Riggs went to a Gun Show, tried to buy a gun, and learned a lesson along the way...

December 26, 2019
Riggs gun show

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type: “So I went to a gun show the other day.” 

gun show sign
(Take it literal Tuesday is coming, don't worry...)

As you may or may not know about me, I’m a pretty big mental health advocate.  I am the board co-chair of the Wisconsin chapter for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).  There’s a mouthful.  We just go by AFSP for brevity.

ALSO as you may or may not know – suicide accounts for 60% of all handgun / firearm deaths in the U.S.A.  AFSP’s stance on the whole gun thing is neutral.  They do not push any sort of agenda for or against firearms, they just want to make sure that if someone DOES own a firearm, they do so safely and responsibly.  AFSP mostly wants to make sure the person who just lost their job, their spouse, and is already dealing with depression or some other mental illness doesn’t have immediate access to a firearm, for obvious reasons.  Pretty bi-partisan if you ask me. 

It’s part of their bold goal to reduce the suicide rate by 20% by the year 2025 - an initiative called Project 2025.  AFSP made a decision to work with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the leading trade association for the firearms industry, in order to reach NSSF’s members with AFSP’s suicide prevention information. The collaboration is purely an effort to provide educational resources for firearms retailers, shooting range owners and the firearms-owning community about suicide prevention.

Myself?  I’ve never owned a gun.  Been around them my whole life.  My Grandpa and Uncles were all big hunters.  Guns were always in our house growing up, but I never thought anything of them.  The basement had wood walls and were museums to the ducks, deer, and fish that my Grandpa had caught over the years, and racks of the guns used to kill them. 

This made me honestly think – I wonder if I COULD buy a gun.  Me.  The guy who’s never owned one, has no formal training with handguns in any sense of the matter.  I’ve used a shotgun in a field with my uncle to shoot at metal cans when I was 15.  That’s it. 

I’ve also NEVER been to a “Gun Show” (don’t worry, I filmed a Take It Literal Tuesday).  So this was uncharted territory for me…Oh my goodness was it an interesting experience.  But I wanted to go into this with an open mind. 

The Franklin Sports Complex was the host venue for this event, a place that’s right in my backyard but I’d never physically been there.  What I found ironic was the sign on the front door that had to be blatantly violated. 

no guns in here, unless you have guns.

Granted, they were checking bags at the door - and you had to declare your weapons you were bringing in if you were a private owner bringing a gun to sell...

When I walked in, It was brought back to my middle school years...Remember when you were a kid and they had the Book fair?  You’d roll up to the gym and there were books and book related items on tables and stands throughout the whole gym?  Yea.  Same thing – only replace all the books and book related stuff with guns and gun related items. 

wanna buy guns
You do? You've come to the right place!

Handguns.  Shotguns.  Scopes.  Vests.  Bullets.  Knives.  Swords.  War memorabilia.  And, of course, snacks. 

There were firearm dealers, both private and gun stores as well.  Each person standing behind the table willing to answer your questions, and let you touch what you liked – with their permission of course.  There was SOME element of safety to all this, and none of the guns were loaded, for obvious reasons. 

We were set up with our AFSP table right between the refreshments and a gun dealer who made the trip down from Door County, Wisconsin.  From where I was situated, I could walk to my right and purchase a gun, and then to my left, I could grab a Miller Lite while I browse the selections.  I didn’t think there would be alcohol on premises, but there was, strangely enough. 

gun displays

There were tables with handguns of all shapes, sizes, colors, all on full display for purchase on the spot.  You would identify the gun you wanted to purchase – hand the dealer your license, who would then run a background check – Federal AND State, and return with the result.  They would then hand your weapon to you in a nice box, and you were on your way.   A man walked up to the table next to us and purchased the famous AR-15, and appeared to get a “great deal” on it as well…I have no idea what a gun should cost, so you could tell me anything and I’d be like “wow – that’s a great deal?!”

There were many interesting sights to be seen, it was a whole different type of environment than I’ve ever been.

There were people who brought their own guns to sell off, strolling the aisles of tables with the gun slung over their shoulder just like a soldier of some sort.  There were people pushing around carts with guns, like they were at a toy store.  Some of these people were collectors, some were hunters, and some were I’m assuming just overall run of the mill gun enthusiasts.   


There was also an element of fun – someone had brought in their hunting dogs, and the dogs played with each other behind some of the tables.  It was a welcome distraction from the guy two tables over selling an authentic World War II Nazi General uniform. 

Who buys this stuff?

Yes, I’m serious.  I asked this guy behind the table selling this stuff -  “don’t you get a lot of crap from people selling Nazi memorabilia?” .  His answer?  “No.  It’s not like I’m selling it to Neo Nazis or something.”  See?  Strange environment.  A different walk of people. 

stickers on display
Bumper Stickers for sale...

Look – I understand people collect old war stuff, but this just felt very…I don’t know ODD seeing that on display so casually.  Knowing the history of the Nazis, and the horror that was the Holocaust.  I could understand a museum having that on DISPLAY, but seeing it for SALE to anyone, was unsettling. 

Riggs with Gena Orlando, the Wisconsin Area Director for AFSP Wisconsin.
Riggs with Gena Orlando, the Wisconsin Area Director for AFSP Wisconsin.

Back to the reason we were there in the first place, to advocate for safe gun use.  The gun show next to us was polite when I introduced myself as a member of AFSP.  They said “don’t scare anyone away”…to which I replied with the reason we were there: to educate only and not push any pro or anti-gun agenda…which is I think what they were fearful of us doing.    Again – AFSP doesn’t take a stance on either side of the gun debate, we just want people to be safe – and I think all gun owners can get behind that. 

There were a few encounters after that while we sat at our table.  They ranged from bewilderingly negative, to overwhelmingly positive.  For example:  The first guy that steps up was easily in his early 70’s, glasses, ‘Made in the USA’ hat, and without blinking an eye said “suicide, huh?  That’s for weak minded people.  Only weak people do that.” 

Obviously floored – I stated to him “My Uncle died by suicide, he was a strong man who owned many guns himself.  Avid hunter.  He wasn’t weak minded at all.”   

Baffled by my logic, the man became agitated and scoffed away. 

But then the light came.  Later that evening, three men came by…as they walked up, we thought they were going to say something in the same vein – but they did not.  They were each one concerned with a member of their family who was Transgender.  They said they knew people in the Trans community were at risk for suicide and asked if we had any resources – and we TOTALLY did, so we educated three – and pissed off one random old man.  I’d call that a win in my book. 

There were many other people who walked by and listened to what we had to say, asked questions about what we were doing there, and genuinely respected the reason for our presence.  That was refreshing to see some like-minded individuals with open minds. 

It was really a different kind of experience being at a gun show.  I know you weren’t there, because you had better things to do – but I had to at least share my experience as it was SO bizarre.  And if I wanted to, I could have very easily purchased a handgun and taken it home with me that evening.  Here’s the one I was going to buy for my wife…

Girly Gun
I can't believe my wife didn't want this cute PINK 9mm!

Isn’t it cute!?  (I wasn’t really going to buy this for my wife…I called her jokingly, but she was none too pleased.  Ha!)

purple gun

But what do I need a gun for?  Nothing.  I’d love to go to a firing range someday, but I can easily rent one or use one from the range.  I’d also LOVE to go hunting some day.  I always wanted to go with my Grandpa and Uncles, but was never old enough…Maybe if I got some sort of formal training, I would consider getting one, I’m not all against the idea…but do I really NEED one?  Probably not.  They are best left in the hands of people who know what they are doing more than I do – law enforcement, and private citizens who are trained to use them safely.   

Would I go to another gun show?  Probably not.  At least, not on my own time.  I would definitely go again to educate on behalf of AFSP, but not a “Saturday morning activity” you’ll find me doing any time soon.  The lesson I learned?  Not all stereotypes about gun people are true, but there were DEFINITELY some extreme individuals I encountered.  A different walk of life.  And now you don’t have to go to a gun show, because I just told you what to expect. 

Talk to you in the morning!