Anybody got a button reading “Not in the Tea Party?”

I was grabbing some painting shirts in Boomerangs, and there it was.  A hot pink baseball cap. Score! (I wear caps instead of sunglasses. They look kind of dorky, but they’re way cheaper than prescription shades.) I turned it over, and there it was in large yellow letters: Smith & Wesson. I immediately got a big kick out of this–girly pink ‘n’ packing.

It was bright pink. It said “Smith & Wesson.” It was only a dollar. What’s not to love?

Now, understand that my views on Guns and All That Stuff are moderate. I have no problem with guns. They’re nifty little machines and shooting them is fun; I’m talking about targets, which are the only things I’ve shot at, although hunting for food is A-OK in my book. I don’t own any, but I might well if they weren’t pretty expensive. 

On the other hand, I hold gun nutdom in mostly amused contempt. It’s a fetish; it’s a collection of dangerous paranoiacs clinging to a few carefully selected myths about American culture so as to support their insecurity and yes, racism: When only criminals have guns, we all know that the criminals are black and Latino. I strongly suspect that this issue, like immigration, would be profoundly different if the well-armed interlopers were white.

A few of my friends shoot, but one of them is a gun nut, and I am dismayed and sad. Guns and railing against gun control have become this man’s entire life. He used to have other interests–music, books–but not any more.  In fact, I have become morbidly fascinated by his ability to doggedly bring any other topic around to the 2nd Amendment. He is passionately convinced of his need to defend himself; he is overwhelmed by the fantasy of somebody attempting to mug or carjack him. (He lives in a comfortably middle-class neighborhood, not Harlem or Dorchester or North Philly.)

I believe that it’s foolish to have shooters wandering around loose with no gun laws at all; I think the issue should be handled much the way driving is: You need to be taught how to do it responsibly before you are allowed to do it at all, and you should be held strictly accountable for yourself. (Consider how very many more people die at the hands of drivers than at the muzzles of handguns, and consider how laughable our drunk-driving laws are. Parity isn’t a lot to ask here.) That’s pretty much what Massachusetts’ gun laws are, and it’s one more reason I’m proud and happy to live here.

The people who taught me how to shoot also insisted that I be able to take the thing entirely apart and put it back together, and they took my being able to do all that completely seriously. And if you think about it, that’s a good thing, because soldiers are the end of the gun-using curve and nobody wants them to be bad at it. I wasn’t physically tough enough to get out of basic training, which is where I learned I have exercise-induced asthma and that my upper body strength allowed six pushups maximum, but I learned to respect and admire the M16A-1. Hell, I loved it–the sensual feel of it barking forth the bullets, the smell of the gunpowder, the feeling of accomplishment when I hit what I was aiming at, the intimacy of the mastery of screws and spring and firing pin. (We’ll skip over the time I put the cleaning brush down the wrong end of the barrel.) I would be well willing to be responsible for a gun, as I am for my pets and my children.

But I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is a very progressive community–and by and large, that’s one of the things I love about it, being on most issues a screaming liberal myself. I had a vision of the possible consequences of wearing this item, but encouraged by some friends, I went in and got it today. Put it on and after five minutes or so, I forgot all about it. As far as my head knew, it had on my usual nice khaki from Eastern Mountain Sports. I continued on my errands.
Upon exiting the post office, I passed a man who gave me one of the scariest looks I’ve ever seen. I cannot adequately describe the hatred, the loathing. In sheer malice it was right up there with an occasional look I’ve gotten in KKK country.

“Whoa! What’s that about?” I thought–and then I remembered that I was wearing the hat. This man would have signed a petition to have me run out of the neighborhood. Or maybe beaten or something. Glad he wasn’t armed.

Unlike the hat which was a freebie from American Idol, this is after all Smith & Wesson and they don’t make crap. And I shouldn’t care that every liberal in Cambridge will now judge me despite our common grounds on at least 90% of the issues, because I am who I am and I believe what I believe.

And it’s pink. But man, do I want that button.