It was 11:30 on a Saturday morning, and the lights were on inside, but the door was locked. Ben Peoples looked around for a sign with the store hours just as the door buzzed. By the time he realized someone inside was unlocking the door for him, it was too late, the lock reengaged. Now he felt like a fool in front of his 7-year-old son, Jesse. The door buzzed again and he pushed inside, only to find a second locked door. He read the sign. “Door will not open until outside door is closed.” Ben corralled Jesse inside the vestibule, tugged the door shut behind them, and waited for the buzz.
Jesse’s antenna went up. He had never been to this place. He had never been to any store that had locked doors. It felt like being in a glass box. He looked up at the camera in the corner and stuck his tongue out at whomever might be looking at them.
“Why do they have two doors?” He asked his dad.
“So people can’t steal anything.” Ben answered. “Inside here, you stay next to me and don’t leave your fingerprints all over the display cases. Jesse put his hands in his pockets as a reminder to himself, but his curiosity was on high alert.
The salesman met them before Ben even had time to scope out the layout of the store. Shotguns and rifles straight ahead, hand guns in the glass cases that ran along the wall to his right. A reverent “Wow” came from Jesse as he took in the room full of guns. They seemed to be the only customers this morning.
“Pretty cool” isn’t it, the salesmen smiled at Jesse. “But you’re gonna hafta come back when you’re 18. Our new President Hillary Clinton says I can’t sell you so much as a pellet gun until then, and unless you’re 16 and going hunting with your Daddy, you can’t shoot one neither. You can look around, though. No law yet that says a boy can’t take a good look.”
Look Jesse did, but remembering his dad’s instructions to stay close, he resisted the lure of the gun cases.
“What can I do you for?” The salesman straightened up, sizing up Ben. Late twenties. Outdoors type. Tanned. Looked like a working man who might have a few bucks to spend.
“Thought I’d get some shotgun shells before that new Obamacare bullet tax takes effect. Pheasant season’s not that far off.” Ben eased into his shopping list.
“Ain’t that a kick in the head?” The salesman commiserated. “A buck a piece tax on shotgun shells. As much as three bucks on some of the specialty ammo we sell. They say it’s goin’ to Obamacare to take care of anybody hurt by a gun. That’s some bullshit right there. Do we have a fund to take care of everyone gets hurt in car accidents?”
The man stuck his hand out, “Bill Lee Hollister.” He shook Ben’s hand and then offered his hand to Jesse. Jesse solemnly returned the handshake like his dad had taught him, looking Bill Lee Hollister in the eye. “This here’s my store.” Bill Lee volunteered. “At least it is until Lady President Clinton drives me out of business.”
Bill Lee looked at Ben over Jesse’s upturned face, shaking his head as if in exaggerated disbelief. “I tell you; we thought Obama was bad with his background checks and his ammo clips?” He pointed at the wall where showcases offered cans of mace, and knives of every size and design. “I used to have a whole wall of Bushmasters over there. Now they’re a collector’s item. When all them Obama lady appointees on the Supreme Court decided gunshot victims could sue gun makers, it drove them right out of business.
“Blame Wayne LaPierre.” Ben answered. “If he hadn’t lost it and pulled a gun on all those grieving parents, Clinton never would have gotten her gun ban through.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Bill Lee shook his head at the memory of the incident that had riveted America for weeks during the last election season. NRA President Wayne LaPierre had become so frustrated with the Victims of Gun Violence group that followed the Rubio campaign around, he’d pulled a gun on them screaming “What are you going to do with nothing but your silly signs now you stupid fools” until his own bodyguards tackled him.
With a glance at Jesse, Bill Lee leaned in conspiratorially lowering his voice, though they were the only people in the shop. “Don’t you go thinking that’s the end of that story, no sir. People who try to keep the Clintons from power have a way of getting burned. Remember Vince Foster?”
Truth was, Ben didn’t remember. He had been Jesse’s age when the Clintons first occupied the White House, so he tried to head off the conspiracy debate before Bill Lee could launch into the popular World Net Daily theory about LaPierre being slipped an hallucinogen by CIA agents loyal to Hillary. “I thought maybe I’d look at handguns while I was here.”
“Sure thing.” Bill Lee brightened seeing dollar signs. “Self defense? Target shooting…?”
“Defense.” Ben stated firmly, and then backtracked. “It’s a precaution really. We have some new neighbors, who seem… suspicious.”
“OK.” Bill Lee nodded soberly, as if he understood and seconded Ben’s concern. “This for in the home, or do you want to be able to holster it?”
Jesse lost track of the salesman’s questions. He knew the new neighbors his dad was talking about; the only new people on the block. The day before the daughter started at his school, the principal had the entire student body gather in the auditorium. She had asked them all to make a special effort to welcome a new fourth grader, who was from Iraq. She told the students that the girl’s father had been a translator helping the American soldiers, but the family had been forced to relocate to America, because there were people called Sunnis who wanted to hurt him for helping the United States. The daughter rode on his school bus, and every day her father would meet the bus and greet his daughter with smiles and hugs, the two of them always chattering away happily in a strange musical sounding language as they headed home.
As the salesmen led his Dad over to the wall with the handguns, Jesse slipped down the counter to a place at the end where he could sit. Suddenly his knees felt weak, and he had no interest in exploring the store. His thoughts ran in circles. His dad was buying a gun. His dad might have to shoot the new neighbors. His dad was so worried he might have to shoot the neighbors that he was buying a gun. Could his dad be one of those Sunnis? This was a lot for a 7 year old to absorb.
Bill Lee took his keys out of his pockets and unlocked one of the handgun cases. Jesse watched without a sound as the salesman handed his dad different guns for him to evaluate. A big black model his dad rejected right away. A tiny silver one his dad didn’t even bother to take out of the box. But most of the time his dad would hold the guns Bill Lee handed him just like they did on TV, pointing each one at a target on the wall off to the right of the salesman’s head. He was too distant to follow the conversation, but every now and then disjointed words like “Nine millimeter” “Pierce Point” and “Parabellum,” would drift down to where he huddled, thinking about the neighbor girl and how her face smiled when she saw her father waiting for her.
Jesse made up his mind; he would wait until the salesman was out of earshot so he wouldn’t be scolded for interrupting, and then he would tell his dad he didn’t want him to shoot the new neighbors. He would say they seemed really nice, and tell him about how the principal said her father had helped the American soldiers. He would convince his dad his suspicions must all be a terrible mistake.
“This is going to take about half an hour.” Bill Lee told him as Ben took one last look at the Glock he had decided on. “Used to be fifteen minutes, but thanks to Queen Hillary, we not only gotta do background checks, we gotta have an insurance rider. You say you got a shotgun, so you probably already got a policy, we can add the new Glock to it, right here by computer. An’ if you don’t have one, we can set you up with a NRA policy, even put that shotgun on it too, make you all legal.”
Jesse moved closer to his dad, waiting for his opportunity, but it was Bill Lee who noticed him. “Now what about a gun safe and a trigger lock?” He suggested pointing at Jesse. “You got kids at home, you want to be safe.”
Ben wandered over to the shelf with the safety accessories, mentally adding the price of a small safe onto the price of the gun, which already cost more than he had planned on spending. Jesse was a good kid. Ben had owned his pheasant gun for years, and Jesse never went near it, at least as far as he knew. The Glock would be safe up on the shelf of their bedroom closet for the time being. “Maybe payday.” Ben told Bill Lee.
“Good enough.” Bill Lee began totaling up the sale. I’m gonna need a driver’s license for the background check and you have to look at some pictures of gun accidents.”
“I have to what?” Ben did a double take.
“The Sandy Hook Law. Anyone buying a gun has to look at a slideshow. They call it “informed consent,” but what it really is, is payback for making women who want to have abortions look at a sonogram of the baby first. Don’t let anyone tell you having a woman president, and a woman heavy Supreme Court, don’t make no difference.”
“These are pictures of kids?” Ben hesitated.
“You really don’t even have to look” Bill Lee tried to smooth things over. “Lots of people just click their way through with their head turned. But you probably don’t want to have your boy around while you do this. I’ll set him up with a video game at the other end of the counter, and you can do your informed consent while I get the insurance processed.”
Bill Lee settled Jesse in with a video game, a game Ben could tell by the explosive sound effects, Jesse would never have been allowed to play at home. Ben sat down at the other end of the counter with the “informed consent” slide show. He had a momentary thought of objecting to Jesse playing the violent video game, but as soon as he opened up the first picture in the slide show, everything else was driven from his mind.
There were ten of them; ten photos of children who had been shot. A caption under each photo told the story of each young victim. Patty Avila, age 7 months, shot by her 3 year-old brother with a gun he found in his parent’s nightstand. Laurel Stover, aged 9, shot in the kitchen of her own home, when her father thought he heard a prowler. Andrew Becker, aged 5, shot in the eye by a classmate who brought a loaded .22 to kindergarten, thinking it was a toy.
“I got him! I got him!” Jesse’s excited shout preempted Ben’s attention from the horrific slide show. “Die you sucker!” It was a few seconds before Ben realized Jesse was lost in the video game he was playing. He glanced back down at the obscenity of the “informed consent” slide show, and then focused on his son’s face, intent on his imaginary killing.
Bill Lee had an inkling of what was coming. This wasn’t the first customer who had a case of cold feet at a glimpse of that damn slide show. “We’re just about done here.” He jumped in, hoping to save the sale. “Background check is ok. I got the Glock added on to your State Farm policy. I just need you to sign…”
“I’m going to hold off on that handgun.”
There it was. Bill Lee clamped his teeth together. Damn that fucking Hillary Clinton..
Jesse’s head came up from the video screen. Had he heard right? Had his dad decided against buying that shiny silver gun? He crossed his fingers under the counter. Maybe the new girl and her father would be all right.
“You give it some thought.” Bill Lee told Ben with a nod at Jesse. “You don’t want to be caught without it if trouble finds you.”
“Just the shells today.” Ben reached for his wallet and slid out his Visa.
Jesse ran to his dad and gave him a most unexpected hug, and overwhelmed with relief, mystified his father by breaking into tears.
“One more thing.” Ben told Bill Lee as he began ringing up the disappointing sale. He reached down and wrapped an arm around his sobbing son. “Do you sell trigger locks for shotguns?”
Today, the unknowable future of guns, is On Our Radar.
Images from Freedigitalimages.net
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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