A young man with a bushy chin beard, lots of body ink and a glittering galaxy of facial piercings was examining the display of tires that we offer. I recognized him as someone who had been a regular in the 1990s. Back then he had only started on his personal body decoration project. He was one of those people with pent-up energy that hinted at the possibility of fireworks. He didn't seem angry, but he did seem unhinged.
He must be somewhere either side of 40 now. The energy coming off of him as he stood at the tire display was somewhat cooler. Unfortunately, he is not much more coherent than he was back then.
I'd seen his truck outside. Among the splatter of window stickers was the inevitable Gadsden snake. He is apparently a fan of the young adult fiction of the Tea Party.
When he turned, I saw the handgun stuck in his belt. I thought at first that the gun was naked there, held in only by the webbing. Then I made out the tidy, minimalist holster.
Since New Hampshire did away with the requirement to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, we've had to get used to the sight of armed men in places one would not normally have expected to see that level of combat readiness. As it was explained to me by a police officer, even an open holster constituted concealment, because the weapon could not be seen from every angle. A long gun over your shoulder would be A-OK. And now, with permitless carry, a handgun is a fashion accessory among those who love to be considered armed and dangerous.
At a public meeting in June, I noticed that the self-styled government watchdog who records many meetings on video and posts them on line also sports a handgun to demonstrate just how free he is. It's a thing now.
At its inception, the Second Amendment was symbolically important as a demonstration to authoritarian governments that, in this new Land of the Free, ordinary citizens would have the right to carry weapons and gather to bitch about whoever was in charge. Even so, I can imagine lobbyists from the National Musket Association jostling elbows at the Constitutional Convention and pestering incessantly to make sure that their interests featured prominently.
America was settled at gunpoint. But someone has to put down the weapon and pick up implements for farming and construction, or else you're all just chasing each other around the woods with guns. As a lifestyle, it could work. Sleep in a lean-to made of sticks. Shoot some animal for food. Shoot people with whom you disagree. But someone, somewhere, has to be a gunsmith, to keep all the trigger-pullers equipped.
America eventually relied less on hot lead and more on inventiveness, resource exploitation, and financial acumen. Into this more varied social environment the bicycle was born.
Growing up, I had the naive impression that we were trying to have a society in which people didn't look forward to shooting each other. I know people even now who don't even own guns, much less carry them everywhere. But my Second Amendment supporting friends assure me that I am living a dangerous fantasy and that a bloodbath could happen at any time. Don't you want to be able to return fire? Personally, I could, until my meagre supply of ammunition ran out, but I still don't think it's a good idea. And I never carry either the .25 caliber handgun that I got in the divorce or the shotgun when I go out. I was advised that the handgun is a better paper weight than a weapon. If the shooting starts, I guess I'll just have to elbow-crawl behind available cover and go in search of clean underwear.
Should I be admitting publicly that I'm not packin'? Now everyone will know that I'm no threat. But I could be lying, to fake y'all out.
If I was planning to make trouble, the first person I would take out would be the guy sporting the obvious gun. Do they think about that when they put on their costume in the morning?
Once I knew the gun was there, I could not forget about it. We looked at tires and wheels for a cheap old road bike he's fixing up, but half my mind was imagining circumstances in which one might whip out the gat and start blasting. Not that I expected him to do that right there and then, but that only fueled my swirl of speculation. If not here, where? If not now, when? I go for months at a time without wishing that I had a gun, and when I do, it's probably a good thing that I don't.
A gun is the very definition of dead weight. A hefty chunk to carry, it's only purpose is to kill. Wearily, its devotees remind us that humans are wild animals and not to be trusted. When they walk among us, armed, the point of view is more than theoretical. They've taken their fantasies out of their imaginations and forced the rest of us to take part. We're in their theme park now.