“If I get the money out of the bank later, can you just buy it for me today?” a boy of about 16 asked his father.
“Sure,” his dad said, grinning.
They were talking about a rifle.
I watched as the father caught the seller’s attention, asking if he could purchase the gun.
“Just so we’re technically clear,” the seller said, stressing the word ‘technically’ in a way that made my heart sink, “the gun will be yours, and you are just going to occasionally let your son practice on it?”
The father nodded.
“Great,” the seller said. “I’ll just need your license and we can begin.”
I had recently attended my first (and last) gun show. Gun control is an issue I have felt strongly about for awhile now. As I have watched mass shooting after mass shooting unfold on various news outlets, I have been dumbfounded by the government’s lack of action on gun reform.
The subject of gun control as a whole has always been tricky for me to navigate.
Full disclosure: I have shot a gun before. In fact, I have shot many. When I was thirteen years old, I was awarded “Expert Markswoman” at my summer camp for having the highest average score in riflery. My family has gone target shooting on vacations, and sometimes my uncle would take me to the practice range “for fun.”
But, whatever entertainment guns brought me as a child is nothing compared to the sheer horror they have brought to this country, which can easily be seen through the number of mass shootings we’ve experienced in 2018 alone — 35, to be exact. My Second Amendment rights — written at a time when guns could effectively fire just three rounds per minute — hold no ground compared to the countless lives that have been lost because of semi-automatic and automatic weapons firing 45 rounds per minute.
So when I think about this country and guns, and the lack of laws protecting us from mass shootings, I know we can do more.
I walked into the convention center on Saturday and saw tables filled with everything from handguns small enough to fit inside my handbag to semi-automatic rifles.
I was there with one goal in mind: to explore the “gun show loophole.” Could I purchase a weapon without a background check?
As I explored the tables, I observed buyers filling out paperwork titled, “Virginia Firearms Transaction Record,” writing “yes” or “no” to questions about their criminal background and whether they had ever been committed to a mental institution. But what the paper doesn't state is that, as long as one has been fully discharged from all “mandatory treatment, supervision or monitoring” at a mental institution, this piece of their past will be erased from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI system used to check the backgrounds of potential gun owners.
How thorough can such a short background check be? How can we be sure that, after someone buys a drum magazine for $235, a package of ammunition for around $30, and a semi-automatic rifle for about $450, all in one shopping trip, they will not cause mass harm?
That price, by the way, is everything needed to commit a horrendous act like the ones seen in Las Vegas, Orlando, Newtown and most recently, Parkland — for under $1,000, and at the convenience of a flimsy background check. Although no one should need to own a semi-automatic weapon in the first place, at the very least no one should be able to buy one in under five minutes.
I observed the reality of this “gun show loophole” when I found a man with an antique rifle slung across his back, the words, “Ask me about my gun” scrawled on a white paper flag sticking out of the weapon.
I did ask him about his gun.
He was a private seller, able to freely wander among the tables until he found a buyer, someone he candidly told me he would not background check.
And that’s the “loophole.” Because they are unlicensed dealers, private sellers may decide if they would like their buyers to go through background checks before completing the transaction.
The man selling his Cold War-era rifle seemed confident that buyers would not use it for “anything they probably shouldn’t be doing,” he told me.
This loophole leaves a lot of gray area for private buyers to pick and choose, and possibly discriminate against, buyers who do not seem “sketchy.”
I want to acknowledge something else that I realized on Saturday. Although witnessing the eagerness and ease with which people of all ages purchased these destructive weapons made me wildly uncomfortable, it is important to recognize that the majority of patrons at the show were law-abiding citizens. They just enjoy weapons, and many of them may have been raised in a gun culture, where exposure to firearms is the norm.
That aside, what I take issue with is how effortlessly a person with bad intentions could walk into the gun show and purchase a weapon at low-cost and with relative freedom.
Enforcing stricter background checks, eliminating the private seller loophole at gun shows and banning the sale of semi-automatic and automatic weapons to private owners would not infringe upon the upstanding citizen’s right to bear arms.
But for those malicious enough to purchase a gun with the intent to harm, improving gun legislation could make it far more difficult to obtain the weapon.
After every shooting, a conversation happens. People are confused and upset, yet we never see concrete change.
According to a 2017 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 30 percent of Americans currently own a gun. I find it absurd that there are 70 percent of us who are still unable to force our government into action over the gun control issue.
If you, like me, are tired of the inaction, I urge you to take these steps:
1. Register to vote. If you’re not registered and you are of age, you are complicit in whatever does or does not happen in terms of gun control legislation.
2. Contact your local representative. The easiest way to do so is to send them a Facebook message, stating your purpose: to help advocate for stricter gun control. The representative for the university's zip code is Congressman Donald McEachin.
3. Support the victims, friends and families of the Parkland tragedy by signing their petition, donating to their cause or attending the nearest “March for Our Lives” rally on March 24.
4. Like the #NeverAgain Facebook page to stay updated and show your support of this movement. Follow their Twitter account. Use the hashtag.
Enough is enough.
Contact news editor Jocelyn Grzeszczak at firstname.lastname@example.org.