It’s 3:45 p.m. in Los Angeles. Outside, the sun is shining, people are walking their dogs. I can hear the laughter of children returning from school … Out here, in the land of sunshine, a few footsteps away from Venice, one feels as safe and peaceful as can be. Obama stickers adorn Priuses. People ride bicycles. They recycle, buy organic and free range. They shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Hope and optimism are in the air. I’m feeling peaceful and safe, too. But only because a fully loaded .357 Magnum is sitting on my desk. I spent four years observing this place from a safe distance in Moscow, and it makes me nervous now that I’m back in my adopted home state. There are just too many unknowables here to feel safe without some form of serious protection. So the first thing I did after touching down in Los Angeles was buy a gun.
I went down there on a Sunday at 10:30 a.m., and the store was already teeming with anxious gun consumers. A mass of people were crowding the rifle section. People were lining up at the handgun counter. A young couple with a kid was testing out the weight of a pump-action 12-gauge. Meanwhile, more people streamed through the doors. It felt more like WalMart on Black Friday than a neighborhood gun store on a sleepy Sunday. “They’re buying up everything,” a wiry Asian store clerk with a greaser hairdo and monster-sized pistol strapped to his hip said with a smirk. “People want equal opportunity explosives.” But people were clearly showing a preference for high-powered handguns, the kind that blow up a man’s head. “We’re sold out of the Smith & Wesson 686,” a military-type salesman shook his head in embarrassment. Running out of this classic .357 was like Rite Aid running out of aspirin. It seemed the Obama-inspired gun craze was living up to its name. But this wasn’t Texas or even Bakersfield. This was West LA. Sony Studios were just around the corner, Venice Beach a few miles to the West, Beverly Hills to North and Compton to South: the epicenter of Obama’s California stronghold. Sure enough, a 30-something yuppie proudly sporting an Obama t-shirt queued up at the counter and started picking out a snub-nosed 38 special. It was gonna be his first gun, a self-defense tool that even an anorexic valley girl — or a sissy white male — could fire with ease. I looked around in shock. Obama supporters arming themselves to the teeth? This is not what the media had been reporting.
Judging by the spike in the number of mandatory background checks, gun sales have been up by almost 50% since Obama made his acceptance speech. But gun haters of all stripes and colors have been trying to whitewash the scary idea by a) attributing it to crazed rednecks or b) denying it even exists. “We don’t dispute the gun sales hike, but we think it’s just a bit stupid,” a spokesman for the Brady Campaign against Gun Violence was quoted as saying. “We don’t think these are first-time buyers. We think they are people who already have more than enough guns at their homes to protect themselves and are buying more.” He thinks, but has nothing to prove it. His implication is clear: these people are crazies and need to be disarmed. NOW! Over at Slate, Jack Shafer went one step further. He did a David Copperfield on the statistics and made the whole trend disappear altogether. He pointed out that gun ownership rates have dipped and grown over the past ten years, but have remained largely unchanged for the past ten years (at just over 8 million guns a year). Meanwhile, the US population has grown. So, what he’s really saying is that despite the Obama-inspired spike, gun ownership is decreasing overall. But ten days after I bought my gun, I found out just how wrong they really were.
The realization came, of all places, at a vegan Thai restaurant. I had just come back from the firing range and was loudly discussing my spot-on target practice with a friend of mine. “There’s an indescribable satisfaction in the knowledge that I can blow up a dude’s head at 40 ft. with just a couple shots.” I was blessed with two undeniable gifts: a uncanny sense of smell and a steady hand. Good traits for a hunter, but unusual for a skinny Jew like myself.
“Are you going to keep it loaded all the time?” my friend asked.
“Sure I will. What’s the point of having an unloaded weapon,” I replied. “I didn’t buy it to use as a vase, did I?” I turned my head and I noticed a woman staring me down from across the room. She was in her 50s, an old school urban hippie by the looks of her raggedy flannel shirt and worn PETA t-shirt. Shit, I thought, I’m committing a double crime: talking on a cellphone in a restaurant and boasting about a gun made for one and only purpose: killing living beings. This is the sort of thing PETA would love to hang people for.
I hung up the phone, and the next thing I knew, she was hovering over me with a crazed look in her eye. I cringed, expecting some sort of moralistic guns-are-for-killing diatribe, maybe even get a Thai iced tea thrown in my face. But she wasn’t angry. She was concerned, and worried. “I’m sorry to intrude, but I couldn’t help overhearing you talking about buying a gun. The thing is, I am actually buying one as well.” Her name was Pam. She looked around, embarrassed at what she just said. “Do you know of any good gun stores around here? The one I went to was very expensive.” A PETA member asking me for gun advice? And in a desperate I’m-hurting-for-a-fix kind of way?
“Wow. You really would kill a living thing?” I asked.
“Yes. Absolutely,” she said. A white-boy rasta with waist-long dookie dreads in the corner stole a quick glance at us and quickly returned to his soy roast beef wrap. He wasn’t about to start arguing with two gun psychos. “I know it sounds crazy. I’ve been a vegetarian for over ten years. But with the way the economy is going… I just don’t feel safe. The world has changed.” Pam’s organic pepper spray didn’t cut it any more for self-defense. These days, lethal force is the only sure thing. Obama or not, Pam was not putting her hopes into anything but a piece of cold steel. And she already signed up for a gun class to learn how to shoot to kill. This wasn’t just about exercising her constitutional right, it was about real fear.
You don’t appreciate the warped American mind until you’ve smelled the faint tang of red curry and soy fish on a gun owner’s breath. Pam was a new type, a PETA-NRA hybrid who prefers hunting for human flesh and
steers clear of anything with wings or more than two legs.
And Pam is not the only Obama-supporting Prius-driving lefty with fear in her heart and bloodlust in her eyes. At a gun store, she ran into another vegetarian shopping for a kill tool. He was looking for something small and simple that could take down a person with one shot. “He said he was vegetarian, too,” she said. “And I believe him. You could see that he doesn’t eat meat by the freshness around his eyes.”
If these two are any indication, a sleeper gun-toting community is rising up from the unlikely recesses of the liberal abyss. Somewhere, just beyond the restaurant’s glass door, hundreds — even thousands — of crunchy amateurs had their guns loaded and ready to go. Educated white people gravitating towards firepower, it’s a scary thought for gun control advocates. Even Obama has been getting a little nervous.
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