116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Every day I get up and put on a gun. It's part of my daily routine. No different from making coffee or feeding the dogs before I leave for work.
There is so much misinformation about who that makes me. I'm a 'gun nut.' I'm one of 'those right-wing Second Amendment people.' I'm the scourge of the earth to some.
Funny how that works.
They don't even know me but they are worried that I'm what's wrong with this country, this state and this city I call home. I walk among them and they don't even know it. I'm the guy in the jeans and Under Armour shirt, the guy in the $200 sport coat and $125 shoes, the guy in Nike pants and a hoodie, and some days I'm the guy with dirty hands from working in the yard, but most of all I'm the guy they never see.
Oh, they acknowledge me sometimes. When I hold the door for them because my parents raised me that way. When I let them go ahead of me in line at the gas station because they seem to be in a hurry. When I pick up their baby's pacifier in the aisle at the grocery store and hand it back to them because it fell out and they didn't notice. But they don't see me. I'm just another guy in the store with things in my hand. But only my left hand. I don't carry things in my right hand. Not at the store. Not in public.
Also read: (Column) Why your gun makes me nervous
Why? Because I'm 'that guy.' I know that bad things happen. Every day. Everywhere. So I try to be aware. I try to study my surroundings. I expect to not see it coming every time. I expect that evil may show up while I'm shopping or walking through the mall or eating at a restaurant. It doesn't make me crazy. It doesn't make me paranoid. It simply makes me aware. Unlike a lot of people that walk by me every day. Looking at their phones, their notes, their purses, or any of the other distractions that plague us. I get it.
I also get that there are wolves. Hungry. Lean. Skilled at their trade. Studying you. Studying me. They like you. They don't like me. I see them at the mall. I see them at the gas station. I see them right here in this town. Do they know I'm armed? No, they don't. They know that I'm aware. I look at them. Kill them with kindness. It's a like a mutual agreement. I see you; you see me. Let's not kid each other.
It's weird in a way. The man and his friend in the store that looked all around and even glanced at the camera above us — those guys see me. I'm aware that the door is over there. I'm aware that the coffee pot is within reach and full. He urges me to go first to the counter. 'Oh no, you go please. I have all day,' I reply. Now he has to make a purchase. Now he knows I'm polite …. I'm polite and I do not want them behind me in line.
The lady with her kid? She doesn't notice me, but I'm there. I have a phone. I have a flashlight. I have two knives. I have a firearm. And I have a plan. If this doesn't go well I want to get her and that little one out of here. Chances are nothing is going to happen until they're gone anyway. I'd like to leave too.
One man asks the other a question. He hands the guy a few extra bucks to make the purchase of an item at the counter. They leave. I make my purchase. I call the employee by name and tell him to have a good night. I walk to the door and hold it open for the woman approaching. She says, 'Thanks.' I say, 'Yes ma'am.' Then, poof. I'm gone.
Just another uneventful trip to the store. The best kind ever. It's funny those men truly saw me but other customers didn't. Why? Maybe too busy. Maybe too much on their minds. Maybe because they didn't worry for one second about those two men or me.
When I get home I don't tell my wife about the two men who lingered. The two men who entered together but stood so far apart. The two men that seemed to have no sense of purpose or item they were in search of. No need to talk of them because nothing happened. This happens daily. Sometimes once. Sometimes multiple times. I like uneventful days.
Most people don't know me. But man, they sure do judge me. If I use a gun to defend myself they will read about it. They will hear about it. They will weigh in on what should have happened.
I have seen bad people do bad things. I have seen good people dumbfounded and in shock because they couldn't comprehend what was happening in front of them or, worse yet, to them. It's not fun or pretty to think about, so most people don't. They don't stay awake late at night watching videos from self-defense experts. They don't read the articles. They don't look at unedited news on the Internet. They don't search out the videos of people fighting for their lives and losing.
A man stabbed outside a bar. A couple hijacked and killed in front of the store. A store clerk shot even after complying with a robber's demands. A video from inside the grocery store of a mad man with a gun shooting people while looking for his ex. Dashboard cameras of an officer involved in a shooting. It's an ugly world so they choose not to see it.
I don't train for the warm fuzzy days where everyone gets along. I train for the other days. I try to round out my skill sets. I look at what others have done to succeed. I watch videos of those who haven't. Some refer to it as making something good out of something bad. Like watching videos of officers being killed as every person that's gone through any type of law enforcement academy has had to do. Learn from others' experiences.
People from all walks of life legally carry guns. Some are men and some are women. Some are old and some are young. The ones I know train. The ones I know are aware: Aware of their surroundings. And aware of all of the armchair quarterbacking that will be done if they ever have to use that tool of last resort on their belt. So why do it anyway? Because they value their life and the lives of others. Simple.
My so-called 'gun nut' friends and customers are some of the most congenial, trustworthy people I know. I only wish everyone had such friends. I wish everyone understood like I do.
• Ernie Traugh is owner operator of Cedar Valley Outfitters, which opened in 2001, and has been a reserve police officer since 2004. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org