Last Sunday morning, I arrived early to meet a friend at a quiet suburban coffee shop. As I stepped inside, I stood face-to-face with a large man standing there with a pistol strapped to his belt in plain sight. Besides the workers, he and I were the only ones in the shop at that moment.
The way he was wearing his shirt he was obviously trying to show off his weapon. He had on a button down shirt that could easily cover both sides of his belt. One side was down, the other side was tucked precariously so his gun was showing in plain sight.
Two things struck me right away. The first was, why is this man standing here at 8:30 am with a gun hanging off his belt, and two, is he going to shoot us? I have seen plenty of plainclothes police officers with their department-issued weapons and badges on their belts in plain sight, and my instincts told me this person is not an officer.
We live in a conceal and carry state. I don’t personally know anyone who walks around with a gun, so I’m not sure what that looks like, nor do I know the laws, but I was sure concealed meant out of sight. But to be honest with you, I’m not positive what the word “conceal” means when it comes to having a gun in public.
I am very triggered by guns. I have gun violence in my past and the mere sight of them causes me to experience increased anxiety and fear. I stood there frozen for a few seconds, and locked eyes with the guy then scanned the exits. I also noticed the workers were all laughing, singing, talking and relaxed. Just a group of young people working their shift and bonding with each other. I was confused and stood rooted in place until he sat down in the corner by the window.
Because I look at the world through a trauma-related lens, I sometimes need to know what is socially acceptable behavior and what is just extreme distrust in strangers. I honestly didn’t know what to do. In my mind, this person was either a bad-guy and we were all about to get shot, or I was going to ask him if he was a cop and that’s why his weapon was showing.
Intuitively, I thought there could be other possibilities and before I confronted this stranger with a gun, I texted a friend who often suggests other ways for me to look at things (probably the way most people look at social situations) and has saved me a lot of embarrassment throughout the years. I asked him why a person would be sitting here with a pistol hanging off his belt. He told me to be aware, but most likely it’s just some guy who wants to prove that he can carry a gun. When my friend arrived she looked over at him and made the same determination.
It never occurred to me that I suggest to my friend that we go to another coffee shop because I felt uncomfortable sitting in the same place as this person who was openly carrying a gun. The point is, it didn’t matter why he was there or why he choose to have his weapon out in the open. He has the right to carry it, and he was exercising that right. This is not about him or his right to carry a gun. This is about me, and my feelings of internal safety.
I used to put myself in unsafe situations because I knew how to navigate the behavior around certain kinds of people. I stopped doing that a long, long time ago. I have learned the difference between perceived safety and real safety. But when I came face-to-face with that guy a few days ago, I immediately got triggered into old patterns of fight/flight/freeze and responded by staying in a place where I didn’t feel safe.
This has all been very interesting to me. I now have it firmly ingrained my mind that I have the right to leave any situation where I don’t feel safe. That is not unreasonable and I don’t have to justify it to anyone. I feel like this was an important lesson for me to learn, and I definitely learned it.
Some people may not have even noticed or cared that this person had a pistol hanging off his belt. I did, but that’s just me. I wonder, What would you do in the same situation?
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph