Friday, August 14, 2015

Man with a Gun

The man wore a gun, and really, it was far too early in the morning to deal with something like that. My breakfast coffee shop, 6:45 a.m., and the guy is not a cop. I am waiting to order my bagel and three shots of espresso. The man is directly in front of me. There is a handgun in a holster on his belt, and he is fingering the weapon as if it were a religious amulet. He is definitely neither an enforcer of the law, nor a dentist from Minnesota in search of a tame lion; he’s just a slightly overweight guy with a gun, really big feet, and a vacuous gaze.

The diminutive Ethiopian lady who generally mans (womans?) the cash register is purely nervous. It’s obvious that she does not want to wait on him, but she has no choice. Frankly, I am nervous too. But I’m curious as well.

I want to ask him, What exactly do you think you may have to defend yourself against this morning? A delinquent bagel attack? A coffee-maker running amok? Or maybe my friend Owen who’s here every day by eight a.m. and could be said to lack social graces.

It is legal to openly carry a weapon in Virginia. You do not need a license or training, though a nominal background check is necessary to purchase a handgun.  Technically, you can’t be a former convict and own a gun.

There’s a line forming behind me. I remember a few years ago going to a take-out deli with an Afro-American friend. We were waiting to place our orders when two young white guys came in, both with pistols on their hips. They were aggressively loud and boisterous, almost as if challenging the other clients to complain. My friend whispered to me, “I’m outta here. If they start shooting, you know who they’re gonna shoot first.”  He left quietly.

This morning I check my feelings. I’m not really scared, after all, but I’m somewhat embarrassed to witness this display of… what? What does a man with an openly carried firearm in a public place want to prove? I doubt he’s thinking of the Second Amendment. Does he feel threatened?  It’s really tempting to equate gun to manhood, and I struggle not to. The man is wearing a wedding ring. Does he keep his gun under his pillow and what does his spouse think of this? Okay, I’m going a little overboard here.

I’m reminded of bikers with open mufflers. The noise they make bothers everyone else. They basically impose themselves on their surroundings. It’s sort of the same thing as a child throwing a tantrum in a movie house; it ruins the film for everybody else. The gun guy is ruining my breakfast, and, simply by looking around, I can tell he’s causing consternation. I begin to suspect that this maybe what it’s all about—being noticed.

Here’s what’s interesting.  In no way does this man’s presence make me feel safer. He’s not a solution to the crime problem, he’s an accessory.  If someone, at that very moment, had chosen to rob the coffee shop at gunpoint, I would have felt more endangered with two guns in the room than with one. I don’t want to be in the middle of shoot-out between a criminal and a self-appointed enforcer of the law. And I’m pretty sure that even the coffee shop owner would prefer handing over the breakfast money than having a replay of the OK Corral in his space.

A man with a gun in a small town not ten miles away from the Nation’s Capital is unusual enough that the other clients are looking at each other. Some shrug. A young couple turns around and exits. A mother with two small kids keeps them close by.

The guy leaves. I’m sure he’s aware of the seism he caused and now I suspect this short appearance made his day.

The National Rifle Association axiom that Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People does not make me feel better at all.

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