Just when you thought the national conversations about gun ownership couldn’t get any more Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass-esque, It gets worse. Well, not worse, really. Just a lot closer to home.

Here we are in the Provincetown bubble of liberalism, a place where we hope there’s a better-than-even chance that nobody’s going to walk up High Pole Hill and take out the elementary school with a weapon that shouldn’t be in any hands other than the military’s—and I have my concerns about them, too—when the bubble bursts.

This past weekend I chanced to meet a woman up-Cape who works for a bus tour company. She recounted that a recent tour was on its way to visit Provincetown (and unleash its passengers on Commercial Street) when she learned that one of the visitors, a man from Kentucky, was wearing a holstered gun under his jacket. “I always carry,” he told her, as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Now, let’s not get bogged down in the logistics. The Massachusetts State Police can grant a temporary firearm carry permit to a nonresident of the Commonwealth. I do not know whether the Kentucky tourist had such a permit. I do not know whether the tour director should have inquired about his license, or reported him to the authorities. We can all wonder about that.

But the real scary thing here is this man spent a day in Provincetown. As a tourist. Carrying a deadly weapon. And when you consider the not unreasonable possibility that someone coming to see Ptown from Kentucky might not be exactly gay-friendly, and then add that they’re carrying a gun… well, maybe now your anxiety level is on a par with mine.

The confusion that the country as a whole seems to be experiencing between the concept of a well-regulated militia and the right to carry a handgun anywhere one chooses isn’t something I expected to experience here. I remember Massachusetts’ early concerns about handguns, I remember the banner on the turnpike featuring photographs of shooting victims (and this was long before victims became part of the general level of noise on the news), I remember the one-year mandatory sentence for carrying an unregistered gun (“spend a year in historic Concord”). I remember an ad in a magazine showing a little girl wearing a bulletproof vest with a caption along the lines of, “Do you know if your neighbor has a gun? Dress your child accordingly.” I remember all that, and I thought at the time we were being sensible here in the Commonwealth. I didn’t know then that we were only a couple of decades out from deciding as a nation that people are expendable but gun rights aren’t.

I listen to this conversation on the national level, and I participate in it as purposefully as I can, because I know that there’s a whole world out there that manages to get through the day without hearing about another newspaper office, or nightclub, or school, or movie theater that’s been decimated because our national symbol has become a cross between a cowboy and a gangster. I listen to it, but I never thought I’d be talking about it in The View From The Wharf, an op-ed column that’s purposely centered on Ptown.

I was wrong.

Police are trained to stay calm in alarming situations. Police are trained to handle weapons, and they regularly practice using them. With that training and that constant practice, we’ve seen how many times they make mistakes, shoot someone who shouldn’t have been shot. Yet we’re told that Joe Citizen, who has not had constant exposure to alarming situations and does not have the training and expertise of cops, is going to respond well when he’s carrying a gun and there’s an emergency?

There be dragons out there, my friend, and they’re armed to the teeth.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t even know what I expect from writing this. I do know more than I ever wanted to know about what a bullet does when it enters a human body, and it isn’t pretty. I may write murder mysteries that take place in Provincetown; I don’t want to see that translated into real life because some inadequate little person likes the swagger of carrying a handgun with him on vacation here.

Do you know if your tourists own a gun? Dress your child accordingly.

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