116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There's a mantra quickly repeating in my head: 'Please have a badge. Please have a badge. Please have a badge.' It's a steady heartbeat as I begin a conversation with a shop clerk and reposition myself so I can peer over her shoulder.
I've already seen the bulge in his jacket, and it's clear from the size and shape that he has a holstered gun. Now my eyes are quickly scanning, hoping to find a law enforcement badge clipped to his belt.
I'm in a local bookstore and there's a sticker near the door asking patrons not to carry weapons on the premises. My two children scurried off the moment we entered, each in search of their own treasures.
The man with the weapon is as interested with the bookstore patrons as he is with the books on display. I've watched him watch others. The way he tracks them is unnerving.
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I do not know this man, have no knowledge of his profession, personality or character. I am unaware of his mental state, of why he feels the need to carry a weapon into a bookstore. Frankly, I'm not that interested in his reasons right now. My mind is too busy filtering through the various scenarios that could be taking place. They flick before me like movie trailers, and I watch, casting some aside and mentally marking others for further consideration.
There's no badge — at least not one I can see. And my inspection of him has not gone unnoticed. I rotate my handbag so that more of it rests toward the front of my body and gently pat it. It's a tell by women who are packing heat in their purse. Many do it without thinking, a subtle check of hard steel through the leather. My touch is greeted by the bristles on my hairbrush, but no one else knows that.
The man recognizes the gesture, his eyes briefly flicking to my own before he moves past us in the aisle.
I still don't know him, and the movie trailers increase. He could be the stalker, searching for his mark. He could be contemplating a robbery, or seeking someone to abduct. He could be an off-duty police officer, or even one that is undercover. He could be paranoid, thinking the world is out to get him or knowing someone truly is. He could be a fugitive, a drug dealer, a rapist or the owner of a sporting goods store. He could be a million things.
Thanking the clerk, I walk toward the YA section and my children. We won't be spending money in this store today. We will be leaving as quickly as I can get them through the door, away from the man.
Although he is unknown to me, I do know Iowa's lackluster gun laws and that they offer no assurances. While law enforcement officers have been trained with their weapons, civilians handed licenses to carry weapons in Iowa need not have ever touched, much less fired a weapon.
Mandated classes do not teach those who carry to use, nor do they assess accuracy or respect.
I do not know the last time the weapon in the man's holster was maintained, and state law provides no assurances he knows how to maintain it.
As we leave, I am angered by lawmakers and gun advocates who preach blind trust in the same breath as they extol the dangers of society as their reason for needing to carry a weapon in a bookstore.