As rain pelted Opelika on Saturday, April 7, a boy with an inflatable toy gun substituting for an umbrella and hundreds of adults with actual umbrellas scurried inside the city’s first gun and hunting show in over 10 years.
Adorning the sellers’ tables were $5 bullet keychains, beef jerky, ammunition cartridges and, of course, in greater abundance than the puddles outside — guns.
Hundreds of pistols and rifles spread out on tables. Some metallic guns glistened under the harsh ceiling light, others were matted down with black or brown paint, but all were being handled and examined by Opelika enthusiasts.
For every 1,000 people in Lee County, 114 of them have concealed carry permits, according to records gathered by AL.com in 2013, meaning around 18,000 county residents can legally pack concealed handguns in public. Out of those, hundreds were increasing their arsenal at the Village Event Center on April 7.
The selling table for Ben Whitworth and his mother Judy Whitworth was situated on the radius of the gun galore event, but business was a little slow, they said.
Though they sell air guns, the Whitworths are one of the hundreds of firearm-owning families in the county, and their endearment for guns has sustained since childhood.
“Dad gave me a BB gun when I was a kid, and I would go out in the woods and shoot birds,” Ben Whitworth said before his mother interjected.
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“But now we feed the birds,” Judy Whitworth said.
Ben Whitworth’s appreciation for guns stems from his hobby for
“I don’t see a gun problem, I see a humanity problem,” Ben Whitworth said. “No matter what we do, evil will find a way to do things.”
In Alabama, evil is certainly prevailing through firearms, with the age-adjusted rate of 21.5 people for every 100,000 residents dying from firearms in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, behind only Alaska for the highest firearm death rate. In 2016, almost as many Alabamians were killed by firearms as diabetes.
The data takes into account assaults, suicides
Evil is also evident in 2015 data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing firearms and automobiles are killing Americans at an equal rate of 11.3 age-adjusted deaths per 100,000 people. Automobile-related deaths have dropped steeply, but gun-related deaths have slightly increased because of rising gun suicide rates that have counteracted falling gun homicide rates, according to the Pew Research Center.
As people struggle to find parking outside, the packed event center bustled with people shopping for new Glocks, degreasing cleaners and even coffee merchandise.
The AK-47 Espresso offers 12 rounds of single serve coffee, the Black Rifle Freedom Blend sells for $13.99 and the CC17 Combat Cocoa comes in a convenient green cylinder, each surely jolting people at the shooting range with energy, one shot at a time.
Near the entrance of the show sat a National Rifle Association table. While Comic-Con raffles off Batman figurines and car shows auction antique vehicles, the NRA was offering a .22 caliber rifle.
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John Rice, a former state senator and NRA member of 40 years, greeted people approaching the table with a deep Southern drawl and seemed glad to be helping the charity raffle. The money people paid to enter the raffle will go toward youth groups in order to purchase ammunition for shooting events.
“I, myself, had my first handgun when I was 6 and carried around a pistol by age 10,” Rice said.
His stepfather was a gunsmith and a police officer, explaining the prevalence of weapons during his childhood. He is deeply troubled by the shootings that take place, he said, but is dead set on his stance of guns not being the underlying problem.
“The tool is not the issue,” Rice said. “We are a God-fearing, country-raised group of people, and we believe lives can’t be removed by guns, but by God’s hand.”
As of April 11, 2018, 3,931 people have died from gun-related violence in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Even while being a proud gun owner, Rice does not agree with the proposed bill that failed to pass in the Alabama Legislature earlier this year that would have allowed teachers to carry firearms in school.
“I don’t think teachers having guns is necessary,” Rice said. “I know plenty of retired police officers and veterans that will volunteer to help protect these kids.”
Kids accompanying parents viewed the weapons with awe as they twiddled bullets through their tiny fingers and poked at pistols laying on tables. Some wore camouflage, one held onto a wet toy gun and others carried beef jerky while their parents checked the price tags on rifles.
A father strolling his 6-month-old daughter in a stroller paced the aisles slowly, pausing to smile and check on his baby, then focusing back at the tables toppling with sleek guns.
The father, Jonathan Savage, was at the gun show to pass time with his newborn.
“My daughter is way too young to shoot at 6 months old,” Savage said while smiling down at his baby who looked up with soft blue eyes. “But when she’s older, I intend on teaching her how to handle (guns) and be proper with them.”
Savage sees owning a gun as empowering and a necessity in a sovereign country. He does not think additional firearm regulation will be a solution.
“I don’t think adding laws to the book is a solution now,” Savage said. “Being able to protect oneself from foreign threats, or possibly domestic, is important.”
The rain poured outside as rapidly as guns were being sold inside. Grey skies silhouetted silver bullets, and the smell of rain was overpowered by aromas of dried meat and barbecue sauces sold inside.
On a middle table sat a DPMS AR-15 TPR — a North Alabama product.
Savage’s daughter grunted softly, and her father got the cue it was time to go home.
“We are an armed populace,” the dad said. “I think that makes our country different from the rest of the world.”
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