Barry Saunders

Saunders: One way to cut down on crowds at the State Fair - allow guns

First, the good news: There’ll be no shortage of those giant Alley Oop-looking turkey legs at the N.C. State Fair this year, nor will you have to wait in line for an hour to see the state’s biggest tomater or to watch Truman Peters receive the blue ribbon for having the handsomest hog. Again.

Now, the bad news: You may be the only person there this year.

If the people who feel they cannot go even to the bathroom without strapping on their sidepieces are successful in challenging Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler’s effort to continue the ban on concealed weapons at the fair, it’s likely that many people will forgo their usual poultry and fair-ride indulgences and stay home.

I know at least one who will.

Outside of Christmas and the start of the ACC Basketball Tournament, the beginning of the State Fair is, for many of us North Carolinians, the most wonderful time of the year. To me, it’s the one time when we, despite the high-tech world which we now inhabit, can step back, kick up a manure-caked boot and proudly proclaim “Yep, we’re still country.”

The fairgrounds this year, though, has been turned into a battleground. That annual autumnal wang dang doodle is now being sullied by a battle over the presumed right to carry concealed weapons at the fair versus the presumed right to feel that your life is not in danger just because you accidentally jostled someone holding a powdered elephant ear, a short fuse and a gun.

I’ve heard from and read comments from people who swear they won’t come unless they can strap up. Others from whom I’ve heard are just as adamant that if fairgoers are allowed to strap up, then they’ll stay home and read about the expected fairgrounds carnage in the newspaper the next day.

Members of gun advocacy group Grass Roots North Carolina are demanding that Troxler follow what they consider “the letter of the law,” which they think entitles them to carry their guns almost anywhere. Yes, folks. Our legislature passed a bill allowing you to carry a gun nearly wheresoever two or more are gathered in His name, your name, any name, no name.

Commissioner Troxler, thank goodness, seems to prefer following the letter of common sense.

“This changes nothing,” Troxler told me Wednesday of the fair’s policy. Guns, he said, have always been banned.

Although an air of carefree joviality reigns for most at the State Fair – it’s been scientifically proven to be the only place on Earth where you can eat all the barbecue, cotton candy and fried Twinkies you want and not gain weight – it’s not hard to encounter people there in a less-than-jovial mood.

A new shooting game

Hmmph. Who wouldn’t be somewhat sour after spending $50 to win Sweet Thang a $3 stuffed panda that she turns around and leaves on the sink in the ladies’ room, anyway?

Barker: Say, hoss? Wanna see how many mechanical ducks you can shoot with our pistol?

Hoss: That’s alright. I brung my own. (Whips it out.) KA-BLOWEY!

Several years ago, I asked a childhood friend from Rockingham – one whose siblings had moved to the Triangle – why she didn’t move here, as well. Oh, city life is fine for a day or two, Shirley Kay said, but added, “Durham is too fast for me.”

There are lots of people from little-bitty Tar Heel burgs like Pilot Mountain, Hamlet, Morven and Waxhaw who feel the same way about Raleigh, who feel that to visit the state capital is to venture into a viler-than-the-original version of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Some of them probably also feel the need to gird their loins with a firearm.

Is the State Fair a safe place? I asked Troxler. “That’s relative,” he said. “Compared to cities of this size” – about 100,000 people attend each night – “it is a very safe place. There are things that happen, but we think we are better-prepared to handle them than Mainstream, USA.”

He then cited the copious number of cops, state troopers, EMTs and other emergency workers at the fairgrounds.

I also asked Troxler if he’d considered a “Gun Night,” on which people who don’t feel dressed without their weapons can bring their guns and ride rides, eat turkey legs and glower suspiciously at each other?

Nope. “We’re not interested in turning the fairgrounds into the wild, wild West,” he said. He also said he is not afraid of law-abiding citizens with concealed carry permits coming in and shooting up the place. He’s more afraid of the accidental shootings which, we all know, can leave you just as dead as an intentional one.

During cleanup on the last night of the fair, Troxler said, workers find boxes full of, among other things, wallets, keys and cellphones. “Anything that can be slung,” he said, “will be slung” from pockets and waistbands. A slung gun is as dangerous as an aimed one.

Troxler, despite his common-sense entreaty, is still a politician – not that there’s anything wrong with that – and as such, he was understandably loath to tell people, as I would, to just leave their danged guns at home for one night.

Instead, he advised people to “Leave them in the car.”

Say what? If people with nefarious intent think the parking lots are full of unsecured guns, that could really spark an increase in crimes such as automobile break-ins, reinforcing the notion held by some that they really do need their guns.

Even worse, have you seen how angry some people get in those post-fair traffic jams? Do we really want them to have ready access to a gun?

So folks, for just one night, put down the guns and pick up a giant turkey leg or three instead. You won’t gain a pound and, if somebody messes with you, you can bop ’em upside the head with it.

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