In 1994 I covered the Soldier of Fortune Convention and Gun Show at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. I came with a colleague who knew the drill and advised me to keep my mouth shut and not reveal my loathing for guns, and for those who buy them.  I tried to blend in, even with my camera around my neck, to not reveal my distaste for this fraternity of vigilantes that frequent these gun expos. 

What struck me from the beginning was the mood of euphoria and recklessness from the organizers down to the ticket holders; all there drooling over the latest model A-k 47s, M- 16s, and AR-15, the Black Mamba. The attire, camouflage fatigues. Dozens of tables displayed a wide variety of weapons ranging from a specially balanced throwing knife to different types of machine guns. This is a cult make no mistake about it.

And the shenanigans that ushered in the opening gala epitomized a defiance and arrogance that seems to be a common denominator for those who proudly parade their allegiance to the NRA. Displays of jousting with swords, and a contest to see who could shoot through the veins in a slab of raw meat, and the finale with dummy heads on posts, to test who could plant a bulls-eye right between the eyes. There were endless salutations to the hierarchy who represent the Soldier of Fortune imprint, exerting no restraint against those in political positions who have called for gun control. To be clear I saw first hand the force behind this ruthless machine whose mission is to promote high-powered weaponry into the hands of anyone who tries to purchase.  For three days I endured, target practice, fire power demonstrations, the like of which one would only see in battle, releasing three hundred thousand rounds of ammunition in three minutes.; a force so strong that the earth shook and exploded around us. And then I snagged a ticket to the elite buyers market, where international players from North Korea, Russia, China, Philippines, South Africa, Nicaragua, Venezuela, all jockey to see who was buying what, and who could out buy the other.

I had come to see for myself who goes to these expos and who are these untouchable NRA cohorts who have built up the largest lobby in the history of the U.S. I left with a greater understanding of why millions of Americans worship at the alter of the NRA and their ever-growing league of ‘patriots’.

I, for one, respect anyone’s right to own a gun, but not a machine gun. I am not going to hide my distaste for guns, I feel inclined to state. I do not believe in hunting so there is no good argument I can make for owning a gun for sport. I realize I am in the minority here. I can openly speak out in the U.S., under the First Amendment, just the same as those who rely on the second amendment, can own a gun. No one should fool themselves into believing there is any kind of moral argument to purchase a high-powered M-16 or AR 15, or the magazines sold to provide 20 shots in a single nine second stretch. Of course we need background checks, but it was Congress in 2004, that allowed the assault weapons ban to expire. The 1994 ban, signed by then President Clinton, outlawed 19 types of military-style assault weapons. In 2004, a clause directed that the ban expire unless Congress specifically reauthorizes it, which it did not. But it is worth pointing out that the civilian version of a Colt AR-15 manufactured before 1994, could be sold even when the ban was in place. For fourteen years now, there has been no successful legislation to re-enact the assault weapons ban. Many states, including California, Massachusetts, New York and Hawaii have passed their own laws curbing the use of assault weapons. Some of those are more stringent than the federal ban was. And Anton Scalia's 2008 ruling to not take up the case banning assault weapons. We can thank Scalia for the relaxed protection against against assault rifles.

The tragedy in Parkland Florida was avoidable. We are all responsible in a benign way for not having made the case a priority to demand gun laws. I am not pointing a specific finger at anyone. We can not feel the loss and sorrow. Unless you have experienced a tragedy like those in Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Parkland etc etc, you can’t feel what the victims families feel every second of their lives. And I must remark that it is not simply the “mass shootings” that should have our attention; everyday 86 people die from gun violence in our country. We know we have an epidemic. We had thought we were helpless to fight it.  

I, for the first time in all the years I have been on the trail am seeing a revolution to this status quo in Washington. It is these kids. They have picked up their sword of truth and are fearlessly waving us on to turn the tide. They will shame each and every member of our government if there is not action now, despite the vast reaches of the NRA. This is a turning point not only for the issue of gun legislation but to send a clarion call and make it clear these kids are biting the heels of all politicians who thrive on the blood money from this almighty lobby.  This is the dawn of change. I feel comforted in a way I haven’t felt since the civil rights era when impassioned good citizens risked their lives to overturn hate and violence.

I think back to the twisted mindset of those I observed at the Soldier of Fortune Convention, twenty-four years ago, when I feared the NRA could ever be confronted.  Today I feel redemption. Today I feel proud to see our young people stand up and flaunt their First Amendment Rights as their message ricochets throughout the world.



Tish Lampert