It's early Sunday morning. It's drizzling outside and I really should still be asleep. Instead I am up prepping for my shoot (and I use this word in reference to a video camera) at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. As a journalist I often find myself spending the day in an unusual, often unexpected way, and I know this to be true today.
I have never been to a gun show before. There's a first time for everything. And this isn't just any gun show. The promoters of Crossroads of the West boast on its website that this show attracts more customers than any other in the country. And this isn't just any weekend to attend a gun show. Less than 36 hours earlier news broke of a mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the second worst in our country's history. The bodies of 20 children and seven adults, including the mother of the shooter, haven't even been buried, yet hundreds of people have gathered at the fairgrounds to buy, sell, and talk guns. And I am here to talk guns with them.
As it turns out, my crew and I didn't get too far. The show's promoter, Rob Templeton, wouldn't allow us inside with our cameras, saying there were safety concerns. What safety concerns, I asked. "Your safety," Templeton replied. He went on to say that there are a large number of people inside who are leery of the media (that's being polite -- an attendee on his way out at one point spit on the ground close to our camera's lens as our videographer was down low filming people's feet) and there are also a large number of guns inside. Enough said. We set up camp outside the chain link fence and started looking for people to talk to.
I found Valek Sykes, a former marine, just as he was leaving the show. Sykes was pulling a cart loaded with ammunition.
Sykes told me that he believes "everyone should own more guns," and that being at a gun show is probably one of the safest places to be.
"The truth of the matter is, somebody pulls out a gun -- let me put it this way, nobody is going to pull out a gun at a gun show, OK?" Sykes said. "Because there's a lot of guns floating around and everybody knows not to try something stupid here because they wouldn't get two steps." A woman behind me let out a loud holler of approval.
Turns out, Diana Rodriguez was a vendor at the show, selling Native American artifacts. She owns a small caliber gun and, like Sykes, believes more guns, not fewer, is the way to keep people safe.
"More guns, more guns," she said with tears welling up in her eyes. "If any one of those people over there at that school would have been taught to use a weapon of any kind, that tragedy wouldn't have occurred."
Teachers with guns? Everybody with guns? "Yes and yes" is the answer I heard over and over again after talking to a handful of gun advocates.
Rodriguez continued, "Owning a gun is not a privilege. It's a right" given to us by the Second Amendment. I can't help but wonder if when the right to keep and bear arms was adopted in 1791 our forefathers ever imagined a Bushmaster .223 caliber assault rifle with a 30 round magazine -- the high-powered weapon used by the gunman in Newtown.
"Why do you think someone needs a semi-automatic rifle?" I asked Rodriguez.
"It's just a right," she said. "If they want a semi-automatic, fine. If they want an automatic, fine. In Connecticut, the laws are extremely strict on gun ownership, and look what happened." With that she politely ended the interview and went inside, where our cameras were not allowed.
Hear more from Sykes, Rodriguez and others in the gun control debate tonight at 5:30 and 10 as we explore the issues raised in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.