I wanted to be there to lend my voice; something was holding me back. I told myself it was the long drive, the desire to spend the day with high school friends who were reuining by a pool in Scottsdale, the fact that no one could tell me if there would be security.... and that's where I stopped.
I drove to the event at Senator Flake's office here in Tucson, planning to join the citizens gathered to make their voices heard. His office sits in the back of a small complex, hidden from the street, facing the mountains. The protesters were massed along Oracle Road, SR 77, the main drag between Tucson and Phoenix before I-10 was constructed. It's a busy street, a through street, a venue with many cars zooming by and, as far as I could see from inside The Schnozz, a place with no police presence at all.
I couldn't make myself pull into the parking lot and join the party.
It felt too vulnerable, too exposed, too close to someone driving by who might disagree and choose to share that opinion with weaponry. It was unlikely, I knew, but then, again, so was getting shot in front of a grocery store on a sunny Saturday morning. These things happen. I know. I was there.
One of the signs encouraged me to Honk if you ... and I did. Tentatively, at first, I beeped a little beep. As if by magic, smiles erupted on the faces of the protesters. The signs began pumping up and down, left and right, and, encouraged by their response, I beeped again.. and again... and then I laid my palm on my horn and screamed along with The Schnozz.
It wasn't much. It was all I could do. Standing out there on the street, exposed and vulnerable, was more than I could manage. I knew that. Somehow, though, the feeling that I'd failed the cause stuck with me all day.
I lifted weights, I swam, I read another silly book on the Kindle, I ignored day 999 of the NFL draft. The sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, the trees were flush with yellow blooms, and I was bummed. I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd let people down.
JannyLou and Fast Eddie suggested that we share a quick and simple dinner that night. We met at Five Guys, the cleanest, quickest, tastiest burger-and-fries joint in town. JannyLou's special ordered fries - extra crispy, light salt - didn't look much different from my regular order; she accepted the teasing with her usual grace and grin. We talked about the newly-weds and our summer travel plans and women who'd worked at Cummins Engine and the little boy with the very big pout who was sitting behind me. JannyLou had us in stitches, mimicking the protrusion of his lower lip and the tears standing in his eyes. The sun was casting a yellow glow on the mountains, my sweetie and my friends were around me, my belly was full and the Coca-Cola refills were free. We sat for a long time, the staff offering to refill our drinks and smiling at us. Life was good.
The door opened. A thirty something couple walked in, she in stripes, he wearing a polo shirt and pressed shorts... and a holstered handgun on his hip.
I can really move when I want to.
"Can we go? Right now? That guy has a gun."
TBG didn't hear my words. All he saw was the back of his wife as I headed for the exit, my eyes never leaving the black leather covering a weapon on the butt of a smirking, well-dressed, young fool.
He found me outside, huddled behind a concrete pillar, just like the one Christina-Taylor and I were leaning against when the bullets started flying two years ago. I didn't know where to stand. My eyes were everywhere, looking for exits, for safety, for an escape.
"This is what it looks like when my head explodes," was all that I could say when they reached me.
He was swaggering as he entered the storefront. He was watching the reactions of the patrons. His eyes followed me out the front door. His smile never left his face. It was awful. It was juvenile, it was a punk using a gun to feel like a big man, the words TBG spit out as he tried to calm me down. It's a real, valid reaction, he went on. I had no reason to be ashamed or surprised. No one was angry at my quick departure. No one but me.
The manager joined us on the sidewalk after a moment. "Is everything all right?" he wondered. I told him why I'd fled the scene, and wondered why Five Guys didn't have a No Guns Allowed sign on the front door. A kind and wise fellow, he paused, thought about it, and told me that he didn't know. "We should. I'll talk to management. You don't really need a gun to buy a burger, do you?"
No, you don't.
And I don't need to be in that bright and cheery burger joint when you get into an argument with someone over peanuts or ketchup or politics and bullets start flying because you have a gun on your hip and you can use it, instead of your words, to solve your problems.
Yes, we have the right to carry a weapon here in Arizona. You can take a concealed firearm into a church or a bar or a restaurant or a car wash or a drug store or anywhere else ... as long as there's not a sign telling you not to do so. I know that, knew that when we chose to move here, haven't forgotten it. But I tend to agree with Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign, quoted in the Huffington Post:
"If you want to dress up and go out and make a little political theater by frightening children in the local Starbucks, if that's what you want to spend your energy on, go right ahead. But going out and wearing a gun on your belt to show the world you're allowed to is a little juvenile."
I didn't feel safer knowing that a patron was armed and ready to defend me. No, safer is about as far from what I felt as it's possible to be. The presence of weaponry, the very real fear of being shot while standing on the street corner, holding a sign, making my voice heard... I spent Saturday being afraid to do what I wanted to do.
Where does my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness fall in all of this? It was certainly abridged on Saturday.