BANG BANG, SHOOT SHOOT: It was a weird time, I admit, to to be checking out guns at last weekend’s Earl Warren gun show. But then I’ve always had a hankering for a pearl-handled two-shot derringer. Who hasn’t? They’re small; they’re smart; and unlike the bulky ostentatious models favored by the Travis Bickles of the world, the derringer can fit in my fanny pack without making my ass look fat. Six days out of seven, the derringer might make an ideal fashion statement. But for the past couple of years, the United States has been hopelessly stuck on day seven. There’s Aurora. There’s Newtown. And now there’s Big Bear, where Chris Dorner, the delusional ex–L.A. cop who grandiosely declared “unconventional and asymmetrical warfare” against his former bosses at the LAPD, went up like a ball of fire. Before Dorner was cornered and cooked, Santa Barbara police received a couple of weekend-sighting alerts. Naturally, one was at the Chick-fil-A outlet that just opened. Santa Barbara’s finest duly responded, checked out the security camera video, and ascertained the “suspect” was another muscular African-American male altogether. Next week, no one will remember Dorner’s name. It will be somebody else. Who remembers Jimmy Lee Dykes, last week’s reigning psycho du jour? Dykes is the nasty neighbor from hell who killed some poor Alabama school-bus driver and then abducted a 5-year-old boy — who turned out to be clinically hyperactive and diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome — whom he kept with him in an underground bunker.
At the Earl Warren gun show, there were no AK-47s, no automatics, semiautomatics, or anything that could remotely fall under the rubric “black guns.” It was strictly historical firearms, nothing newer than 50 years old. If you wanted to “spread some lead” — or otherwise engage in some “pray and spray” — you needed to go elsewhere. It was like hanging out with cranky train buffs, only they were packing some ancient, ossified heat. They came from all over the country. Some sucked you in with their enthusiasm; others creeped you out, like the Civil War nerds with the Washington Artillery Reenactors (yes, the acronym is WAR) who thought they were authentic and cute making N-word jokes. One woman had an impressive collection of WWII vintage German Lugers, admittedly one of the coolest-looking handguns ever designed. But I didn’t know quite how to react to all the Nazi Swastika flags she was also selling. Even less could I reconcile the “Jesus is Lord” headline on her business card with the “Fine Antiques Firearms” next to it. I just moved on.
The one good thing to emerge from this carnage is that we’re talking seriously about gun violence, a subject effectively rendered politically taboo for the past 20 years by Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association. Human beings are like sunspots. They go off. And when they do, you don’t want them armed and dangerous. In contrast to towns like Chicago — where the murder rate is about 500 a year — Santa Barbara is mercifully quiet. It’s not unusual for the city to go years without a single homicide. Still, few remain untouched. The daughter of a longtime Santa Barbara Independent writer and ad-sales rep was shot and killed seven years ago when a whacked-out former postal worker went “postal” on her former coworkers at the Goleta facility. Had the shooter been subjected to the most cursory of background checks, warning flags would have flown. Two weeks ago, a former Santa Barbara resident well known in The Independent newsroom — writer and pilot Phillip Marshall — shot and killed his two teenage kids, his dog, and then himself in his Calaveras County home. My knowledge of Marshall was admittedly superficial. I enjoyed him. He’d asked my opinion about a couple of books he’d written over the years. One focused on the role of Saudi intelligence operatives in the 9/11 tragedy. Another laid out how as a pilot, he found himself sucked into the government’s clandestine and illegal drugs-for-money-for-guns operation sanctioned by the CIA back in the ’80s to arm the Nicaraguan contras despite Congressional action prohibiting such support. With Marshall, I never knew what to believe. But I didn’t have to. Some of his claims sounded outlandish but possible. And he was hardly the only one asking about the role of Saudi operatives in 9/11. A couple of U.S. senators — Bob Graham and Bob Kerrey — have, as well, though they’ve gotten the same same stiff-arm as Marshall. But for a so-called “conspiracy nut,” Marshall came across decidedly rational and normal. There was no smoke pouring out of his ears. In fact, the last time I wrote about him, I noted how un-unhinged he was. Man, I got that wrong. So, it seems, did a lot of people much closer to him than I. Naturally, the chatter in the conspiracy world is that Marshall was silenced; his truth was too dangerous to be told.
I’m not saying conspiracies don’t happen. I’m merely saying they’re superfluous. We’re doing a good enough job killing ourselves without any help from the likes of them. Marshall’s gun — a Glock semiautomatic — was duly registered. He would have passed any background check. As gun-control advocates like to point out, people who keep guns are 22 times more likely to have the guns used on themselves — by murder, suicide, or accident — than on any intruder.
In the meantime, gun sales are going through the roof. People who never wanted a gun before now absolutely have to have one. Crazy people are out there. Obama is talking gun control. For the record, I saw a couple of tempting derringers at the gun show. But at $2,000, they’d put serious strain on my wallet. I guess I’ll have to hanker for another day. I’m not sure I’ll live, but at least I’ll be 22 times less likely to do myself in.