The mural on the side of the gun store proclaims: “A Savior is Born.” There’s a manger scene below the star of Bethlehem and windows festooned with red, white and blue bunting. And above it all a looming AR-15 assault rifle spewing fire. Yet inside Gun Central on Sunday, barely 24 hours after a terrorist gunman killed 22 people and wounded dozens of others in a local Walmart, the expected white Christian nationalists defending the second amendment were not there. Instead there were terrified El Pasoans, mostly Hispanic, buying firearms for the first time.
The scene on Sunday at Gun Central, located along Interstate 10 and two miles from where bodies are still being recovered, was more reminiscent of Black Friday than the wake of a national tragedy. People crowded shoulder to shoulder to consult with harried employees, pondering over pistols and assault rifles, banana clips and ammo. Others lined up for their turn inside the store’s indoor shooting range. Staccato gunfire thundered behind the thin walls.
“I’m on high alert,” said April Sanchez, a marketing executive who along with her husband was buying her first weapon. “I never thought I’d carry a gun, but now I want something to defend myself, to defend my fellow El Pasoans.” To that end she picked out a 9mm Taurus and her husband a .40 Ruger; their son had purchased his first handgun the previous evening. They sat near a Coke machine with several others awaiting their background checks. Before that day, Sanchez had never even held a gun. Now she’s registering for classes that will allow her to legally carry her firearm in public.
“This isn’t something I’m proud of,” she added. “It makes me sad and angry that I’m even here. I’m heartbroken, but I’m also afraid.”