“Live Free or Die”

At the peak of the pandemic in my state, it was common practice and courtesy to wear masks indoors. This was mid-2020 when protective gloves were also being used with regularity. Masks weren’t yet mandated and vaccines weren’t broadly available at the time. But it was understood that weakened immune systems and the elderly were easily compromised and higher probability for hospitalization or death from catching the virus. Masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer were available, but in constrained supply. People who wished to run errands, such as grocery shopping, would make do with the protective gear they could acquire on their own or that which was supplied by the doors in the places of business.  

One particular day it was time for my trek to risk contamination from the virus and restock on essential food items. Per usual the grocery store was busy for a Sunday, but shoppers donned their protective gear and practiced safe distancing. All but for one exceptional jackass. 

Now it’s not in my nature to sling insults at the behavior of strangers, but instead give them the benefit of the doubt. However, this person’s actions were deliberately provocative and intended to intimidate. There was no humanitarian benefit or philanthropic cause or communal care exhibited from this patron unknown.

As the automatic doors slid open it was hard not to take notice of this somewhat imposing individual. Looking like a sporting goods store mannequin with sunglasses, a deep v neck t-shirt, camouflage cargo pants, tactical boots, and a holstered weapon. No mask, faceshield, or gloves, but a prominently displayed sidearm at belt level. 

Mind you that in this state it’s perfectly legal to openly carry a loaded weapon without need of a permit. For some of you, that might be a complete shock or incomprehensible, so take a moment to process it if needed. In fact, you could walk down a public street with a loaded gun in one hand and an open container of alcohol in the other hand. Not to say that would go unnoticed by neighbors and will certainly bring the attention of the police.     

Irrespective of these permissive regulations, the state is penultimate for the lowest violent crime rate in the country, over 2.5 times lower than the national average. Only the neighboring state of Maine has a lower per capita rate, according to statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/200445/reported-violent-crime-rate-in-the-us-states/). Other New England states, Vermont and Connecticut, fall just behind New Hampshire in this category. 

So, the concern upon seeing this character was not so much that a violent crime was about to be committed, but that there was a complete disregard for their compatriots. This is not just a mere first impression of the situation, but evidenced by the additional interactions that followed.

Upon entering the store, a clerk stationed near the door offered the customer a complimentary surgical facemask. They smugly replied, “I can’t wear that because it’s considered a felony to wear a mask while carrying a weapon”, then patted the handgun holster, smirked, and heedlessly continued about their way.

The implication from this firearm furnished fellow is that it was impossible to leave the weapon somewhere secure and take other safety measures to protect everyone (including oneself). Instead it was far more important to carry a pistol as a means of protection in the lowest crime regions in the country. 

Perhaps the weapon could serve to kill the virus by shooting it upon sight? Or maybe shoot someone with an indeterminate cough that might be from COVID to keep it from spreading further? 

The more common scenario in a grocery store is that something accidentally falls off a display. Perhaps they could pull their semi-automatic 9mm out of their holster to shoot a rogue product that’s falling from a shelf just before it hits someone’s foot – a modern version of an old western gunslinger. All that practice shooting cans off a fence could save someone wearing open toed shoes from an unnecessary and costly pedicure!  

Fortunately, their interaction with the store and proximity to other customers was brief. Just long enough to pick up beer, ice, and a lottery ticket – true necessities. No hostage situations, or stagecoach robberies, or tin can avalanches to deal with that day – thank heavens. 

Clearly this handgun was not for heroic intent or for a means of protection. Rather it was serving as a symbol of defiance. And more immediately as a sign of self-interest and an intimidation tactic to prevent anyone from “forcing” them to abide by rules of social decency. Not as a deterrent from others committing crime, but a warning to avoid challenging their stand on the use of masks or other beliefs.

This is the “Live Free or Die” state after all – as seen played out in the encounter mentioned above. In this case, they were living free by going mask-less in the pandemic and risked death by doing so. Moreover, willing to forfeit the protection offered them from the more immediate threat, than lay down their freedom to publicly bear arms, however briefly. But are we so eager to take the same strong stance when it comes to all other aspects of what it means to “live free”? It can’t only be limited to possession of firearms.

Shouldn’t this concept of freedom extend as outwardly and openly to facets such as gender identity, racial equality, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, skin color, political affiliation? Or is it empowered for only Caucasian, heterosexual, Christian males? 

Shouldn’t that same staunch vigor apply to freedom of any private, personal choice? Vaccinate or not; gun owner or not; church going or not; vegan or not; teetotaler or not; body art or not; marriage or not; contraceptives or not; children or not; elective procedures or not; those should be freedoms left up to the capable adults involved. That is among what will now be tested for this state (and others) as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision. We are enslaved if we cannot make personal choices. We mustn’t let these personal freedoms of ours and others die…

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