Gun Store on Main Street

Early this past week an email went round with the subject line “Gun Store on Main Street.” It started thus:

“It can’t happen here”… Sinclair Lewis

Or could it? There is a proposal in the works to open a guns and ammo store on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, between Mikado and Off Main. The Board of Selectmen will be taking the matter up at their next meeting, a week from today, Tuesday, October 10. Check the Times for details and confirmation.

The sender then called for people to pack the selectmen’s meeting and “do whatever we can to prevent this from happening.” (The proposal is no longer on the agenda for the October 10 selectmen’s meeting, but will most likely be coming up in the future.)

I don’t know the sender, but I did recognize many of the original recipients. (Having had a “blind copy fail” recently, I’m not going to snark at this guy for not concealing their names and email addresses.) One of them forwarded it to a friend of mine, who forwarded it to me.

By then this was a hot topic in the Islanders Talk Facebook group, from which I quickly learned that there was more to it than was told in the email, and the next day the Martha’s Vineyard Times posted a story, “Gun Store Plans to Sell High-End Shotguns,” that clarified the matter even more.

In short, the proposal has been made by the man who runs Vineyard Time, an existing Main Street watch and jewelry store that caters to a well-heeled market. According to the MV Times story, these shotguns are used for skeet shooting and sell for between $20K and $100K.

The price range does boggle the mind, or it would if I hadn’t lived on Martha’s Vineyard long enough to realize that I share these hundred square miles with plenty of people who live in a whole other world. Among the other stories reported this week, in the Boston Globe as well as the local press:

A south Florida woman, who claimed to be a psychic, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Boston to hiding more than $3.5 million of income that she was paid by an elderly Martha’s Vineyard woman to “rid her of demons through repeated exorcisms,” according to a press release issued by acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb’s office.

In the wake of the latest, and worst, U.S. mass shooting, it’s not all that surprising that the proposal, details of which are still sketchy, caused some alarm. My own initial reaction wasn’t exactly blasé, but my contribution to the Islanders Talk discussion was a question about the economic feasibility of a gun shop on high-rent Main Street. If indeed the proposal is to add inventory to an existing shop that already caters to the very affluent, it doesn’t seem off the wall.

But still, well — “guns on Main Street” is one of those phrases whose impact is greater than the sum of its parts.

My own attitude toward guns and gun control evolved rapidly after I moved here in 1985. In Washington, D.C., I didn’t know any hunters. Guns were the province of law enforcement (about whom I’d been somewhat leery ever since my antiwar organizing days) and criminals (who didn’t even pretend to be on my side). On the Vineyard it wasn’t long before I was meeting hunters and families of hunters and learning that hunting had a long, long history on Martha’s Vineyard. It was more than a sport; like farming and fishing, it was part of feeding oneself and one’s family, and as with many other essential activities traditions had grown up around it.

Not to mention — the hunters and fishermen I met tended to be environmentally savvy, and much more knowledgeable about woods and water than I was.

So I have no trouble maintaining the distinction between “gun owners” and “gun nuts.” Gun nuts all (I’m guessing here) own guns, but gun nuttery goes well beyond gun ownership: it veers into the territory occupied by the more fanatical forms of ideology and religion. It deals in symbols and slogans. Fueled by the National Rifle Association (NRA) since the late 1970s, it has become an integral part of the right-wing platform, and yes, it is related to white supremacy and a particular view of masculinity.

For a concise explanation of how this happened, see “How the NRA Made the Gun a Symbol of Tribal Identity,” Adele Stan’s October 4 column in the American Prospect.

As George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant, frequently points out, appeals to reason alone are generally ineffective against the deep-rooted moral convictions embodied in these symbols. This has not stopped the proponents of reasonable gun-control measures from circulating countless charts of gun-violence statistics and wondering why gun nuts don’t immediately see the light and stop insisting on their right to own as many assault rifles as they want.

In the current political climate, the chances for progress look pretty bleak — and it seems that even some liberals and progressives have adopted the right-wing view that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right of all (white) citizens to bear arms, no questions asked.

In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, looking for signs of hope and a way forward, I came across this story in New York Magazine from last December. Subtitled “An Experiment in Empathy,” it tells of more than a dozen individuals “on both sides of the gun debate . . . [who] had agreed to meet face-to-face, tell each other their stories, and try to understand one another’s points of view.” The stories are riveting, and not easy to read. Position papers, polemics, and charts of statistics are a lot easier. But better than any other single piece I’ve read recently, this one conveys what “we the people” are saying and hearing when we talk about guns.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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9 Responses to Gun Store on Main Street

  1. Susan Robinson says:

    The Mud and Slime of the Place–This reply is from the mountains of NE New Mexico, where the mud, when wet has the slipperiness of slime–ask anyone who’s driven on it. I have an unevolved view on gun control, dating from growing up in Texas, where for my 10th Christmas I was given both a 4-10 shotgun and a contraption where from a tripod three arms stuck out, a heavy cardboard duck on the end of each, and a pretend rifle that sent out small plungers. The idea was to knock each duck off as they whirled downward via a spiral on the central pole of the tripod. I became a very good shot.

    My first living targets were two young mallards who landed on the lake, joyously turning somersaults in the water, not knowing I was about the blast them into oblivion, which I did when my father said “Pull.” I saw them lifeless on the water and trembled for a horrified minute. My father chuckled to me during that time. I saw my choice and in the rest of my life living with my parents, shot many ducks and quail, Our family ate these but we had enough money and certainly didn’t need to. Once my father shot a swan by accident, thinking it was a goose, and gave it to our dog who dragged it around for days, to the laughter of family and friends..

    I remember my father’s telling me about gun safety, always the barrel pointed straight up or down indoors and when not intentionally shooting, the safety always on until the last minute, and the gun cleaned. If the barrel isn’t clean inside, the shooting can go badly awry. I remember vividly the scent of the oil we used, on cotton disks, to thread through the eye of a rod and twist around inside the barrel, and the sight looking through the immaculate barrel when done and I could put the gun away. We kept my father’s gun and mine in the closet in their leather cases. He and I were not to shoot in a group or when other people might be around–too dangerous. I doubt my safety instructions were unusual for a white, upper middle class or upper class Texas child.

    Through my childhood and adolescent years, I heard of several people known to immediate family members who were shot. The first was Bruce Baxter (white), hunting in a group of friends and relatives (you all know his aunt’s name, famous both for being political and wealthy), who shot himself by accident climbing over a fence with his gun. I was told this as an object lesson–if you climb a fence with a gun, pass the gun through first. Next I heard that a boy in my brother’s high school class at the all-male St. Mark’s School of Texas, had shot and killed another boy, naked, in the shower after a party at the first boy’s house. Two weeks later the shooter was seen pumping gas at his father’s gas station.None of this was in the newspapers. The two boys involved in the murder were white. (There were no children of color in this school because the one Black child brought in to integrate the school in the fifth grade, another classmate of my brother’s, Snowden McKinnon, had hung himself within a year of entering the school. My father, then chairman of the board of this school did not consider himself oblivious to institutional racisml,

    When my friend across the street became engaged to (white) Louis Strickland, my mother gave her a wedding present. A week before the wedding, she and her mother appeared at our door, returning the present and telling us that Louis had shot himself while “cleaning his gun”–the standard explanation for suicide by gun at that time and place.

    My uncle Robert Treat Paine Thompson (white) had a long career as a hired gun for John Paul Getty. Uncle Bob’s job was to threaten and when necessary kill anyone who tried to get in the way of Getty’s buying any piece of oil property in east Texas he wanted. I never met Uncle Bob until I was 25 and living in Houston. My father, having heard Uncle Bob had tracked me down and was going to invite me to dinner, cautioned me by telling me that as a child my father had seen Uncle Bob corner a rat in the bathroom and kill him with a pocket knife, and from then on my father had never crossed Uncle Bob.

    Once when I accidentally picked up an extension phone at my parents’ house when the Uncle Bob on my mother’s side was visiting, I heard him threaten to kill the man on the other end of the line if he failed to go by a certain business decision. That Uncle Bob’s brother, Harris, threatened to kill his daughter if she didn’t hand over her inheritance from my grandmother, threatened her so often and so convincingly that his wife (a woman not allowed to leave the house or have a telephone) managed to help her daughter run away and come live with my family. Uncle Harris kept a gun under every bed in his house, and when my cousin, years later, returned to her home with her fiance so he could meet her mother, her younger sister and brother came to the door with rifles pointed at the fiance until the sister (you all know her name as a politically powerful adult) recognized my cousin in the car. The children had been taught by their father to come to the door with guns whenever someone they didn’t recognize showed up.

    I only learned as an adult that not everyone in the U.S. or world shared the (white) Texas gun culture I lived in.

    In Santa Fe, NM, I live on a street that was called “Heroin Alley” when I moved here, and the gun deaths were both drug-related and a consequence of (Latino) family members not having role models for anger management. The stresses of poverty, including lack of options for earning money, have played their role. My dogs are terrified of the sounds of neighborhood gunshots and can distinguish them from gunshots on radio newscasts. When we are at our mountain cabin, the gunshots have become more frequent over the years and limit where we can climb, and along with climate change, make the (welcome to us) deer, elk, owl bobcat, mountain lion, coyote, and bear sightings, footprints and scat we find fewer and fewer. These mountains become increasingly dangerous. My priority in leaving my land to someone in my will is that they will not hunt there.

    This response has been too long, including as it does events that have festered in my life and still inhabit it with the ear-splitting report of a shotgun at close rangeand the kick of a shotgun butt against my shoulder. All this has led me to become a Quaker, a vegetarian and a person skeptical of the term “reasonable gun control.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I keep asking, where were all the gun toting heroes in Las Vegas — you know, the ones who claim they need a million weapons so they can stop such shootings (and then later criticize our first responders for their actions)? At this point, if I was in such a tragedy, survived, and discovered even one such person had a gun in the crowd, I would sue that person for failing to defend me as promised. After all, if that is the justification for ownership, gun shows, and planting gun shops on every corner… Just sayin’…


    • IIRC this came up after the Aurora movie theater shooting: what would have happened if some would-be hero had drawn a handgun and tried to shoot the shooter? In the dark, in a chaotic situation? Good luck with that. I look at photos of that high-rise hotel with the shooter’s window circled and wonder what hotshot hero thinks he could pick that guy off from the ground. On the whole I think metal detectors before the fact would have been more effective. If stockpiling that many weapons in a hotel room is business as usual, we’ve got a big problem.


      • Juleann says:

        While it MAY have prevented the massacre, it’s not at all clear that stockpiling the weapons in his room is actually illegal (in Nevada). Making hotels responsible for screening strikes me as an effective way to continue to distract legislators from doing the real job that needs to be done.

        It’s a little like the Democrats’ “Hot Car” legislation requiring automobile manufacturers to install a warning system for when an idiot leaves their child in a closed car. You can’t legislate commonsense, but you can legislate regulations that will cause financial impact on all the other consumers who apparently already know not to leave their children behind.

        And, this is the problem with the “gun debate”. It’s already against the law to shoot people. People who shoot other people simply don’t care.


      • It may be perfectly legal to stockpile weapons in a hotel room, but (assuming that it happens fairly rarely) it might have struck an alert staffer or guest as somewhat odd.

        People who shoot people may not care at the moment they start shooting — at that point it’s too late to do anything. But enough shootings (including suicides) seem to happen because the gun is there. The accidents for sure, and probably at least some of those where rage is involved.

        Which makes me think of people who drive drunk: when they’re drunk enough to be a hazard on the road, they’re too drunk to know they shouldn’t be driving. But over the years the whole “designated driver” thing seems to have made a difference: people who are reasonably compos mentis take over for whose who aren’t. How to keep potential shooters away from guns at the moments when they shouldn’t have them? That’s the question.


  3. carly simon says:

    What a stunning story that gets immediately to the core of why we can’t afford to have guns without first having been shown to know and respect gun safety. And most of all: extremely rigid and thorough vetting before anyone, anywhere, can obtain any gun, of any kind. I recognize that we have a constitutional right to own guns, but I very much doubt that the founding fathers could have envisioned the hand-held weapons of mass destruction that exist today. Leave those in the hands of law enforcement and the military. I’m not a gun owner, but it sounds to me that the NRA founding fathers would feel the same way. If such a restriction requires a constitutional amendment, then so be it. After all, that too is a constitutional right.


  4. My father, Dr. Sidney N. Riggs, was a veteran of three wars. He was a bugler in the cavalry in the Mexican Border Campaign; served in the field artillery in France in WWI, where he was wounded twice (two Purple Hearts), and was awarded the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, which means he was awarded the Silver Star twice. He then served in the coast artillery in WWII.

    He made sure my two sisters and I knew how to use guns safely. We had a rifle. My big sister, Alvida, won numerous awards for marksmanship from the NRA, which at that time preached safe and responsible gun use. My father drummed into us that one never points anything, whether it’s a finger or a stick or a water pistol, at anyone. Unless we intend to kill that person.

    The father of my five children, George, was a brilliant but seriously disturbed man. I divorced him after 25 years. He stalked me for the next 35. He’d purchased a gun with the specific intent to kill me and my mother. At one point the West Tisbury police were stationed at the end of my drive after one of my sons learned he was headed this way. We found his detailed plans for killing us after his death of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. The gun he’d purchased to kill my mother and me.

    My beloved Howie collected guns. I told him my story. He sold his guns before he moved here to the Vineyard to be with me.

    What can I say?

    Liked by 1 person

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