guns.  We're all just normal people who happen to own firearms.  Some of us even like European Football.

joeinbost
joeinbost

Did you see the story on Dallas Safari Club   turns out it is a Front for Pedophile  Tours of the Third World

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Does it matter that a new gun would instantly become my most valuable possession in that house, followed not that closely by my tea kettle?

I would suggest that possession is the wrong word, and that the most valuable thing your your house to protect is your wife and yourself, in that order.  People who break into occupied houses want more than to pawn your stuff.

smithy7092
smithy7092

I'm pro gun, I live South Oak Cliff. My father was ex-military. I learned to shoot at age seven after a week of safety training. I used to keep a pistol, but switched to rifles, to allow my nieces and nephews at the house.

I call 911 at least once a week to advise them of gunshots on the next block. To live safely in my neighborhood you have to know certain things, like which blocks are controlled by which gangs, what haircuts and colors are hallmarks of gang activity, which houses you don't walk by least you see a cock or a dog fight, then there's santeros, the dealers moving, X, whack, and cheese (they get kids to sell for them in exchange for street cred and protection). Then there's just the average garden variety thieves and hookers, half of whom carry a weapon of some sort. This neighborhood is also filled with halfway houses, in the summertime the electrical grid is so old, it takes them weeks to correct an outage. So what do you think happens to ankle bracelets during that time. It's all very fine and good to think we're safe, but there really are some very bad people out there. So if they manage to get past the steel door, the sheperd, there's always calling 911 for a two hour wait for them to arrive. I support the NRA. I just wish they would do more on gun control and education, especially in school districts like this one. The Cliffdweller

epicmale
epicmale

I quote from the article:  "I kind of like how it feels in my hand," I tell him, lying.  Notice how easily he lies.  And there is no sense of remorse or guilt.  Truly, the liberal mindset is a mental illness of self destruction.

TexMarine
TexMarine

It's good to know that the idea of well armed Yank's makes you nervous. Enjoy your stay.

Americano
Americano

It was sneaky the way the author slipped Sandy Hook in there, considering all those kids were killed with handguns.

Reader
Reader

The UK did a great job banning/monitoring the guns used by the terrorists after they beheaded that British soldier in the streets, didn't they matey? You have quite the strange fear of firearms. I'd like to read an article from you about shooting trap/skeet for the first time, and/or shooting a target at a gun range. Also, something on how the U.S. needs Nando's.

Joshstruckoutagain
Joshstruckoutagain

Good article matey! Dove season is right around the corner Gavin, them critters sure taste good with a little lead, jalapenoes and bacon added.

NewsDog
NewsDog

Gavin,

Pity you have already decided you will never squeeze the trigger of an AR-15, it's a fun gun to shoot.

Maybe you should find a friend who has a .22, rifle or pistol, and some land where you can just go plinking. Think safety first then have some fun. It's kind of a rush the first time you make a can dance.  

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

good take by a non invested point of view.  I dont own a gun but I feel that if I wanted to, I should be able to.    Most of the time I never even think about it, but then some nights I lay in bed and hear some noise at 2 in the morning and think, if someone is breaking in my house right now, I have no way to defend myself.  

JRjr
JRjr

^ abetted

randi.trollop
randi.trollop

@josh The out-of-state winners would also likely break laws transporting them if given the guns in Houston.

JackGrimshaw
JackGrimshaw

@bop25062 Ar you seriously stoned, seriously grammar-challenged or just a blithering nitwit?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@bop25062 

Holy cow.

I don't think you're doing your side any favors with this screed.

joeinbost
joeinbost

So  stand yoru ground  ends at yoru Doorstep. How about that guy  who killed his Wife  FB   and he got off, but a woman who shot and Killed her  abusive  BF   goes to jail  Florida  what a Muslim World

R2D2
R2D2

@everlastingphelps This is factually incorrect. Please note the statistics here: http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN01940

To quote: "In England and Wales there were 388 firearm offences in which there was a fatal or serious injury, 13% lower than in 2009/10. The number of offences resulting in slight injury in 2010/11 was 5% lower than the number recorded in the previous year. In almost 80% of firearms offences no injury occurred."


From a population of approximately 50 million redcoats.


lolmathDailyMailwut?


CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum

@Americano Really? Unbelievable the ignorance that still remains about this event. He used a goddamn AR, genius. See Gavin's link to the state police statement. 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@NewsDog Ain't it just super fun to go out and shoot living creatures?  Just.... funsies...

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@ScottsMerkin I have to respectfully disagree with you on this.  The author has been so heavily indoctrination to the anti gun view that he was scared to even hold one.   

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@R2D2 Well, obviously the Daily Mail should have used their time machine to report on statistics that hadn't actually been compiled based on events that hadn't actually happened yet at the time of publication.

I mean, come on, that's precog 101.

Americano
Americano

@CogitoErgoSum

I've seen stories that say both, he did use an AR-15 and he didn't.  When it comes to the media in this country, who knows?  The media in this country is overwhelmingly anti-gun, unlike the Constitution.  The Founders were clear, the people need weapons that can protect them from a totalitarian government.  Handguns do not fulfill that role.  Crazy people do make that right disappear.

I think, therefore I am.

NewsDog
NewsDog

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @NewsDog   Myrna, did you actually read my comment? Where did I mention shooting any living creature? But I guess for people who don't think, facts and comprehension just get in the way. 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@WhiteWhale While that may be true that he has an anti gun view, he never says so in the article, we can only infer that he is bc he is from an anti gun law country.  

One other thing, is there something wrong with fearing guns?  Those that fear tend to respect the power of a gun

Americano
Americano

@CogitoErgoSum As exciting as it is to read your opinion of what the 2nd Amendment means, the Founders wrote about it at length.  RT Golden1 explains it well.  That Amendment was designed to keep a Totalitarian Government from running roughshod over the people.  Like the current administration, the British needed an unarmed public to have their way.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@CogitoErgoSum The Supreme Court has consistently upheld that the the Second Amendment, like all the others in the Bill of Rights, is an INDIVIDUAL right.  Gun ownership is already regulated enough, no need for more regulation.  The Founding Fathers, by the way, notably George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were clear that the citizenry must be allowed free and unfettered ownership of firearms.  You know, to prevent the kind of shit they had just rebelled against from happening again.

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum

@Americano @CogitoErgoSum The Founders meant no such thing. The Second was meant to provide for "well-regulated" militia members who would protect the country from foreign invaders (because there was no standing, peacetime army) and internal rebellion like the Whiskey Rebellion -- the very kind of rebellion that Teabaggers constantly preach is the reason for the 2nd Amendment. You have been manipulated into believing this pro-gun tripe. Regarding the news media: try not taking what is spoon-fed to you and use this thing called the Internet to find multiple sources to get closer to the truth. That's exactly what I did months ago when I learned that he did, in fact, use an AR. 

Americano
Americano

@G_David @Americano @GavinCleaver  

It doesn't matter what he used, it's the person who does the killing, not the gun.  I own 2 guns, neither of which has ever killed anyone.  Socialism requires and unarmed public.  They are easier to control.

 

NewsDog
NewsDog

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @NewsDog   And something else Myrna. Are you an absolute strict vegetarian? If not, how do you think the beef, chicken, pork product got to your plate?  

NewsDog
NewsDog

@ScottsMerkin @WhiteWhale   You shouldn't fear a gun, unless it's being pointed at you. Especially if the person pointing it doesn't know how to use it correctly.

Respecting the power is another issue. When I taught my son to shoot I showed him that using the example of what a .22 can do to a can of soda. Small entry hole but the back was torn apart. I told him the same thing can happen to a person. He has always been careful around guns.   

kduble
kduble

@ScottsMerkin @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz If you're psychologically stable and can pass a background check, I have no problem with it. It's your business.


 
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