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Guns, Fireworks, and Gin: Life as It Once Was in America

By: Randy Tucker

Cousins are often your first friends, and that was the case with my two cousins, Mike and Gene. My dad was stationed at Travis and then Mather Air Force Bases in Fairfield and Sacramento, California from the time I was in third grade until I finished junior high. Mike and Gene lived in San Bruno, a San Francisco suburb, and we spent a lot of time together on weekends and holidays.

Sometimes we’d all travel to Wyoming in the summer to visit our grandparents. Slingshots, fireworks, .22 rifles, and electric fence tricks were always on the menu. We quickly learned that moms were the ultimate disciplinarian, but that aunts and occasionally one of those ape-like uncles could inflict a little common sense just as well.

We moved to Wyoming and always around the 4th of July, Mike and Gene would arrive for a few weeks each summer from California. Fireworks were a big drawing card for them. In Wyoming, it’s almost anything goes on Independence Day.

A few years later, Gene and his wife Amy came to visit.

Gene was lamenting the ongoing legislation in California that made gun purchases an arduous process, that forbid any fireworks worth setting off, and the general limitations of freedom that came with each new act of legislation.

“Your problem is that you live in the People’s Republic of California,” I chided Gene one day.

“You think it’s that much better here?” he asked.

He knew it was; it was just a rhetorical response.

“I’ll bet we can buy professional grade fireworks, a handgun, and get a gin-and-tonic in a go cup at a drive through window, all in less than 30 minutes,” I said.

“No way,” was Gene’s response.

But, the bet was on.

We drove to a fireworks stand where they had an array of “artillery shells.” They were about the size of tennis balls and the packaging read, “Aerial display, 300 to 400 feet.”

We bought a couple of packages and it was back to the truck.

A Wal-Mart was located nearby. I’d usually go to my favorite local sportsman’s store, Rocky Mountain Sports, but I had that 30-minute time limit, so Wally-World it was.

We walked to the back of the store. (Has anyone ever noticed that all the “guy stuff” is always in the far end of every big box store?) There was a Ruger Bull Nose .22 on the shelf. The guy behind the counter said he’d take it up front, and Gene could pick it up at the check stand.

Gene bought a couple of boxes of .22 long rifle shells, and we walked to the front and paid for everything.

A sales representative carried the pistol to the outside of the store, gave it Gene and said, “Have a nice day.”

“Why did they carry it outside?” Gene asked.

“It was just a slight precaution so somebody wouldn’t get a handgun, a handful of ammo, and go on a rampage inside the store,” I said.

We hopped in the truck, drove up to a drive through liquor store window and ordered a pair of gin-and-tonics to go. They came out in plastic cups with lids attached.

I won the bet by six minutes.

Since that time, Wyoming has passed open container legislation that doesn’t allow mixed drinks in go cups to be purchased at a drive-through window, but you can still buy fireworks or a handgun in just a couple of minutes.

We do a lot of shooting in the Cowboy State, but not at each other.

It was a dramatic difference for Gene to experience life as it once was across America, at least for a little while before he returned home to his heavily regulated state.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.