Driving to the Mesa Gun Show, I am remembering a conversation I had with my cousin about having an extra cell phone in case of an emergency, like an intruder in the night. Of course we had the intruder coming in through the front door with a crash, which I would somehow hear in the back of the house in time to grab my extra cell phone, dial 911, and have him subdued before he killed me. I said, “I’d need a gun for that.” My cousin agreed.
I exit the freeway and soon am parking outside my friends’ home in a historic neighborhood; we drive another short distance to the Mesa Convention Center to protest the sale of assault (-LIKE) weapons and advocate for universal background checks. We can’t find a parking spot anywhere; we end up parking several blocks away in the city library’s big lot. By the time we make it back to the convention center with our signs, we are almost warmed up—it’s such a cold day in Phoenix. Sunny, but cold like it’s never been.
We pass a huge line of people curving around the convention center, all waiting to get in. We find the protesting place, the public sidewalk out front, because the gun people have rented the entire facility, including the grounds. I wonder out loud why they don’t just rent the entire city of Mesa. We start to walk with our signs, joining a few other straggler protestors. The youngest is a male elementary school teacher, and all together we total seven.
I keep looking at my sign to see what it says because I didn’t write it; my friend did. Am I really for that? Am I really against it? Yes, I am. We take a moment to talk later, and decide that people seem to like the universal background check and mandatory mental health screening signs better than the ones with the word “ban” in it. The small group of us protesting often checks in with one another: “What was that guy showing you?” “What were those people saying?” We agree that the older gentleman, a veteran who is going from one of us to another, telling us about the second amendment, is just an old man who wants to visit on a sunny afternoon. Two out of the seven of us carrying signs are women who are older than this gentleman, and they all make me smile. I hadn’t met them before today; they each came out on their own.
One guy walks by and reads my sign when I’m carrying “Ban Semi-Automatic Weapons”. “Why don’t you try using one?” he shouts. I have no idea how to respond. “I was raised in a hunting family” has begun to make me feel like Wolf Girl. I can hear our new teacher-friend yell out in a friendly response to someone, “Come to the schools! We’ll tell you we don’t want guns there.” Gah, this is such a simple message, I think. How can people be so ignorant? Soon I’m telling somebody, “I can assure you, no teachers want guns in schools,” knowing that there have to be some, but not being able to resist using the lie to emphasize my useless point.
I go back to walking, holding my sign high in the air, saying, “Good morning!” to people as they pass by. Most people say “good morning” back; some ignore me, some look at me with disgust. It’s all okay with me. I don’t know why I’m completely shocked when I look at a truck in a line of traffic driving slowly through the intersection—leaving the gun show—and the truck driver lifts a gun to show it to me. He puts it across his chest: a gray metal handgun that looks heavy. We stare at one another; he must see that I look down at the gun, then back up at him. By now I am used to the jeers and the middle fingers, the blaring horns, the pairs and groups of men, but this shakes me. What does he mean? I’m frightened not so much of the gun but the total lack of feeling on the man’s face. I go to my friends and they tell me that the man’s action is illegal and that I should have gotten his license plate number. This is my first time protesting. I make a note for next time.
My friends are low on water, so I volunteer to walk down to the Circle K; it’s only a couple block away. A dad and his two little boys are rushing out as I go in. I ask to use the restroom and the girl says sorry, no, it’s not for the public. I find this very odd. I ask why, and she says because it doesn’t have outside access, but as soon as the owners finish knocking a hole in the wall and installing a door, then customers can use the bathroom. I ask if customers were ever allowed to use the restroom, and she says yes, but the bathroom is way back in the office area and people were stealing stuff.
The dad and his boys are back, rushing through the store, standing there with us. The dad pleads with the girl to let them use the bathroom because they can’t find one anywhere else and “it’s an emergency.” I can see in the face of one of the boys that it definitely is. The girl is regretful for not being able to let them use the bathroom. She wrings her hands and glances around. If she doesn’t let the boys use the bathroom, I am going to throw a fit.
She looks at me as if to ask if I mind letting them go first. Go!
On my way back to where my friends are, carrying my bag of bottled waters, I think about how I would probably get arrested for something like the bathroom thing before I would lose my cool on a picket line, and about how easy it is to be nice out there and say good morning to everyone, even if that wacko did flash his gun at me. Guns don’t scare me. Hateful people scare me.
“I am the person that has to be convinced.” It’s later at night, near my bedtime, and I’m reading a Facebook message from a guy who I actually had a bit of interest in until just this very second. “I'm trying to understand the motive and strategy behind anti-assault rifle mentality,” he writes, his tone escalating. “What is the plan to disarm America??” My immediate response is, What a freak! How could I have liked him up to now? I know how derelict this makes me, how it makes me too much like the hateful people, only seeing the bad and not the good. I’m not going to let me get away with this. There’s a fringe protestor in me who wants out, obviously. She embarrasses me.
She’s the one who always gets me in trouble.