A Tale of Two Gun Toters

Why Packing Makes me Nervous

This is not my employee with his pistol, but it’s the same kind he packed at the plant

Gun Ownership is Becoming a Cult

There’s a lot of debate going on in the United States about firearms and responsible regulation. Things have changed a lot since I was a gun-owning, gun-shooting kid. Guns have turned into something of a cult among some conservative people.

People at the church in the country village where I live bring handguns into the sanctuary on Sunday. Our village hasn’t experienced a violent crime in living memory. Literally. And with a population of under 300 people, the idea that the church will become a target of violence is, to put it kindly, wildly unlikely.

But several men in the church insist that openly packing in the sanctuary is vitally important, both practically and on principle.

This is new. This is different. It’s not American tradition rooted in any sort of historic practice. Their fathers didn’t bring guns to church, nor did their grandfathers, or any of their ancestors. This new practice isn’t conservative.

It’s radical.

I sometimes get very nervous around gun owners these days, even though I grew up with guns and have a healthy, but respectful appreciation for them as tools.

I owned my first shotgun when I was 12 and my first rifle when I was 13, just to establish my bona fides. Let me tell you two stories about guns. In one case, I didn’t get nervous at all. In the other, I got nervous as all bloody hell.

2015 National Field Trial Champtionship in Grand Junction, TN

It was a blustery Saturday morning in North Dakota. I’d been on horseback all week watching my bird dogs run in a field trial. I had a long drive ahead of me, and I stopped at a country diner for breakfast.

Just as a I was walking in, a pickup truck with kids swarming all over it pulled into the parking lot. They trooped into the restaurant as I went in, maybe 9 or 10 of them from about 13 at the youngest to 18 at the oldest.

They were all camo clad in knee-high rubber boots — mostly boys, with two or three girls.

Each one of them carried a shotgun. A big 12-guage shotgun. I watched them as they laughed, joked, chattered in excited voices with the proprietor, marched into a back room to store their weapons, then devoured enormous stacks of pancakes with sausage.

They’d been out duck hunting.

I gathered that their ducks were on the restaurant menu that night.

Was I nervous? Not in the least. The kids were happy, obviously not in the least bit dangerous, and before they stored their weapons, they carried them carefully and respectfully, muzzles pointed at the ground.

They weren’t carrying their shotguns around for “protection” or because they hoped to foil some hypothetical bad guy.

I drove away wishing I had time to wait around for the duck roast that night.

A few years later at the plastic recycling plant I managed, the midnight shift leader came in one night “packing.”

He had a nine millimeter holstered on his hip and a license that said he had the right to carry it. He sat at the foreman’s desk and showed off his “piece” to every worker clocking in. He canted it at various angles and let the harsh office lighting glint off the barrel’s bluing.

I wasn’t sure what I thought.

But the more he talked about how he’d “take care” of any troublemaker who might enter the plant, the more nervous I got. When he unholstered it to show it off — and more than once — I got more nervous still.

Take care of a troublemaker?

We were inside double fences with locked gates. There was no history of violence at the factory. Ever. What was the gun even for? Would he feel tempted to use it if a fight broke out? Did he want people to feel intimidated by him?

It was just senseless.

The guy was apparently getting off having a powerful weapon strapped to his hip. It evidently made him feel big and tough.

His attitude made me nervous. I told him not to bring it to work again. He was offended. He thought I was wrong to restrict his “right” to bear arms. He was an American, damn it, and Americans carry guns.


Once again, not conservative. I’m not saying American factory foremen have never packed pistols before, but it’s neither normal nor traditional. Carry a gun openly to work and wear it on your hip?

Are you kidding me? That’s not conservative.

It’s radical.

I don’t want to live in a world where a casual dispute or tussle can turn instantly deadly because people are toting around weapons they don’t need for anything.

I don’t want to live in a world where firearms are so ordinary that obtaining one is trivial, where anyone with a beef can go on a tear and shoot up a school.

I was a machine gunner in the Marine Corps. I’m a hunter. I get guns.

I don’t get why someone would carry a pistol around routinely, why they’d want to bring one to church, why they’re turning gun ownership into some kind of patriotic fetish.

Whatever the reasons, let’s not pretend this is normal or traditional. People didn’t worship guns when I was a kid. This is something very new and different.

It’s radical.

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