James Cross doesn’t have kind words for California’s gun laws.
Cross, who helped organize a Saturday Second Amendment rally in Concord with the National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans, said he moved permanently across the country in 2013 from the state where he was born because the Golden State’s gun laws, “they suck,” he said. He was tired of feeling like his rights were being trampled on. Being in New Hampshire makes him feel safer, he said – and makes him feel like his grandchildren are safe, too.
“It’s the best crime control,” Cross said, who said he almost always carries a concealed weapon. Rarely does he open carry, saying in some situations – such as if he was to walk into a convenience store late at night and the store was to be robbed – it could cause confusion. “It’s important to not just be another victim – it gives you a fighting chance.”
It’s true that California has some of the tightest gun restrictions in the country. Everytown for Gun Safety notes the state has 50 of what it identifies as “key laws,” including strict ownership and permitting rules, whereas New Hampshire has six, according to its website.
The National Rifle Association ranks California on its website as a state with “rights restricted – very limited use,” when it comes to right-to-carry laws, saying, “State law that gives the government complete discretion over the issuance of carry permits, and where that discretion is normally used to deny the issuance of permits.” New Hampshire, in contrast, is a no permit required state.
The more relaxed restrictions were on full display Saturday in Concord.
For some attendees of a weekend gun show and participants in a national Second Amendment rally – both held less than a mile away from each other in Concord – it’s a way of life that is integral to Granite State, one they say is threatened and misunderstood in the national conversation about gun control.
‘A mall for guns’
By 8:50 a.m., a line was wrapped around the Douglas N. Everett Arena to get into New England Event’s gun show, slated to open at 9 a.m. That’s nothing, though – NEE’s Matt Mayberry said some people had been waiting in the parking lot since 7:30 a.m. By 1 p.m., he estimated well over 1,300 people had come and gone.
A gun show has taken place in Concord under various promoters for about 20 years. Mayberry has described the event as a “mall for guns,” where gun enthusiasts of all stripes can come to shop. NEE even allows you to bring a gun in from the outside to sell, although they make sure its unloaded at the door.
There’s a dizzying array of product to look at – everything from shiny new rifles to antique pistols, not to mention accessories and other weapons. But guns aren’t the only product for sale; there are knives and “bugout bag gear,” books and hats tables that attract shoppers.
Bernie and Ava Dodge of Lisbon said they make the drive to the gun show every year. For the lifelong North Country residents, gun ownership is about safety, although they also hunt.
Where they live is pretty quiet, although Ava Dodge said she carries her .38mm pistol when she goes for her walks, just in case. And, as Bernie Dodge said, “We still got idiots up there.”
Dodge and her husband carry stun guns, too, especially when they travel to other states, where gun laws might be tighter.
The couple said there’s a lack of education around guns, which makes talking about them difficult. “Most people who talk about gun control, they don’t know what a gun is, they’ve never touched a gun,” Bernie Dodge said.
And that lack of education makes it easier for politicians to instill fear, said former District 14 senator Bob Clegg, who was at Pro-Gun New Hampshire’s table, a lobbying firm for laws that affect everything from competitive shooters to hunters. “They think it will garner them votes,” he said. “But bad people are going to do bad things, no matter what. … You see these politicians with armed guards, but they say they’re afraid of guns? It doesn’t make sense.”
Clegg, who said he carries a gun every day, said there’s also a divide in how gun owners see themselves and how gun control activists see gun owners. “People who own guns see themselves as law-abiding citizens,” he said. “People who are afraid of guns see them as criminals.”
Maggie Kris of Manchester has seen how gun ownership can save people’s lives. Her parents were Lithuanian immigrants, and her father, at age 17, defended his land from Soviet forces as one of the Brothers of the Forest during World War II. Much later, she said her father taught her to shoot, holding a rifle butt against his shoulder so she wouldn’t feel the recoil too much.
That history is what led her to attend the National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans Second Amendment rally in Concord at the State House. Decked out in American flag-striped leggings, an orange camouflage jacket and blue combat boots, Kris said she can’t own a gun due to a felony assault record. But if she’s able to get her crime expunged, “you betcha” she’ll be buying one.
Mostly, she said she’d be using it for defense. “Sometimes violence is the only language people understand,” she said. “You can’t punch bullets.”
Kris said it was frustrating to hear false narratives about guns whenever a mass shooting occurs. She said a violent and broken culture is what causes people to get hurt, not guns. “We live in dangerous times,” she said. “People want something to blame.”
That fear of dangerous times was a constant theme from rally speakers. Jilletta Jarvis, a Libertarian running for governor, said a “law-abiding citizen” may have saved her father from being shot and killed in a crowded Ohio bar several years ago. She also listed several events where guns were used to scare off intruders.
“When we advertise gun-free zones, we paint ourselves as a target,” she said to cheers.
And Michael Forte read Thelen Paulk’s “A Visitor From the Past,” which describes a dream where a Revolutionary-era man bemoans the state of the country.
“Your freedom gone/Your courage lost/You’re no more than a slave, In this, the land of the free/And the home of the brave,” he said, looking out over the crowd.
Like Cross, Forte said he moved to New Hampshire (from Massachusetts) to enjoy its relaxed rules.
“We all came from gun-grabbing states,” he said, gesturing to several other speakers and NCCPA organizers, “to get our rights back. Don’t let it happen here.”