Is There A Gun in Your Pocket?

The gun section in Wal-Mart.

I walked to the gun section in Wal-Mart and stopped in front of two glass cabinets full of shotguns. It was the first time that I was so close to guns. A sales person walked up to me and asked, “Can I help you?”

I smiled and asked, “Can I buy a gun?” I am a foreigner who comes from China to study at Ole Miss, and I expected she would say, “No, I can’t sell a gun to you.” To my surprise, she said, “Of course, yes.” Jasmine Vaughen, a 23-year-old sales associate in Wal-Mart, had shocked me.

“Are you sure? I am a foreigner.” I asked again to see if she had misunderstood me. “Yes, I can sell a gun to you if you can provide me a valid Mississippi ID, such as a driving license.”

“That’s all what I need to provide?” I asked. Vaughen played a set of keys in her hands, among which there were the keys to the cabinets, and answered me, “Yes, and which one you want to try?” As she asked, she was about to open one of the cabinets for me.

Jesmine Vaughen showed me how to use the shotgun.
The poster on the glass cases.

“Do I need to provide any proof that shows whether I am mentally healthy or not?” I kept asking Jasmine. But the answer was “No.” I can’t believe how easy people, even a foreigner, can purchase a gun in Oxford, Mississippi. During my lifetime, I never used or bought a gun.

China has strict control on the selling or purchasing of guns. Any individual is forbidden to have, manufacture, sell, transport, or rent a gun to the public. People could be sentenced up to seven years’ imprisonment for a violation. Other Asian countries also control guns tightly.

Yongsu Kwon, a 25-year-old Korean student majoring in management, said “It is illegal to buy a gun in my country. I don’t know why people need guns. We can live a life without guns.”

Torumoy Ghoshal, a Bangladesh student who studies electrical engineering at Ole Miss, said, “In my country, it is very difficult to purchase guns. I think it is dangerous that people can buy a gun legally in the United States. Though most people buy it for self-protection, some people misuse this opportunity. This often results in crimes hampering the security of other citizens. I never felt the necessity to buy guns in my country.”

According to Heeding God’s Call, an organization that aims to inspire hope, raise voices and take actions to end gun violence in Philadelphia, there are an estimated 283 million guns in civilian hands in the U.S.

Guns in Hunters’ Hollow.

Professor Richard Gershon, dean and professor of the Law School at Ole Miss, said, “We have a National Rifles Association (NRA) in the country, and they are totally against any limitation on guns, including the military type of guns, like pistols and automatic weapons. The NRA lobbies Congress, has huge power, influences a lot of people and affected bills that can be passed or not.”

To some extent, the NRA guarantees the flow of guns in the U.S. Every year, about 4.5 million firearms are sold, which includes approximately 2 million handguns. Since 1994 to 2004, the average number of guns per owner in the U.S. has increased from 4.1 to 6.9.

The normal process of purchasing a gun requires a valid ID, and then answers to a series of questions online, which the FBI will use for the background check in its database. The background check usually takes 5 minutes. If you pass it, you can purchase a gun legally in Mississippi.

Vaughen told me, “Most people just need to provide their valid Mississippi driving license, and if you have a gun permit, I don’t even need to do the background check, and I can do a gun sell.”

On March 16, a shooting incident happened in Tate County, involving James Michael Green, who after being stopped for an alleged traffic violation, allegedly fired several shots at a Crewshaw police officer. Two weeks later, on April 2, a double murder investigation was underway after the police found a 32-year-old man shot to death at Club Deuce at 1569 North State Street in Clarksdale, along with another victim, a 29-year-old man.

Safety is an issue with buying guns. According to the International Action Network on Small Arms of the United Nations, the average annual gun homicides in Japan is less than 50. The number in Italy and France is less than 150, in Canada is less than 200, however, in the U.S. it is more than 10,000.

Professor Gershon agreed a negative relationship exists between the crimes and freely purchased gun. “The society gets more complicated and more dangerous to introduce handguns, especially in big cities like Chicago and New York. However, one shooting doesn’t make a place dangerous. This university is quite safe because it doesn’t allow guns on campus.”

“Americans are sensitive to their independence and freedom,” Professor Gershon said, “People enjoy the free speech, and also their rights to buy guns. The second amendment does say the government cannot restrict the rights for people to buy arms. People can buy guns for self-protection.”

Compared to Wal-Mart, Hunter’s Hollow can be described as the biggest store selling guns in Oxford. Ben Stepp, 25, and one of the managers of Hunter’s Hollow, said, “I love guns and I have a lot of guns. I have been shooting since I was five years old, and I got the first deer at seven or eight.”

Guns in Hunters’ Hollow.
Handguns in Hunters’ Hollow.

In Mississippi, the main purpose people purchase guns is for hunting or going to shooting ranges. Mississippi is an agricultural state with a deep hunting culture.

Hunters’ Hollow

“The hunting culture is the idea or feeling among a lot of people in the South that it’s an important thing to do, it’s a natural thing to do,” said Wiley Perwitt, 51, a graduate student at Ole Miss back in the early 1990s who did his thesis on hunting culture in Mississippi. Now, he is a delivery driver for Mississippi Blood Services.

“Hunting in the South includes different types. When you mention hunting culture, you can includes these types from deer hunting to raccoon hunting,” Perwitt said, “Hunting was important to people in the South because it was a way to get food and also was one of their recreations in the rural world.”

“Generally in the South, the hunting season was during the fall and winter months, because the skin of the animals would be better and the animals would be fatter,” said Perwitt. “People had a lot of dogs, so hunting with dogs is often much more popular in the South than any other places in the United States. Guns were also very available, and very much important to the culture, which was common for almost everybody to have.”

Perwitt described himself as a gun collector. “I’m not sure how many guns I have, I would like to say at least ten, but they all used for hunting. I love guns just for their mechanical, elegant and efficiency.”

As for gun laws in the U.S., “I don’t think there is anything wrong with citizens owning weapons, but I think there should be a sort of degree of accountability. I wish it could be different.”

Stepp said accountability is important, “I think it’s a good idea that people can have guns, but only responsibly. I don’t think you just have gun and know nothing about it, at least you need some training course to stop from hurting yourself or others.”

Professor Gershon believes guns in the United States should be limited. “I don’t eat any animal products.” said Gershon, a vegetarian. “I don’t hunt and I have no guns. But I respect people especially who live in the rural areas, they hunt and eat the animals they hunt. My desire for better restricted guns had nothing to do with people who want to hunt.”

Gershon supports extending the waiting time for purchasing guns in order to make sure purchasers are qualified to use guns. “If I created the gun laws, I would say anybody needs to fill all the information to do a background check to make sure you are not terrorists, not criminals , or crazy, and having a waiting period of 30 days before we can buy a gun.”

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