Last Friday afternoon, my kids and I drove to a strip-mall soccer store to buy my son a ball. This particular strip mall is located amongst a tangle of highway conjunctions and ramps, in a busy area punctuated by a series of strip malls as well as a traditional mall, chain restaurants, and other typical markings of suburbia. In other words, people are everywhere, going about their lives. As people do.
I pulled into a parking spot a few spaces away from the soccer store, and before I even shifted my minivan into Park, I saw the gun.
It’s amazing how quickly the brain can synthesize multiple facts to create a picture of a situation. Even with the kids chattering beside and behind me, it took mere seconds for me to process that: a) at least some, and probably all, of the five men gathered in front of the military recruiting center a few doors down from the soccer store were armed; b) the most obvious of them held in front of him what was almost certainly an assault rifle; c) although I didn’t immediately see the weapons of the others, at least several of them were wearing ammo vests and thus were probably also armed; d) vigilantes had been turning out, guns in hand, across the country since the Chattanooga shooting on July 16 in their self-proclaimed mission to guard military recruiting centers, the Pentagon had politely and respectfully asked these men to stand down and leave the security of the military recruiting centers to the U.S. military itself, and across the country, these vigilantes had refused. And here were some of these vigilantes now, in front of me, at the soccer store.
Two days later, I was driving home on a quiet Sunday afternoon with my family after purchasing paint supplies when I drove by another man with a gun. This time it was a pistol tucked into the man’s holster. He was walking casually, with a friend, by kids on bikes and people walking their dogs. (I should specify that in New Hampshire, the open carry of handguns while on foot is generally permissible and that so far as I know, this man’s actions were perfectly legal.)
Three days. Two cases of going about daily life, with my kids, in public, and running into guns like I might run into sneakers, or ice cream cones, or an individual talking in an agitated crescendo into her cell phone.
Except sneakers, ice cream cones and cell phones don’t have the power or the purpose of killing people.
I am so, so tired of trying to convince people that guns are dangerous and that they need to be respected and treated as the dangerous objects they are. Or that reasonable restrictions on guns are just that: reasonable. That a bill or a law that says X does not actually say Y; sometimes a restriction on the transfer of these nine makes of semi-automatic weapons is just that, and no more. That the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which consists of two clauses, not just one, does in fact proclaim a right to bear arms, but that it also permits regulation of that right. That the Second Amendment is not the only right in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, nor is it superior to the other rights set forth in the Constitution.
In 2014, Tim Kreider wrote in The Week, “we’ve collectively decided, as a country, that the occasional massacre is okay with us. It’s the price we’re willing to pay for our precious Second Amendment freedoms.” I’m tired of thinking about this ugly statement, because guess what? He’s right. After the slaughter of twenty children in Newtown in 2012, when the nation grieved and momentum was greatest for action but none came, it’s clear we have indeed made this decision. With the failure to act after Newtown, the argument that we ought to recast our priorities doesn’t seem to stand a chance of convincing anyone anymore. So why make it?
But I can’t stop making the argument. Because let me tell you something: when I had to cross that parking lot with my children and walk them by a man with an assault rifle and goodness knows what types of pistols those men had concealed on their persons, I got angry.