Saturdays are our adventure days. Anything to get out of the house. Go for a hike. Picnic at the park. Friends' birthday parties. But plans change. Kids get sick. Weather sours. Sometimes, we camp out in the apartment and do chores.
One rainy Saturday, it was obvious the kids were getting cabin fever. Their rooms were clean. Laundry folded and put away. Dishes washed and dishwasher empty. Video game time used up. Hours spent reading. All before lunch. (My kids are early risers.)
By mid-afternoon, they were turning bug-eyed from the doldrums of being cooped up and the dismal weather outside was not encouraging. They were like caged animals looking for a way to escape their enclosure and would soon turn against their zookeeper. Me.
With that in mind, I took them somewhere dry to play: Carl's Jr. We had already eaten lunch so we ordered sides of fries; I let them play while I caught up on my own reading.
Carl's Jr isn't my favorite place in the world. It always smells odd, but their food quality is a step above McDonald’s and their play area is easier when managing multiple children. For that one wet-weathered Saturday, we had the place to ourselves for most of the time we were there.
Late in the afternoon, and older man came in with his granddaughter. Hunched back, grayed hair, grizzled scowl, defined wrinkles - I would estimate his age to be five to ten years older than my father. He carried himself with the boredom and contempt of a man that is not enjoying retirement. He also had a large firearm strapped to his hip.
The gun did not bother me. I have a few friends who open carry, more who have a permit and conceal carry. They are all calm and competent gun owners. None of them flaunt the fact they are armed.
I was not worried about the old man with the big gun. Since I live in North Idaho, I would wager I am in the company of people packing heat far more than I realize. It is something people do around here.
But my daughter was worried. As soon as she saw it she came up to me and whispered, "That man has a gun."
"Yes, he does." I tried to downplay it as best as possible. "It's OK though."
"But why?" She asked, still at a conspiratorial volume.
"A lot of people do it," I whispered in reply, "It isn't anything to be scared of."
As I finished trying to calm my daughter's fears, my oldest son came around the corner with the same observation. "Did you know that guy has a gun?" Christian was whispering too, but not as quietly as his sister.
Before I could give him an answer, the old man did it for me. "And I have a badge for it," he barked from the far side of the room.
That is when my opinion changed. In one grumpy retort, he went from being an old man wanting to spend some time with his granddaughter to a jackass with a gun. He went from being an ordinary citizen with a weapon to a potential danger. He went from carrying a gun for self-protection hoping he'd never need it to carrying a gun in hopes of confrontation.
I know that is a lot of projection and speculation. Yet, if he was a responsible gun owner, he would have respected my ability as a parent to deescalate the situation with my own kids. There was no need for him to butt into our conversation. Even if interruption was necessary, the manner in which he responded was defiant. It was hostile, terse, and angry. There was no kindness in his voice. No attempt to ease their fears. To the contrary, his irate shout made them even more scared.
When I looked at him he was sneering at us. He knew he intimidated my kids and he was enjoying it.
I was offended. I was pushed into fight or flight mode so we left. (To be honest, we have not been back to Carl's Jr since then.)
As we drove away, the questions came. "Was he breaking the law?" No, no he wasn't. "You mean he's allowed to have a gun like that?" Yes, he is. "Is that normal?" Well, lots of people have guns.
The next question was not as easy to answer. "Why was he carrying a gun?"
The first answer that came to mind: "Because he's a jerk." But not everyone who carries a gun is a jerk. As I said before, I have friends who are always armed. They are good people with valid reasons for keeping a firearm with them at all times.
But this guy? This crotchety old man? "Because he's a jerk" is the only answer that fit. How bitter and broken does someone have to be to get a thrill from scaring elementary aged kids?
And he has a badge? I call BS. You do not get badges for gun ownership. Some states require permits for concealed carry, but not Idaho. We also allow you can openly carry without a permit. The only reason he would have a badge is if he was in law enforcement, but he was far too old to be an active officer or a security guard.
He's grouchy. Most likely dishonest. If he's expecting terrorists to attack a small town fast food joint or preparing to be the hero if a disgruntled ex-employee returns to extract vengeance, he's paranoid and/or delusional. And he derives pleasure from scaring kids. Jerk is the only descriptor I can contrive.
When it comes to talk about gun violence in America, it is hard to escape the rhetoric. Both sides use it. Those in favor of and opposed to any measure of gun control have a weapons cache filled with statistics and witty one liners that support their political stance. The arguments come out after every mass shooting. After every high profile officer involved death. After every riot. After every headline that include the words toddler, accident, and gun.
Murder rates, gun deaths, comparisons to Canada and Australia, spotlights on mental health, second amendment, militias, gun grabbing feds. When I hear these tired terms, "facts," and figures, I can't help but think one thing.
One of the most common pro-gun talking points is that guns are not the problem; people are. It was cleverly turned into a meme trying to draw parallels between Walter Palmer and Christopher Harper-Mercer. It said that a when the gun is used to kill a lion liberals blamed the person, but when the gun is used to kill Christians liberals blame the gun. Ignoring the logical fallacies and false equivalences in that meme, it highlights something that I do believe to be true.
America has a problem with violence. It has an obsession with guns. We have a problem of the heart and a crisis of soul.
If you want to say that guns are not to blame, I will agree with you. If you claim people are to blame, I am with you. People are the problem. But if you believe people are the problem then you should be willing to cede that some people should not be allowed to have guns because of those problems.
In my opinion, that old man at Carl's Jr getting kicks off of scaring my kids is one of those people who should not be allowed to carry a gun in public.