Naive. Unrealistic. Fascist.
These are just some of the things I have been called for saying that the biggest problem we have with gun control in the United States is not having enough of it. The presumption is that I have some ill-formed liberal notion about the Constitution or our civil rights or that I somehow want nothing more than a parental state governing my every moment of liberty. Invariably, every person who has passed judgment on my views, most of them either conservatives or gun owners or both, does not have the experience I have had with guns.
I have been held up at gunpoint. Twice.
Many would argue the first time “didn’t count” because the circumstances were far from malicious. I was a teacher at a middle school, coming out of my classroom during the passing period, when a boy of 13 leapt out from around the corner and aimed the revolver square at me from ten feet away. “Freeze!” he shouted, like a cop in a TV show, egged on with laughter by the friends around him. By the time I realized what was happening a campus supervisor – a hall and yard monitor, the closest thing we had to security – wrestled the boy to the ground and called out for help. A group of teachers surrounded and escorted the boy to the principal’s office while a fellow teacher stayed behind to make sure I was okay. The whole thing had happened so quickly, so surreally, that only later I understood they had wanted to keep me as far away as possible from the boy, fearing I had been his intended target and that my presence would antagonize him.
He was only showing off to friends. The gun wasn’t even loaded. It was taken from his home where it was purchased and kept to protect family and property. This was the one and only time it had been ever pointed at another human being.
I was told I was lucky that day.
But that kid was just showing off. One teen with access and a case of severely bad judgment. Perhaps it shouldn’t count as having had a weapon drawn on me but some of my fellow teachers afterward said things like “Makes me wish we could carry our own weapons.”
Why? So we can turn schools into gunfights at the OK Corrall?
The second gun incident was more “traditional.” I was coming home extremely late from a nighttime job – it was after 2 AM – and I was forced to take a different bus than normal because my usual bus stopped running. As a result I had to walk a half mile from the bus stop to my house through a pretty sketchy area. I wasn’t more than a block from the bus stop when I realized I was being followed. One person passed in front of me, pulled a hood over his head, then turned, forcing me to stop. From behind there was a gun pressed into my back from a second person. I was told to lie face down on the ground and make no sound. My shoulder bag and wallet were taken, my pockets turned inside out, and my jacket yanked off my back. Just in case I was doubting their sincerity, the guy holding the gun brought the barrel to my eyes and told me to count to one hundred and not to get up until I did. I counted and listened as they ran to a truck parked nearby and sped off.
When I finished counting I stood up, got my bearings, and saw an all-night diner just a block away. There was a police cruiser in the parking lot, an officer inside on his break. When I approached to report what had happened he looked at me with a start as I pointed to the location of the incident, clearly visible from the windows of the diner. None of the nighthawks inside saw or heard a thing. When the officer asked what they had taken, and I reported my jacket, a bag with a notebook in it, and less than $5 in cash he shook his head and said “You’re lucky to be alive. When they hold someone up and get nothing for it, that pisses guys like that off.”
Lucky. As in, not dead. How lucky would I have been if I’d been carrying a concealed weapon?
This is the problem I have with the self-defense argument. Most of the times you would want or find yourself in the position of needing to defend yourself, a gun isn’t convenient. Nor is it a solution.
“If someone was breaking in you could be damn sure they’d realized they made a mistake!” This is the counter-argument I hear the most,usually said with the bravado of someone who has never actually been in an home invasion situation.
I have. Twice.
The first time, in broad daylight, a scruffy-looking bearded crack fiend started climbing in through my living room window, cursing up a storm and sounding for all the world like he was fixed to murder. My housemates ran to the back of the house, to call the police, while my instinct was to walk up and push him back out the window. It was the first floor, so it wasn’t that far to the ground, and it seemed as if the fall had sobered him up some. I went outside to confront him and on closer inspection he was merely drunk and disoriented: he sincerely thought he was climbing into his own home, having lost his keys somewhere. Many a gun advocate who have heard this story pointed out how dangerous my behavior was. “What if he’d had a gun! I tell you, if it had been me there’d have been one dead hobo on the rug! Next time you might not get so lucky.”
There it was, that word again. Lucky.
The next time there was nothing innocent about the invasion. We were living on the fourth floor of an old Victorian, our windows open in the summer, safe from outside intruders by the virtue of having no access that high up short of a ladder.
Or the old tree next door, as we discovered.
This time a young man intent on performing some sort of mischief climbed the tree, hopped onto the roof, and was attempting to lower himself into my kitchen by hanging from the rain gutters. He’d managed to get half way in, his head, a leg, and one arm trying to squeeze through ll at once. And in his had, a gun.
I hadn’t heard anything and was simply on my way into the kitchen for some water when I saw him there, looking for all the world like he was stuck. I yelled, in a voice so deeply unhuman that to this day I simply think of it as my reptile brain voice. “You get the hell out of my house!” I shouted and then proceeded to take the nearest thing I could find – a cast iron skillet – and threw it at him. I got him in the leg, and between my yelling and throwing things he must have figured I was crazier than he was so he backed out of the window… and dropped four stories to the ground. The police were called and he was eventually caught – sans gun – limping along with a broken ankle. No word on whether it was the fall or the skillet that broke his ankle.
But he’d had a gun. And that, according to some, should have been enough to convince me that even if I didn’t believe in gun ownership for protection that I should be sympathetic to others who do.
But I don’t.
This is where I get called naive, suggesting that we treat the cause and not the symptom. Because guns are the symptom of diseases called fear, ignorance, and violence. Fearing (and hating) other people provides people the opportunity to find the justification in killing other people. A teen boy who thinks its “funny” to pull an unloaded gun on a teacher at school is simply ignorant of the reality behind the imagery he emulates from TV and movies. Violence, no matter the source, is a learned behavior, one that alters the chemistry of the brain over time the same way that abuse, drugs, and fear do. And if we knew for certain that a person’s brain was impaired I’d like to think we wouldn’t knowingly give them access to weapons (or armies for that matter) because what would follow would be carnage.
We are, as a society and individuals, defined by the choices we make. If you choose to live in fear, and raise children to live in fear, that fear will consume your thinking and alter the prism of your world view. If you believe that American liberty and freedom are inexorably linked to the ownership of a machine whose sole purpose is to kill then there will be no argument that will persuade you otherwise.
If this is how we choose to live as a society we should expect to see scores of violent gun deaths and massacres, because unless we choose to change things we have agreed to choose gun violence as a bi-product of freedom and liberty.
I long thought the phrase “Live by the sword, die by the sword” was a fair enough summary of the notion that violence begets violence but it hides a bitter truth about who suffers the most. Sadly, those who live by the sword (or gun, as the case may be) kill and those who choose not to live by the sword are more often the victims of those who do.
I will no longer argue with those who believe that gun ownership in America is what the Second Amendment is all about. People will stand behind any excuse that allows them to continue thinking what they believe, without question. If those who shout the loudest in favor of a right to bear arms will not more actively help solve the problem of gun-related violence in this country I am forced to accept only one conclusion: they have chosen to accept the slaughter of innocent victims as an acceptable price in exchange for the false sense of freedom and liberty their belief provides.