by Peter Richmond
My local Gander Mountain outlet store, with its emblem of a flying duck and its motto of “We Live Outdoors,” is one of 152 Ganders in the land. On a recent visit, I noticed that its semi-automatic assault rifles, of the kind used yesterday in San Bernardino, were no longer in public view in the firearms section of the store.
But this rearrangement of the wares, and the absence from view of semi-automatics like the Ruger AR556 with its 30-round magazine (still for sale on the company’s website) has an unintended effect: the glass-encased handgun case — about fifty or sixty feet in length, with three tiers of handguns — is now all the more prominent. Approach the firearms section at my Gander Mountain now, and the handgun case lures you with myriad glinting winks of reflected fluorescent light on burnished steel.
The hundreds of shotguns lining the back wall of my Gander Mountain both wooden and dull-black in color, aren’t very sexy. They’re all poised vertically, sitting on their stocks, barrels pointed to the air, trigger belly exposed, which is not the angle that a long rifle kills with. They carry no sense of death; displayed this way, they’re just product on a shelf. But the handguns are laid nicely and uniformly down on their sides, barrels all pointing to the left, triggers fully exposed, the way the guns would look to you if you were standing off to the side, an idle observer, as someone shot at someone else.
Walking slowly down the length of the display case yesterday, from left to right toward the clerk and the cash register, I counted about 120 handguns on the top tier in the case. Despite my obvious non-gun-guy demeanor (I was wearing a Banana Republic long-sleeved tee shirt, a quilted vest and khakis) I’d already put the clerk, a stocky, bearded man, at semi-ease by telling him that I was writing a story about whitetail deer hunting (this was true, sort of) and wanted to know what shotgun a deer hunter would use tracking whitetail in Iowa.
“30-30 or .410 depending on the distance,” he said. Bored, he clearly believed my story. Writers always look like writers. Now he was talking to a young couple. The man, bearded, was signing a piece of paper as his wife and the clerk looked on. The clerk held a rifle. As a non-buyer, just an old man, I’d become a ghost.
At 120 handguns per tier, that made for about 360 different models in the display case, each with its own potential story. Each had been designed to be used for a specific reason. Smith & Wesson wouldn’t manufacture an M&P .40 caliber handgun in both “full size” and “compact” size for no reason. Each had been designed to fulfill its own specific destiny.
As I lowly strolled the case another time, this time away from the clerk , I sort of came to gradually see the forest for the trees, the whole of the thing, the breadth of the potential collective massacre. I even imagined 360 bodies stacked like cordwood. I’d once seen a black and white photo 400 Japanese soldiers stacked that way on a beach on Guadalcanal after a futile Japanese night-long charge across Alligator Creek. The Japanese were armed with single-shot rifles, the marines with tripod-mounted machine guns; it was no contest, as would also be the case with anyone facing many of the Gander Mountain pistols if they were equipped with extra-round magazines that allow up to 30 shots in 15 seconds.
These bodies wouldn’t all be in the same uniform, of course. But it was hard not to imagine what they would look like. As is always the case when you’re perusing a glimmery catalogue, and parsing possibilities, three in particular caught me eye. Each begged for a story: a narrative, a costume for the victim, a motive for the shooter. All three were awaiting their missions, and begging, like strays in a pound, to be picked up and given life, if only in fantasy.
The story that might accompany the first needed no conjuring. It was a no-brainer. I’d spotted a 40-caliber semiautomatic pistol manufactured by the Austrian firearms company Glock. The gun commanded attention, and not only because its design is efficient, all intent, free of frillery, but also because James Holmes used the same model, among other guns, in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, when he killed 12 people and wounded 59 others during a premiere showing of “The Dark Knight Also Rises.”
Holmes had purchased his at the Gander Mountain in Aurora, one of 152 Gander Mountains in 26 states. According to a slideshow on The Washington Times’ website about the top-ten selling handguns in America, it was Tommy Lee Jones’ use of a Glock in The Fugitive that gave the brand its first boost. Since then, various Glocks have been featured prominently in the news: the Glock 19 used by Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson and by Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech (available on the Gander Mountain website) and a Glock 10mm used by Dylann Roof in Charleston (ditto). Rooff didn’t buy his at a Gander Mountain. He bought it legally at a gun store in Charleston.
The next pistol to catch my eye did so because it was really, really big. It looked like Dirty Harry’s pistol, only his was a .44, and this was a .45, which is a caliber capable of wreaking damage that borders on the unimaginable to most people who don’t direct action movies. It was a revolver called The Judge, fashioned of a gray metal that didn’t reflect light.
A smart-phone scroll of the website of its Brazilian manufacturer, Taurus, revealed that its nickname derived from the number of judges who own one to protect themselves, although the site offered no hard data on this. I was glad that Taurus had provided me with a storyline of its own — accused felon leaps toward judge’s bench, judge fires a single .45 round, accused felon’s head explodes like a watermelon — and saved me from my own imagined scenario, which probably had to involve point-blank assassination, perhaps of the organized-crime kind.
The third pistol that caught my eye, and suggested its own narrative, was the most troubling, although it was, by far, the smallest of the three, and one of the smallest of the whole array of lethality contained in that case. It was a .38. snub-nosed five-shot revolver. Its barrel was silver, its grip was gray, and the middle part of it — the body? — was wrapped in bright, pink plastic. It was called “Lady Pink,” and it retails for $499. The Charter Arms Co., of Shelton, Ct., which specializes in “personal protection” handguns, lists the Lady Pink as part of its “Bulldog” line.
And as I walked back to my car in the huge parking — not far away, the bearded man and his wife walk toward their car, his new rifle encased in a snappy case, his wife smiling — he, now, the happiest of hunters — I tried to conjure a narrative for a Lady Pink, one that would support my storyline about the gratuitous violence being served up in an “outdoors” store to a gratuitously violent nation.
But only two storylines came to mind, and neither quite fit my anthology’s theme. The first was that a woman in a bad relationship bought a Pink, practiced for maybe a day at the range, waited one night for her husband to try and abuse her again, and, emboldened by the wine, shot him dead. Justified manslaughter, and more power to her (literally as well as figuratively). But this one rang false; a woman plotting to kill her man isn’t the kind of woman to care about the cosmetics of her new accessory. Hell, she’d be better off with The Judge (which would make an acquittal before her own judge a no-brainer).
No, the Lady Pink owner of my manufactured storyline is a professional. Her daily trip to and from work involves walking on city streets and through parking garages in a modern America ginned up violence against women, a land where no woman can take anything for granted. In her purse she keeps a Lady Pink because it’s a pretty nice combination of personal protection and cute design. She visits the range regularly, with a friend who owns her own pistol.
And if there ever comes a late, late night when, after a few drinks with friends, she has a four-block walk to her car, and on the third block she sees a man ahead, moving not quite right, and she puts her hand in her purse just in case, and the man does, indeed, start to race toward her and she pulls out the Lady and puts a .38 in his stomach, well, who could argue? No jury would.
And so I drove out of the Gander Mountain parking lot with the hardly-rocket-science realization that with every flashpoint both sides are shouting at each about these days, it’s always good to remember there’s always a gray area in there somewhere. Or a pink one.
On the other hand, it’s also good to remember that no one can walk in and buy one of those semi-automatic handguns (which were also used in San Brnardino) without a permit, which entails a long waiting period in most states. Then again, what’s a waiting period to someone with time to kill before they killed? On the other hadÂ anyone with a driver’s license and cash can walk out of a Gander with a shotgun, like the Remington 12-gauge that Brian Short of Hennepin, Minnesota bought from his local Gander on as Sunday in September, along with 50 rounds of ammunition. When police found the bodies of Short, his wife and their three children the next day, eight rounds were missing. Among other search warrants, the police reportedly asked for one for the Gander Mountain.