Your ticket to the gun show

Paper targets for sale at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Cow Palace in Daly City. Photo by Audrey Dilling

Gun control is a loaded issue around the country. Here in San Francisco, the laws are pretty strict: If you own a gun, you must keep it locked up. You’re not allowed to shoot a gun within city limits, and you can’t buy ammunition for anything other than a sport-related purpose.

In 2009, State Senator Mark Leno tried to make it a little harder to buy guns outside the city with a bill that would have forbidden the sale of firearms on state-owned property. Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the legislation, but if it had passed, it would have put an end to the traveling gun shows that make regular visits to the Cow Palace just south of San Francisco.

KALW’s Audrey Dilling recently went to one of these shows and brought back this story.

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AUDREY DILLING: A ticket to the Crossroads of the West Gun Show costs 10 bucks – but if you’re willing to join the NRA, you can get in for free. 

They're eager to get new members today, but not so eager to talk to me once I pull out my microphone.

NRA REPRESENTATIVE: I'm sorry. We don't do media.

That's the basic attitude I get even when I enter the large grey exhibition center.

SUPERVISOR (over radio): Who is she with?


SUPERVISOR (over radio): Copy. Let me check.

Why all the concern? 

Inside, the Cow Palace looks like any old warehouse, and the gun show like any old flea market … with a couple of exceptions.

The first is the sporadic and disturbing buzz of taser demonstrations. The second is the presence of hundreds upon hundreds of lethal weapons. Okay, I see how this could be misinterpreted.

But hey, it's a gun show right? So of course, there are a lot of guns here – and holsters, ammunition, targets – pretty much anything a gun enthusiast would want to shoot or shoot at.

Prescott Bojolst is here to buy accessories for a rifle he already owns.

PRESCOTT BOJOLST: I have an AR15 and I’m soon to be building an LR308.

In case, you're like me and your knowledge of guns is limited to whatever you’ve seen in movies or on TV, the “AR” in AR15 stands for “assault rifle.” They're massive, Rambo-style guns.

GRAHAM BURKEY: These are AR15's. We also manufacture our AR10's from solid blocks of aluminum.

Graham Burkey is here representing a company in San Diego that makes these kinds of rifles.

BURKEY: We do custom builds for customers that know what they want and we’re showcasing some of our custom-builds today.

DILLING: What kind of customers do you have?

BURKEY: All kinds. You know, you try not to put a stereotype on it because you see a lot of different people coming out. You know, anywhere from older mothers to younger kids.

There aren’t any mothers perusing Burkey’s rifle collection at the moment, but there are some women at the show today. Several say they’ve come because their boyfriends or husbands made them. Cindy Reed says she and her husband have been coming to this show for about 10 years and they both enjoy it.

CINDY REED: I’m not really interested in guns a whole lot, but I do enjoy the show. I got jewelry here and we usually come for the beef jerky.

Delicious. While I make my way to the beef jerky, I see that there are other, more old-school weapons for sale here too.

PIETRO MAIDA: These are old Japanese swords. They’re all pre-1800s Japanese swords.

Pietro Maida has been setting up shop at this show for 27 years.

DILLING: And how has it changed?

MAIDA: Less people. Less guns. More jerky. Beef jerky.

DILLING: How would you describe the kinds of customers you get?

MAIDA: Oh all different. From old hippies to survivalists … if that could be a range. Sometimes the old hippie is a survivalist now.

Maida has got some things for gun enthusiasts, too. Next to his swords, he has a few cases of pistols that look like they were lifted straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie.

MAIDA: This is an 1887 – so probably cowboy age – revolver. This is pretty old, too. This is from the mid-1800s.

DILLING: That’s really small.

MAIDA: It’s a little … They would call this a gambler’s derringer, because unlike what people think about the Old West, you had to check your guns. 

Even in the Wild West, they had rules about guns. And The Crossroads of the West gun show is no different. Everything here is done in accordance with federal and state laws. Gordon Groomer helps keep it that way.

GORDON GROOMER: This is the California mandate law to purchase a handgun in California … you have to have either a proof of exemptions, which is the list here: military, law enforcement, and so on so forth. Or you must take a written test.

Groomer facilitates the multiple-choice test for anyone who wants to begin the process of buying a gun. After passing the test, the buyer still has to have a background check and wait for a period of 15 days.

JUAN SOLIS: You have to follow the law. You have to follow the law.

Juan Solis was checking out some scopes for a rifle he already owns. He’s been into guns since he was a kid, even though his father didn’t like them.

SOLIS: I’m what is called an old school guy. And growing up, watching my grandfather – ‘cause he was a … he loved guns.

But I'm left wondering – why would that love of guns extend to wanting to own a tactical military rifle? I ask around, but find that even in a warehouse full of people aspiring to be straight shooters, it’s hard to get a straight answer. Here’s the response I get from Prescott Bojolst, the man with the AR15.

BOJOLST: Um. Just for shooting.

Juan Solis was a bit more forthcoming.

SOLIS: It’s for home protection. It’s for home protection. It’s in the Constitution and we got the right to have ‘em. And if you can do it responsibly, why not?

“Why not?” as Solis says, when the right to do so is in the Constitution. Whether ordinary American citizens should have the right to bear arms is a question that’s about as old as the country itself. And it doesn’t seem like the opposing sides will reach a consensus any time soon.

In the meantime, I finally find the beef jerky, and I guess I’ll see if It's as good as everyone says it is … I mean, why not?

From the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Daly City, I’m Audrey Dilling for Crosscurrents.

Are you a gun owner or not? And why? We’d like to hear what you have to say about guns at 415-264-7106. That’s 415-264-7106, and we might feature you on the air.