Yes, we're armed, and, if not exactly dangerous, at least mildly threatening.
It only took a few days of watching the breakdown of society in New Orleans before I decided it was time to step up to something with more kick than pepper spray. Sure, I believe in the Rule of Law, the Social Contract and (on most days) the Essential Decency of my Fellow Man, but it obviously didn't take much to push some ordinary, decent folks in the Big Easy to the point of desperation. The line between a guy like me putting on a tie every day and sitting in traffic, and some dude shooting at rescue helicopters, was erased in, what, 36 hours? Besides, as Clarence Worley once observed, "It's better to have a gun and not need it, than need a gun and not have it." So after obtaining the necessary spousal approval, I hightailed it to our local mega-sporting goods emporium, debit card in hand, and rushed headlong into the hunting department -- alien territory for a desk jockey like me.
Now, what I know about guns is this: point them away from your face. Oh, and don't argue with anyone holding one. It was that second point that motivated me to move from potential target to potential targeter, or something.
A thin, unsmiling man with a NASCAR mustache soon approached me. His nametag read, "Don." (No names have been changed to protect anybody. As we shall soon learn, Don's doing all right protecting himself.)
"I'd like a shotgun," I said, avoiding his grey steel eyes. "I don't know anything about them, and I just want something I can lock up and put away until society crumbles. If I'm out there like those people in Louisiana, I want to be armed."
Don got it immediately. "So you want something for home defense?" He said it flat, flat like a snub-nosed revolver.
Now, I have to hand it to Don. He fit all my obnoxious stereotypical preconceptions of what a gun salesman in Central PA would look, talk and act like. But then again, he's surely seen my type before, too. I'm sure Don has better things to do than sell popguns to panicky yuppie pisspants...things like shootin' BB guns at squirrels, recycling aluminum cans, breakin' stuff up with a chainsaw...no, wait -- strike that...I like Don. Don's my friend. Well, maybe not my friend, but my trusted conduit into the world of blowin' stuff up real good. A tobacco-spittin' Virgil to my latte-sippin' Dante. When the shit goes down, I want Don on my side. Note to self: be nice to Don.
But I didn't need to remind myself, because Don was very nice. Economical and efficient, but nice. He was a man of few words. When you know a lot about guns, you don't have to say much.
His first question was whether I wanted a 12 gauge or a 20 gauge. Umm, Don? I can tell you all about MP3 vs. AAC, but on the weapons caliber stuff, uh, I'm all ears. Don was patient. If he sighed or shook his head, he did it so I didn't notice. He looked like a man who's had a lot of practice keeping his cards close to his vest. Maybe he did time, or was a prisoner of war in 'nam.
He showed me a sleek black shotgun, probably the popular "take $200 from the asshole" model. I looked at it thoughtfully, but didn't even pretend to kick the tires, or pull the hammer or whatever the hell you do when deciding on a gun. Don spared me the humiliation my ignorance deserved. He showed me another one, explained the differences between them, and told me that one cost a bit less than the other.
Guns are cheap! I had no idea what to expect to pay. I figured maybe $800, maybe $1000. These were down around $200. And the ammo was cheap, and plentiful! I don't want to get all Michael Moore here, but this may be a topic for another time.
I told Don, "You know, at these low, low prices, I'm not too concerned with a few bucks one way or the other. I want something safe, easy to use and effective."
"They all work," Don said, and for the first time I thought I caught a little bit of playfulness, or even irony, in his inflection.
I decided on one, made sure to get a trigger lock, and picked out a plastic "hard" case (as opposed to a vinyl "soft" case). I want this baby locked away, out of sight and out of reach, until it's Mad Max time.
Again, I have to hand it to Don. When I picked out the one I wanted, he said, all matter-of-factly, "I got one just like this at home...[pause]...'course, I got others too -- I got a pistol on my nightstand, and she has one on her nightstand. We live way out in the country, but it don't matter, we've had our house broken into. Ya gotta protect what's yours."
Then I had to fill out a form certifying that I'm not a fugitive from justice, I'm not on any terror watch lists, and I'm no crazier or angrier than the next guy, and pay a $2 fee for a background check. Don took the paperwork and made the required phone call, and within a few minutes I was exercising my 2nd Amendment right [sic] to bear arms! He got me all set up with ammo, explaining that my gun (my gun!
"O...K...," I said.
"...stop it cold..."
"Well, Don, I was just looking to maybe scare off a few looters, you know, fire into the air, that sort of thing..."
"Well, these here'll do the job for ya," Don said, warming to the topic at hand. "You hit 'em with this, they won't be gettin' up again."
"OK, Don, look, I gotta go wash my minivan and maybe check my e-mail. It's been real fun and real educational," I told him. He was starting to get a little worked up now that the ammo was out.
So after I shook loose of Don, I strutted out to the parking lot like Clyde Barrow coming out of Farmers National Bank. Almost immediately, I started to feel like a Big Man. The gun was locked in the hard case with no ammo in it, but in true self-delusional fashion, I started to feel like everyone was waiting to give me grief, just looking for a fight. "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"
The drive home was the worst. It was Saturday afternoon, Carlisle Pike, right across from Hooter's, gas was $3.39 a gallon, people were still cutting each other's throats at the New Orleans Convention Center. You don't want to bring a knife to a gun fight. I cut a guy off in traffic. I ran through a yellow light. I turned M.I.A. up real loud and cracked the windows. I cursed Toyota for not offering a gun rack in the package of options on the Sienna. Grrrr....
I got over it. The wife talked me down. She says I have to learn to use it, go to a range, take some lessons. I got some info from Don. He gave me the names of a couple of sportsmen's clubs on the West Shore. Again, he was very nice about it, hardly condescending at all, even though I could tell he was rolling his eyes at the Camp Hill address on my driver's license, thinking, candy ass. "But...but...I live in Hampden Township!" I wanted to protest. Ahh, who needs a sportsmen's club? I'd be better off up at Don's place, knocking back a six or two and shootin' at the empties. When the shit goes down, Don'll know just what to do, while PHEAA slaves like me will be handing over our Dockers to the first gang with a kitchen knife. And, besides,