There is a store in the North Georgia Mountains called “Drug and Gun.” I’ve been meaning to revisit the shop to ask the cashier if customers buy their anti-psychotic drugs before or after they buy a gun. But when I walk in and see the word “prescriptions” behind the gun counter, I ask the clerk jokingly, “Do I need a prescription to buy a gun?” A man behind me says, “actually that would be a good idea. “ And I agree: if Americans need a prescription for Prozac, why not for pistols?
But there is one problem: changing the mind of people entrenched in a culture of guns.
As a “Yankee” who grew up in the suburbs of Boston, I never had much exposure to guns. My friends and I spent most of our free time rummaging through book and music shops in Harvard Square. In fact, I don’t think there ever was a gun shop in Harvard Square.
The possibility for me to buy a gun has changed radically since I’ve lived in Georgia. I see dozens of billboards and signs lining the highway on the way up to the North Georgia Mountains from Atlanta advertising GUNS. Often the signs are very simple: GUNS in capital letters followed “on your right” or “next exit.” I keep meaning to stop in to find out what kind of people hang out at gun stores. One day, I finally stop in one off the side of the highway. I immediately feel uncomfortable.
There are a dizzying number of pistols, rifles and ammunition in glass cases or on the wall. The clerk takes out a gun from the case and talks in detail about its capabilities. It seems like a fetish to me. He is certainly an expert.
As I leave the shop, the image of a photography shop flashes in my head. Shopkeepers are knowledgeable about various cameras and their lenses and capabilities and the goods are arranged in similar fashion. But instead of shooting people and animals to kill them, cameras shoot pictures.
It’s not just the availability of guns that’s different here in Georgia. It’s also the attitude toward guns. When I bought a cabin, the inspector said I should buy a gun for protection. I feel uneasy about my new neighbors.
That uneasiness became a concern when a neighbor started flying the confederate flag on his porch. One day I was sitting on my porch and I heard a gunshot from his cabin. I shout out “Is everyone ok?” His wife yelled back, “yes, I’m fine.” “Don, what happened, she asks.” He says, “don’t worry, one of the guns in the shed misfired.” It turns out that neighbor has 17 guns.
Guns just don’t stay in the shed in Georgia. One day I’m at a McDonald’s to meet my hiking group for an event. As I’m waiting in line, I see an ordinary man in blue jeans with a pistol in a holster on his waist. He’s not wearing a law enforcement uniform and is not an undercover cop. He’s an ordinary citizen. Apparently, Georgia changed its open carry laws so it’s legal to openly carry a firearm.
When I return to the drug store with the gun department the second time, I find tourists and T-Shirts alongside the drugs and guns (the store is near a choo-choo train ride to the intersection of Georgia and Tennessee). When I ask one of the tourists, what will people think if I walk around with a T-Shirt with a gun and drugs on it, he says “Oh everyone is supportive of that around here.“
But I don’t think this topic should be taken so lightly. If people need a prescription to take a strong anti-depressant like Prozac they should get one for guns. We might be a pistol and Prozac nation, but we should look to other less violent countries for ideas on how to restrict who can own a human-killing machine. Further, if people need to take an eye test to get a license to drive a car, they should take a psychiatric test before getting a gun. This is all easy to say, but changing the attitudes of a pistol and Prozac nation is a bit harder.