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Democracy

People parading guns through grocery stores does not make them, or America, great

People parading guns through grocery stores does not make them, or America, great

Last summer, my husband and I went to a grocery store in Sandpoint, Idaho to pick up some ice cream. As we started walking down the frozen foods aisle, my husband grabbed my arm to stop me. He gestured to the couple ahead of us, and I saw what he saw—a handgun sticking out of the back of the man's pants.

Sandpoint is an idyllic, small mountain town on a pristine lake, where people come to stay for water sports in summer and skiing in the winter. It's also not far from the Wal-mart where a two-year-old had pulled a handgun out of his mom's purse and killed her with it several years ago.

We turned around and left the ice cream aisle, choosing to wait until the openly armed shopper left. And we were irritated. Seeing a man with a gun in a grocery aisle feels like living in a war zone—meanwhile, Sandpoint's violent crime rate is half the national average.

Twitter user "Cacky" shared a similar encounter in an Oklahoma Trader Joe's, with a photo of a man with a handgun in a holster on his hip at the salad display.


"I have no idea if this guy is stable or mentally ill," she wrote. "Is he bothered by the heat and have a short fuse today? What if someone makes him mad and he has poor impulse control? I'm not willing to risk my life for groceries, so I just left Trader Joe's."

I had the same thoughts in the ice cream aisle in Idaho. Not only do we not know this person's mental state, but with a gun so openly broadcast, what's to stop another unstable shopper from grabbing the gun from them? I'm sure these guys think they'd be quick to stop someone from doing so, but there are dozens of scenarios where that confrontation ends very badly for them, as well as for the innocent bystanders who just want to buy some freaking lettuce.

State laws vary when it comes to open or concealed carry, but this isn't an issue of legality. It's an issue of morality, responsibility, and sensibility. "Because I can" or "Because it's my right" is not a good enough reason to do something—not when you live in a community with other human beings. You might have a right to carry a gun in a grocery store, but that doesn't mean that it is the right thing to do.

Your fellow citizens matter. And I would guess that most people feel less safe, not more, when they see someone with a gun sticking out of their pants at the grocery store. You might argue that you carry for your protection or even the protection of those around you, but the "good guy with a gun" idea has been outed as a myth over and over again. That myth and the fairly consistent mass shootings in the U.S. are why most of us see a random person with a gun as a threat, not protection.

I would say, "We aren't living in the Wild West," but even in the West of the 1880s, guns being carried where lots of people gathered was known to be an issue. That's why Wyatt Earp prohibited people from carrying guns in Tombstone, making visitors turn in their guns when they came into town. Other Old West towns had similar laws, so it's not like grocery shopping with a gun is some longstanding, untouchable American tradition.

All I see when I see someone wearing a gun while running errands is fear and paranoia, which is a bad combination when mixed with a deadly weapon. Imagine if someone had a machete sticking out the back of their pants everywhere they went. How insane would that look? How is a loaded handgun any different, other than being able to kill more people more quickly and efficiently with it?

This element of American culture causes people in other developed nations to look at us in utter bafflement. Heck, it baffles me, and I grew up here. We have a gun problem in the U.S. That fact is indisputable. And it's not just because criminals have guns. States with higher gun ownership rates have higher gun death rates. States with stricter gun laws have lower gun death rates. Ideology aside, the math favors fewer guns and stricter laws, not the free-for-all gun culture gripping a decent portion of the country.

Additionally, how can we truly say we're a great nation if people feel like they can't leave the house unarmed? I can't wrap my brain around the mindset. What kind of warped version of "freedom" is that?

I've lived in rural, urban, and suburban areas, in all different regions of the country, and not once in my 46 years of life have I ever felt the need to carry a gun. Pepper spray? Sure, just in case. Self-defense knowledge? Absolutely. A loaded handgun? No. A loaded handgun sticking out of my pants so everyone knows I have it? Crimony, no.

And now we have states like Texas making it legal for people to carry guns without even having to have a license or permit. That means no background checks. No gun safety education. No training to assure that a person knows how to handle a firearm or screening to make sure that they aren't a homicidal maniac. It's pure madness.

People say that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are what make America great, and that's true for the most part. But I would argue that the way some Americans choose to exercise their second amendment right does just the opposite. Imagine someone touting their first amendment right while standing on a street corner yelling, "I think every person I see might be out to kill me, and I don't care about the safety or comfort of other people! Yay, America!" Seems pretty kooky, right? I see no difference between that and a person packing heat to pick up some Ben & Jerry's.

Freedom that feels like fear isn't true freedom, and wearing a gun in a grocery store feels like nothing but fear to me. If you have to carry a gun everywhere you go, you're not free, no matter how much you talk about your constitutional rights.

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