A Polite Society

This morning I went to a gun show for the first time.

I’m not that interested in guns, though I will reflexively oppose anyone who wants to take away my right to defend myself with deadly force if necessary. I did not go there to buy anything; I was there because my best friend had invited me to come along. Everyone needs a friend like that.

The show was held in a huge hall. About half of the exhibitors were selling collectors pieces; they were of no interest to me. Others were selling new and used guns — pistols, rifles and shotguns, or ammunition, or accessories such as holsters.

But it was not the exhibitors who surprised and impressed me the most, it was the attendees. If the media coverage is to be believed, one would expect a gun show to be packed with young yahoos with tattoos and a bad attitude, but the majority of the crowd was composed of older men, with some younger men and a few women. Some of the men had bought their sons with them. The only young men that I saw wearing tattoos were obviously military. At least half of the crowd were obviously armed.

But as surprising as the makeup of the crowd might have been, it was their behavior that was truly unexpected. You see, the hall was crowded, and it was difficult to move about without jostling somebody. And yet people were unfailingly polite — I must have heard the phrase “Excuse me” more than a hundred times. And every last one of them was sincere, even when it was obviously my fault.

As we were leaving, it occurred to me that I had never encountered a crowd of more polite, well-behaved people  — not at the ballet, not at the opera. During the entire time I was there I never felt threatened or fearful in the least. The most polite people I have ever met are gun owners. Who would have thought?

Robert A. Heinlein was right: An armed society is a polite society.

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