I had just closed the front door of my car when I looked up and caught a glimpse of the young man opening the passenger door on his pickup parked next to me. That’s when I saw the pistol in a holster on his hip.
Two feet away. A chill ran through me; cognition had nothing to do with it, nothing at all. The vision of that gun was intimidating, which made the young man seem threatening. (Next stop, terrorizing.) Yes, the Washington State Constitution, written in a different time, permits “open carry” — but for crying out loud, we were parked in a small South Hill shopping center. Our gun-toter is at far greater risk to his safety being attacked by a cougar in Manito Park. Or being hit by a meteor. So why is he out in public dressed as a gunslinger?
I can come up with only two explanations. Either he is (a) paranoid, (b) a “macho, macho man,” or (c) both of the above. In any case, still scary.
Maybe it was the jolt of this pistol being so out of place. Had I seen a rifle on a rack in his rear window, I doubt I would have been bothered in the least. I would have thought, “Ahh, a hunter.” Hunters set their weapons on window racks, and as reasonable people understand, the currently proposed gun control measures have nothing to do with hunters.
But a pistol? In a holster? In a shopping center?
Oh, about the rifle in the rack? I hasten to add a caveat: When I say “rifle,” I mean a hunting rifle. Had I spotted an AR-15 in that window, that’s a very different message.
Would I have felt safer had I known that this person had passed a background check? Or that his gun couldn’t fire more than 10 rounds before reloading? Well, maybe not felt safer, although I would have been safer. But as I say, at the time I saw the gun, cognition wasn’t in the cards; I was just struggling with the jolting realization that I could be looking at a person who might really want to live in a Hobbesian world — an “all against all” world. A pistol in a holster sends a message, doesn’t it? Don’t tread on me — or else. Suppose I had backed my car into his truck, and suppose that when I left my car to see to the damage, for some reason he viewed me as a threat. And let’s say that he had an anger management problem. What then?
I’ll extend these same concerns toward anyone who has a concealed carry permit and parades his or her gun in public. My position is that if you have a concealed weapon, keep it concealed until you intend to use it, as prescribed by your permit.
We’ve gone so far down this macho road — much further then did our Western forefathers. Many of those old, raw Western towns had far more burdensome gun control than is being proposed today. Adam Winkler writes in his book Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America:
Guns were obviously widespread on the frontier. Out in the untamed wilderness, you needed a gun to be safe from bandits, natives, and wildlife. In the cities and towns of the West, however, the law often prohibited people from toting their guns around. A visitor arriving in Wichita, Kansas in 1873, the heart of the Wild West era, would have seen signs declaring, “Leave Your Revolvers At Police Headquarters, and Get a Check.”
I really don’t care if people live, to quote the author James Kunstler, “in whatever paranoid style they choose” so long as they live it out in the privacy of their home. But people must be made to behave in public, otherwise we take the civil out of the civic. They must not, even implicitly, intimidate others. They must not threaten others. They must not terrorize others. And if they are mentally unstable, they shouldn’t be permitted to get anywhere near a gun or rifle.
To these ends, we await to see if our bought-and-paid-for Congress can finally muster just a small amount of courage and do the right thing — to ignore threats from the gun lobby and vote for the very reasonable gun regulation being proposed by the Senate majority. And frankly, our state Constitution needs an upgrade, too.