It has the ring of parody, as if an entrepreneur opened, say, a combined hardware store and childcare center. But, no, last week I did indeed visit Nichols Westwood Pharmacy, which shares space with Nichols Guns.
On one side of the store you take care of your health; on the other you tend to your personal safety and hunting needs. And through a convenient side door is a new 18-lane shooting range. A wall-sized sign greets visitors: “Guns and Drugs.” Welcome to Texas!
Of course, Texas has no monopoly on the casual integration of firearms into ordinary public life, a “normalization” that makes a pharmacy/gun shop seem not all that strange. Guns have an increasingly prominent profile everywhere in our culture, from movies, TV and video games to the 300 million firearms that reside in the drawers of bedside tables and in hall closets and gun safes in homes all across the nation.
But my home state embraces the romance of firearms as tightly as anyone. In fact, firearms will play a significant role in the race for governor. Thus, my state’s attorney general, Gregg Abbott, made a campaign stop last week in my hometown at Nichols Pharmacy/Guns.
Abbott used a rack of rifles and shotguns as backdrop as he confirmed his support for the Second Amendment and for laws that would permit guns in college classrooms and for the “open carry” of firearms.
His opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, isn’t given much of a chance, partly because she’s seen as soft on guns; she voted, for example, to permit guns in students’ cars on campuses, but not in college classrooms.
How did firearms become such a litmus test of political credibility? Even Gabby Giffords, former Arizona congresswoman and gunshot victim, feels obliged to profess her long-time gun ownership and strong support of the Second Amendment.
Some of the answer probably resides in a firearm’s capacity to convey both pleasure and power. A well-crafted firearm is a thing of beauty, and the sense of power found in the heft of a pistol grip is attractive in ways that far exceed a gun’s practical function. So gun owners tend to support politicians who favor gun rights.
But most gun-control advocates are not determined to abolish the Second Amendment. And even though getting from a “well regulated militia” to our current gun-saturated nation is quite a stretch, it’s hard to gainsay the right of citizens to hunt and to protect themselves.
Some of this reverse political correctness stems from the mythology and psychology connected to firearms. Candidate Abbott wants Texans — and all Americans — to have the right to carry a gun for protection. Fair enough. But “open carry” inevitably alters the way citizens interact. A gun carried openly says clearly, “Don’t Mess with Me.” And if you do, deadly force is not very far down on my list of options.
Thus, last week in New York, when Renisha McBride, seeking help after a car accident, knocked on Theodore Wafer’s door in the middle of the night, Wafer reached for the weapon at hand and fired a 12-gauge shotgun through a locked screen door. The 19-year-old McBride died at the scene.
It’s hard to fault Wafer for keeping a weapon for self-protection. But we’re becoming an increasingly anxious and frightened society, and gun manufacturers, the National Rifle Association and many politicians benefit if we stay that way. Our national gun saturation has the ironic effect of contributing to the fear; at some point in his panic Wafer must have assumed that McBride had a gun, too. She didn’t.
When the Second Amendment was written, firearms were tools, not fetishes. Some of the perverse psychology attached to guns — the pleasure and fear — insinuates itself into our society in unhealthy ways. Sure, let’s keep them for hunting and self-protection. But maybe they’ve become a little too “normal” when we stop by the drugstore to pick up more ammo.