Once again, my adopted home state of South Carolina is in the news and, once again, it’s not in a good way.
Our primary claim to fame on the national stage has been oafish politicians (Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson and Gov. Mark “I Lie” Sanford), brain-damaged beauty queens (such as Miss Teen South Carolina) and weird news briefs (armed robbers brandishing a banana, Waffle House waitresses shooting patrons, etc.). Oh yeah, and we also started the Civil War.
Now, we’re once again the laughing stock for offering a Christmas season tax holiday on the purchase of firearms. For two days this past weekend, gun buyers enjoyed a 9% tax break, a so-called “Second Amendment Weekend” voted into law by a state legislature that still can’t decide if Gov. Sanford should be impeached.
Originally part of a bill that offered similar breaks on energy-efficient appliances, that measure was vetoed by the governor. The veto was over-ridden by the legislature, then the law was struck down by the Supreme Court because it violated the “one subject” provision of the state constitution, which bars multiple issues in a single bill. So they got rid of the appliance part and kept the gun part (though I guess you could make the argument that firearms do reduce energy use, especially when they render previously vital creatures lifeless).
“The great state of South Carolina is putting its own sick twist on Black Friday” with the state-sponsored sales incentive, wrote the New York Daily News last week. “Not cars. Not clothes. Certainly not books. Just guns.”
I decided to check out the event for myself Saturday with a visit to my area’s largest purveyor of weapons, Nichols Gun Store. Located in a rural area just outside of town and serving primarily hunters, Nichols provides a number of offerings besides fiery fusillades of death.
Out back is a deer processing service, which I recognized by the strung-up, skinned carcass being displayed to the delight of several young children as I pulled into the parking lot. There’s a collection of 30-foot-tall hunting stands (or as those at the Daily News might characterize them, third-floor walk-ups), where outdoorsmen can lie in wait high above the forest floor for their victims to appear. There are Bad Boy buggies, all-terrain vehicles that minimize the chance someone might get some exercise while hunting.
Inside the front door, you see what looks like a typical convenience store off to the left, featuring snacks, sundries and a huge refrigerated case of beer, just waiting to cloud the judgment of armed bands. To the right is a small cooking grill to feed hungry hunters who choose not to eat their kills fresh off the ground for lunch. A gift shop sells bumper stickers (“If you can read this, I’m aiming at you”) and cute camouflage outfits for children (“Serious gear for serious babies,” reads one package). There’s also an area for incidentals like deer bait, backpacks, turkey calls and urine, the scent of which is supposed to lure or repel something.
Dead ahead is the core of the business, a showroom featuring literally thousands of handguns, shotguns, rifles, pistols, crossbows and assault weaponry. The store is filled with shoppers, almost all male, almost all eager to take advantage of this tax holiday, and almost all looking at the blogger who has never before set foot in such a death-dealing establishment. A large counter wraps around the edge of the store, backed by eager salesmen waiting on small clusters of customers.
Looking around at the inventory, I recognize a few product names, such as a Luger, Glock and Remington, and I can vaguely tell there’s a difference between them, though my exposure is limited mostly to what I’ve seen in television and movies. There are James Bond-style guns, cowboy-movie-style guns and Sopranos-style guns. There are even a few firearms you might imagine seeing on Charlie’s Angels. These have been painted pink, in a pathetic attempt to appeal to the extremely limited female market (I guess trimming a semi-automatic in lace just isn’t practical in the field).
As the overhead intercom booms out strange-sounding announcements like “guns, line two” and “blood cleanup, aisle five,” I’m debating how I’ll respond if I’m offered service by one of the guys behind the counters. On the drive over, I was thinking how it might be funny to say I was looking for a flamethrower to give my aunt who’s checking into a nursing home known for its rough crowd, or a grenade launcher for the nephew headed to Harvard. Maybe I’d actually buy something, certainly not the high-priced weapons themselves, but maybe a box of bullets, or even a single cartridge if they were willing to break up a matched set.
“I don’t believe in private gun ownership so I don’t actually have one myself,” I might joke. “But if I’m ever faced with a home intruder, maybe I could throw a bullet and try to hit him in the eye.”
Somehow, though, this doesn’t strike me as the right atmosphere for such a put-on. I think back to the Daily News article, and the reporter’s attempt to get a quote from Chad Holman, owner of Woody’s Pawn and Jewelry in Orangeburg.
“I don’t care to comment to anyone from New York,” he said.
When I am finally offered help, I tell the counter clerk I’m still “just browsing” and comment awkwardly about how the inventory is “nice.” I can tell that he can tell I’m not a legitimate customer, so I motion toward the back of the store and suggest to my wife that we go “check out the arrows.” We head in that direction, but make a quick left at the decapitated razorback boar and make for the exit.
It feels like every eye in the place is watching me as we walk out the door and into the pickup-packed parking lot. I just hope that none of the eyes are attached to a telescopic sight.
Happy holidays to all, and to all a good hunt.