So, I’m in Safeway Christmas Day

looking for a whistle. Safeway, of course, does not carry whistles. Nor does Walgreens or 7-Eleven or any other retailer open on Christmas Day, but when you’re desperate to finish wrapping the kids’ toys, you’ll waste gasoline driving around anyway. This white male, typical of many white males here in Ourtown, passes me in the aisle. He’s wearing a dark tee shirt, shorts and athletic shoes, and has what appears to be a Glock-18 holstered at his side. Now, what alarms me most about this guy is the outfit, not the gun. It’s about ten degrees outside and this man is walking around in a tee shirt and shorts, which immediately makes me question his state of mind. He is also open carrying in a state where obtaining a concealed carry license is about as difficult as ordering a pizza. There really is no reason to open carry in Colorado other than that you just want to be seen with your gun. Whether for political reasons or other, open carriers have made a conscious choice to raise the blood pressure of everyone around them by wandering supermarket aisles with their pistol hanging off their hip; thus making Safeway not so safe.

They know full well the discomfort and alarm they are causing. I can prove it by wandering the aisles of Safeway with my penis hanging out. I’d be drawing attention to myself, and needlessly so. In Colorado, if you can stand a background check, you can get a Concealed Carry Weapons permit and put your gun away. If you’re open carrying here, you simply want to be seen. That, or you’re trying to make some political statement about background checks leading to gun confiscation or the Apocalypse or some other lunatic nonsense.

Extremists loathe background checks and thus embrace things like open carry which, in many states, does not require a permit or license. A police officer is not even permitted to stop or detain a gun toter or demand I.D. to prove the toter is not a felon. I'm probably mis­un­der­stand­ing the rationale but, so far as I can tell, the gun toters embrace extreme paranoia over gun confiscation to the extent where they're completely comfortable with known felons and terrorists, including those on terrorist watch and no-fly lists, being able to purchase automatic assault weapons with no background check. The Open Carry Movement is, if I understand it correctly, more about background checks and anti-government paranoia than it is actually about guns.

Now here’s this poor checkout girl, age 23, struggling to raise her kid alone on minimum wage, and she just has to eat it; just has to stand there hoping this lunatic doesn’t shoot her. It’s what we all do, what the gun lobby asks of us: to place our lives into the hands of a man not wise enough to wear a coat in ten-degree weather. Why no coat? The answer is obvious: he wants to show off his gun, even on the day we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. For all of those reasons and more, I submit this was a deranged individual; a deranged individual with a gun. And all the shoppers, myself included, just went about our morning pretending not to be nervous about this gun freak.

I’m not sure who’s more paranoid: me or the guy with the gun. An unknown, unidentified individual sporting no credentials, wearing no uniform or badge. I’m just supposed to trust him, to accept on faith somehow, that this is a good guy and not a bad guy. Would he do the same for me? If I, a black man, were wandering around a supermarket at nine a.m. on Christmas day, wearing a tee shirt and shorts in ten-degree weather with a Glock on my hip: would this stranger afford me the same level of grace and acceptance he insists I benignly bestow upon him?

This is the insanity of Open Carry. It requires everyone without a gun to be an idiot; to assume these persons with guns are (1) not high or drunk, (2) are of sound mind and body, (3) are fully trained and qualified to handle firearms (a real stretch), and, most important, (4) are, I suppose, Batman and can, in fact, deduce, within seconds of spotting me, that I am not a Muslim terrorist but his neighbor from down the block on a futile search for a kid's whistle. That last one worries me the most because most if not all of the gun-toters I am seeing believe this about the president of the United States. The color of my skin sets off their radar in much the same way my seeing their pistol sets off mine.

If you think I’m too extreme or too paranoid, try this: imagine yourself in a world full of black males who vocally embrace the extremist “white devils” message of the early 60’s Malcolm X. You go shopping, and these black males outnumber you a hundred, three hundred to one. Now, imagine a certain percentage of those black males, pants sagging and wife beater shirts, have Glocks strapped to their waist or AR-15’s strapped to their backs. Imagine all the cops are black and simply ignore these guys. Now come back and tell me how paranoid I’m being.

I have a right to not be terrorized. I have a right to not be bullied. I have a right to not have to live by the permission of some stranger with a gun.

“They Had Rights, Too”

President Barack Obama’s emotional East Room speech Monday made the salient point that the gunslinger fantasy bill of goods the NRA is efficiently selling to so many white males must be balanced, as all of our civil rights must be balanced, against the civil rights of others. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, freedom really isn’t about your right to blast hip-hop music. Freedom is about protecting the *other guy’s* right to blast hip-hop music. Only be preserving all freedoms for all people can any of us actually be considered free.

Your Second Amendment right cannot impinge upon my right to not be terrorized by your gun-toting. I have a right to buy milk without feeling threatened. I have a right to feel safe within my community and to not be bullied. Even without ever pulling their weapons, these white males I come in contact with each and every day are bullying me because they are armed and I am not. I am surrounded by people who statistically embrace the most paranoid and ridiculous things about our sitting U.S. president, those superstitions extending surely to myself as well.

“Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That's not the Texas way. And that's certainly not the NRA way.” —NRA Statement dated May 30, posted on the website of the Institute for Legislative Action, the group's lobbying arm, later retracted.

“According to the NRA's principles, you have a right to carry a weapon that may cause a reasonable person to believe they are in danger of great bodily injury, and they have a right--if they feel that way--to respond with deadly force. It's a perpetual violence machine. It's Gunfight at the Golden Corral.” —John Stewart, The Daily Show

I Am The NRA

I am an NRA member. I think Wayne LaPierre is a lunatic and I believe many of the NRA’s extreme positions are indefensible. Theirs is the face of intolerance and de facto White Power. It grieves me to give money to them, but I also believe they lobby for an important right that needs protecting. So I hold my nose a lot and wish, frankly, that more independents and liberals would join up so we could vote the fringe out of there in favor for some common-sense gun legislation.

I am not anti-gun. I’m saying: put it away. Stop giving old folks heart attacks. For that matter, stop giving actual bad guys a preview of your weapon and tactics. I see these guys—15 round clip (the legal max, here), one in the chamber, and a pair of mags on their belt. Why? Do they really believe they’ll be in for some protracted gun battle? That’s the insipid brainwashing TV provides: these five, ten-minute long gun battles. Most gun battles last about eight seconds and somebody’s on the ground. One, two shots fired. The mass, epic battles between cops and terrorists, hundreds of rounds fired, are an anomaly. And hundreds of rounds were fired because nobody’s actually hitting anything except innocent bystanders and cats. You don’t need a gun. You certainly don’t need to routinely walk around with fifty rounds of ammo.

I’d imagine, for 90% of civilians, a simple, subcompact “belly gun” like the Ruger LCP would be just fine. This weapon is designed for personal defense, not national defense. These guys toting Glocks and AR-15's just want to be seen. You don’t need a big gun to defend yourself or your kids. These men are carrying heavy because, in the movie playing in their head, they are the hero who will defend Safeway from guys who look like me and engage in long stand-offs where they are saving lives.

Which is insane. The very first command issued by law enforcement when they arrive on the scene will be for you to put your gun down. Despite what you’ve seen on NCIS, the cops will not join up with this guy in shorts and form some kind of ad hoc tactical command. They will shoot him dead if he doesn’t put his gun down. Period. Which makes carrying some cannon around completely futile and the obvious mark of an individual living out a paranoid fantasy and not dealing, in any way, with reality. Which makes me nervous; these people lost in paranoid delusion running around a supermarket with guns under the pretense of “making the store safer.”

Safeway bans open carry, and this nut likely knows it but, as gun nuts tend to do, feels the need to test limits by making everybody nervous just so he can get his jollies. I believe many if not most open carriers enjoy the attention and get an adrenaline rush out of making people around them anxious. People like the senior citizen suffering hypertension who can suffer a panic attack just at the sight of one of these goofs.

Meanwhile, there's the family at the park, a Muslim family, the bearded husband and wife in full burka. I'm there with my five-year old great niece and we're getting a few off-looks because we're the only blacks in the playground, but pity the Muslim family who are getting paranoid glares from the mostly white moms and dads. Now, take it a step farther: what if this husband or wife had a gun? For all I know, they did, and who'd blame them? Now go a step further: what if either were open carrying their weapon? How long would it take one of the white mommies or daddies to call the police or, worse, engage this family who are simply minding their own business? Whose kids are on the monkey bars the same way mine are?

I would never open carry because open carry laws are intrinsically racist. Here in Ourtown, each and every day I see some toter wandering through Walmart or ordering a burger at a fast food joint. People pretend not to notice, but everybody notices, and the gun toter knows this; he gets off on the attention.

Now, were a black man or, shudder, a Muslim, to be seen wandering through Walmart with a Glock on his hip, the cops would be called instantly, and, in fact, the gun-toting white guys—carrying open or concealed—would start shadowing this man, suspicious he might be a terrorist or something. Call me names if you want, but a black man in Walmart was gunned down without warning by a white cop because the black man was holding a plastic BB pistol--like a Daisy--he'd pulled off the shelf and planned to buy.  Somebody saw a black man with a pistol and panicked. Why? White men wander Walmart with pistols every day of the week.

The truth of it is open carry laws are really Open Carry For White Males laws. Were I to open carry around town, I’d be harassed by cops everywhere I went and likely shot dead.

One In Three

News of 18-year old Ethan Couch’s capture in a Mexican luxury apartment complex was announced in the same broadcast announcing no charges against the police officer who gunned down twelve-year old Tamir Rice. Couch was fleeing an additional four months juvenile imprisonment for breaking his probation for having murdered four people in a drunk-driving accident. The U.S. justice system’s rampant, blatant inequity towards persons of color, characterized by the now-routine acquittal of white males gunning down black men, women and children seemingly at will, makes the ubiquitous sight of conspicuously armed white men all the more chilling for black people as they go about their daily lives. We know these guys could shoot us at will and face no serious consequences. All they need say was they “feared for their lives.” I fear for my life every time I shop at Walmart.

This has become the rallying cry for blacks to obtain concealed carry permits for self-defense not against al Qaeda or some stick-up kid, but against the Soccer Moms and paranoid yahoos swaggering through Walmart with their pistol on their hip. It is a formula for social disaster not apparently on the all but exclusively white conservative Republican gun lobby radar.

As policy, I will get up and leave a restaurant that allows patrons to openly display firearms. I can’t do anything about the concealed carry people but, statistically, the concealed carriers are much more likely to have been vetted in some way, while the open carriers could literally be anyone. In many states, the cops don’t even have the right to demand I.D. from these persons to see if they are felons, which is a real boon for felons who no longer have to hide their illegal weapons. So long as a felon openly displays his hardware, there’s not a thing a cop can do to stop him. The stick-up guy does all his shopping first, gun on his hip, then robs the place. The bank robber just walks in with his AR-15 and, as ridiculous as this sounds, everyone just ignores him. Or, maybe, all of the customers are armed, so they open up, firing at the hold-up man and killing each other and three bank tellers. This is what the extremists advocate.

I’ve heard all the arguments and they’re all crap. At any given point in time, I know I’m surrounded by guns. It’s Colorado: everybody has a gun. An ex-police chief friend estimates one in three Coloradans are armed. One in three. Most are tucked away in bags or strapped under jackets or to ankles. I imagine a healthy proportion of Colorado soccer moms have cheap Tauruses or Ruger LCP subcompacts in their purse. The commonality between these people is they all watch far too much TV, see far too many violent films, and have bought into the insane idea that, when the time comes, they’ll hear the music and will save themselves if not save the day by gunning down the bad guy.

However, in most panic situations, more than 75% of shots fired from zero to six feet miss their targets. This means Soccer Mom has a staggering 75% chance of hitting her own kids instead of the bad guy or, worse, mistaking me for the bad guy because, in a blind panic, all she’ll see is a black face.

No matter your level of training or whatever movie is running thru your head or whatever nonsense the gun lobby has sold you, when the time comes, you absolutely, positively, I assure you, will not save the day. You will, at minimum, make things worse by either gunning down innocents or, worse, freezing up and having your weapon taken from you.

I want to stop the Safeway gun toter and ask him, “Dude, seriously: when’s the last time you got caught in a firefight in a supermarket?” Because of the Planned Parenthood shooting here, now all the toters will point to that or to the multiple tragedies in the Denver-Aurora Metro area, which has creatively banned open carry through some legislative alchemy. None of them will connect any of those tragedies to the ease with which virtually anyone can obtain high-powered weaponry here.

Truth is, the statistical likelihood of your being caught in some situation where you’d need to defend yourself with a firearm is beyond miniscule. Open carry is much more appropriate to the open range--the vast rural areas here where you really are on your own for the most part. But Denver is a city like any other city; pretending it's the wild west is what has led to its sad legacy of paranoid white male gun violence.

This is not me, not people who look like me or even people who look like the Muslim family at the playground. The terrible mass killings, here, have al been committed by white males who obtained theiwr weapons legally because (primarily) white conservatives continue to vote through legislation that treats municipalities like Denver and Colorado Springs as though they were rural areas like Evergreen or Durango or Teller County, where your nearest neighbor can be a mile away and the sheriff's response a half hour or longer.

My blood pressure shoots up ten points when I see some idiot in tee shirt and shorts in ten-degree weather with a pistol strapped to his waist at nine a.m. no Christmas Day. My first and second thought is this man is not in his right mind. My safety is now in his hands. I’m alive because he chose not to shoot me. Nobody likes to feel helpless, and nobody wants to give that kind of power over to a complete stranger. So, now, I want to go out to my car and get my gun, just so we understand each other. It becomes an arms race. The difference between me and this guy? You’d never see mine. That’s for my safety as well as the safety of those around me.

What Would Jesus Carry?

My Christian faith notwithstanding, I’d have no reason to open carry. Regardless of what the gun-toters believe, open carry is no deterrent whatsoever. A criminal or terrorist bent on doing harm has already made the calculation that X-percent of Walmart shoppers are armed. A jihadist, frankly, desires martyrdom, and an unhinged lunatic like the Planned Parenthood shooter likely never considered or much cared how many armed persons might be in that clinic. The more balanced Walmart shoppers put it away and keep it out of sight. Most off-duty cops I know put it away and keep it out of sight. Why isn’t that good enough for John Q Citizen? He is open carrying because that’s what he wants to do, because he gets some thrill out of it.

As I’ve said before, blacks and Latinos (and, for that matter, whites) driving around with loud rap music thundering out of their cars are all but announcing their own insecurity and need for external validation. Look at me. I have loud music which means I had the cash to afford this ludicrous public broadcast system which is now ruining my hearing. It is, to me, an act of violence to impose your taste in music on me, when you could easily keep it in the car. Oh, and, by the way: the measure of how expensive or exclusive your car’s sound system is is how little it bleeds to the outside world, not how much.

Similarly, I regard open carrying as an act of violence; an assault on my nerves surpassing the idiots with the booming car stereos. Worse, many of toters waste valuable time and resources provoking police to stop and question them, then arguing their rights and refusing to cooperate. What about my right to not be assaulted by your open display of hardware?

I think guns are like penises: best left in your pants. Most civilians who carry guns, open or otherwise, have been brainwashed by all that TV, by all those movies. In defense of CSI: Miami, a truly stupid but, yes, entertaining show: Caruso’s Horatio Kane and his team displayed not only their guns but their I.D. cards clipped to their belts. I believe open carry laws should require the toters to display their ID in much the same fashion. That card might be phony, but just the gun-toter’s willingness to display some kind of credential would go a long way to ease my anxiety over this complete and total stranger “asserting his rights” by bringing a gun to a grocery store. The anonymity these men tend to cloak themselves in is not extended to me, to the Muslim family guy, to anyone of color which makes most open carry laws not totally unlike Jim Crow. This white man has the right to intimidate me at will, while I would be routinely harassed for doing the exact same thing. The main difference being I’m not nearly so insecure (if not unhinged) that I’d need to bring a gun on a search for a kid’s whistle.

It just amazes me to see “Christians” loudly advocating extremist gun policy. Many gun enthusiasts claim to be Christians while demonstrating a baffling indifference to the trauma they inflict upon people with their in-your-face open displays. Regardless of your position on the issue, if you are a Christian, the last thing you’d ever want to do is traumatize people. I really wish people who live and breathe intolerance would please stop claiming to know Jesus. You want to open carry something, open carry Christ.

Christopher J. Priest
1 January 2016

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