A chance encounter at an ice cream stand in Bedford Indiana this summer brought home the gun debate to me.
It had been a long day working in 90 plus heat and humidity repairing cabins at Camp Riverdale on a NOMADS project when Joe and I drove to get ice cream at a little mom and pop stand in Bedford.
I sat at an outdoor table people watching while Joe waited for our orders. Members of the high school football team and some girls were in one corner licking cones and hanging out. Couples with little dogs were at other tables.
Then I noticed a woman with her family. I was drawn to her belt, hand tooled with flowers embossed on the leather. At first it looked like there was a grip of a tool of some kind was poking up out of the belt’s side pouch. My mind was on carpentry. What kind of tool looks like that? I wondered.
Joe returned to the picnic table with our treats.
Is that a gun on that woman’s belt, I asked.
He turned around to look and turned back. Yep, he replied, digging into his sundae.
We had most recently lived full time in New York and I’m originally from Pennsylvania. I can’t remember ever seeing a gun on someone’s hip unless they were also wearing a badge.
I brought the gun subject up at next morning’s NOMADS meeting. I’m naïve, I said. I’d never seen anyone carrying a gun out in the open.
It’s not uncommon for people to openly carry guns in Indiana, the camp caretaker and leader assured me. They then speculated how many members of the Methodist church we had attended on Sunday were packing heat. Five, 10, they guessed. There had been maybe 30 people in church that Sunday.
A couple of weeks later Joe and I were at Penn State’s first game of the season. (We are….)
It’s not uncommon to see police and state troopers in big gray hats walking in the crowd of 100,000. Families with little kids dressed like cheerleaders or the Nittany Lion, college students, alumni and fans.
This time, however, there were officers dressed in SWAT team black, boots and bullet-proof vests carrying assault rifles wandering in pairs through the crowd.
We had great seats. Just above the student section. I could see the whole stadium, including the police sharp shooters, with rifles fixed on tripods, on the four corners of the flat roof above the box seats.
I knew all the police were there for my safety. Yet, it made me uncomfortable to see all that fire power in a place where people were out to have a good time.
The game was a good one, a blow out. As the football team sang the alma mater to the student section, I checked the latest headlines in Washington Post on my phone. There was another mass shooting in Texas. Seven people died and more than 20 injured, including a baby.
Since then CVS, Kroger, Walmart, Walgreens and Wegmans have asked their customers not to openly carry firearms into their stores. The sight of a gun is alarming and “we don’t want anyone to feel that way in Wegmans,” the chain said in a tweet.
We travel across the United States. We meet all different kinds of folks and have parked our house in some dodgy communities. Joe and I don’t feel the need to own a gun.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t have guns for hunting or protecting themselves.
But I can’t help but think the woman packing heat at the ice cream stand, the church members carrying guns into the sanctuary and the assault rifles openly carried at a football game say an awful lot about the American culture.