There was no complimentary hand sanitizer for the concerned customers of Gorge Guns, in Hood River, Oregon, on a recent Friday. Erika Bales, the shop’s twenty-nine-year-old owner, wasn’t worried about the virus. “I figure, just let nature take its course,” she said. Her customers were less nonchalant. Bales, who had a neat manicure and a number of tattoos, said that, days earlier, people had begun realizing that “everyone’s buying things and everything’s gonna be gone.” The resulting rush was, for her, unprecedented. She was out of ARs and .308 rifles. A few shotguns remained, and she told shoppers that they could saw them off, to a legal length. “Obama didn’t even bring in these numbers,” Bales said.
At noon, a woman in her sixties came in. She wore plastic gloves and had a scarf wrapped around her face, and she traced a wide arc around the only other non-employee in the store. “I’ve been doing this since the beginning of March,” she said, referring to her protective gear. “I don’t feel sick at all. I’m self-quarantining.” She left her house only for essential activities. This was one. “I’m buying a gun,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
She went on, “My son was a little upset about it.” (He preferred his bow and arrow.) “I’m old and I live alone, and we don’t know if there’s going to be civil unrest. The world is not the same.” She added, “It didn’t have to be this way.” Unlike many of the shop’s regulars, she was no fan of Trump: “He’s a divider all the way. First he said, ‘Five people have died, big deal.’ Now he’s saying, ‘I always knew it’d be dangerous.’ ” Talk turned to Portland. “It’s a ghost town,” a young woman said. Her name was Rosemary, and she was helping Bales out, since the restaurant where she waited tables had closed.
“I don’t like to go in cities anymore, anyway,” the customer said.
“But these rumors about them putting this country in full lockdown are inaccurate,” Rosemary said. “It’s a scare tactic. It’s not like all of a sudden we’re gonna wake up one day and everyone is sick and the whole world is ending.”
“I don’t know,” the customer said. “The exponential growth is happening.”
“If anything, we’re definitely repopulating, if nobody is at work,” Rosemary said cheerily. “We won’t have a shortage of humans, that’s for sure.”
Bales helped her customer choose a weapon. (“Pick three,” the customer told her.) As Bales rummaged around, the customer said, “I’m going to have a soldier train me. A friend of my son’s.” Bales returned with the first option. “A .22 Mag,” she said. “Holds thirty rounds.”
The customer peered at the gun.
“It’s a Kel-Tec PMR-30,” Bales said.
“I like the color of it,” the customer said. “It’s not black.” She picked it up. “It feels good. And it’s got a safety. I’m going to take this one. You’ve got ammo for it, right?” Bales nodded and noted a few of the gun’s features. “As long as you’re accurate, it’ll do damage,” she said.
“This is just going to be for close range,” the customer said. “In my house. If it happens.” (Asked what “it” was, she said, “In two months, if the cities are starving, they’re gonna come out. And I understand that.”) Bales piled boxes of ammunition on the counter. “I’ll take them all,” the customer said. She ducked outside to get her wallet from the car.
“I think she’s a liberal,” Bales said, once the door closed. “There’s so many coming in. First-time-gun-owner liberals. I’ve probably seen ten this week. It’s so funny, because I hope it just turns them on to liking the Second Amendment. I mean, the Constitution was created for a reason. To protect us.”
The customer returned. The bill was nearly seven hundred dollars, including electronic ear protection and sixteen boxes of bullets. She could come back and pick up the gun once her digital background check cleared. The customer asked, “If I don’t get approved, what happens?”
“You already got approved,” Bales said, glancing at a computer, with some surprise.
“O.K.! Can I take it?”
“Yeah. Some people go through fast.”
The new gun owner asked if there was a shooting range nearby. She asked if she needed a concealed-carry permit. She asked how to carry the gun out. “I can’t believe this!” she said, stepping into the world with her brand-new gun. ♦