Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thinking about buying a gun

Paranoid chatter in the U.S. media about guns and mass shootings during the past several weeks shows you that if absurdities are repeated long and often enough they eventually acquire some plausibility. So much so that Stew and I, the ultimate firearm virgins, recently talked about buying a gun for self protection at our ranch in Mexico.

Even after living for ten years in New York, and then thirty years in Chicago with Stew, I've never seriously considered owning a gun. Neither one of us has been in military service or has ever held much less fired a weapon of any kind.

So naive am I about the subject that I once talked to someone about just wanting a gun to shoot a burglar or other assailant in the foot, shoulder or other non-vital area, as my idea of self-defense.

Your camera or one of your eyes?
This guy laughed and explained that I completely missed the point of using a gun: You're supposed to aim for the chest or the head to kill the person ostensibly threatening you, and worry about the details later. There are no halfway measures in a shoot-out.

The closest I've come to an assault weapon was talking to an Israeli soldier, of all places, at the one gay bar in Tel Aviv about fifteen years ago. That's how I learned, up close and personal, that the Israeli army indeed didn't have any qualms about enlisting gay men.

Yet unsettling talk in San Miguel about crime recently got Stew and I talking about a buying gun, to the point of visiting the U.S. consul to get his thoughts.

It's not all groundless paranoia. Our ranch is about fifteen miles out of town, with a house that while hardly baronial does stick out amid the surrounding poverty and could make us a potential target.

Mexican law enforcement is famously corrupt and inept, particularly in a two-pothole town like San Miguel. Worse still, Mexican criminal law is a spaghetti bowl of conflicting and self-defeating regulations and jurisdictions almost designed to provide immunity to criminals rather than protect the public.

Crime in San Miguel does not remotely resemble the narcotics-fueled mayhem along the U.S. border, about ten hours from here by car yet regularly reported on CNN and other media outlets as endemic throughout the country.

Thanks for asking, but no, we don't have to swerve around dead bodies on the way to the church or put on a Kevlar vest before watering the front yard.

Still, crime around San Miguel seems to be ratcheting up gradually. I use "seems" because there's hardly any concrete information or statistics on which to base your level of fear. So you have to go on rumors which tend to inflate as they bounce around.

There have been a few confirmed incidents recently scary enough to make you gag on your morning oatmeal. During the past six months, two stiffs, hogtied and their heads covered with plastic bags, were found about ten miles up the road from us near the town of Jalpa. Then the owner of the local broiled chicken franchise was kidnapped in broad daylight. Was he one of the hogtied stiffs? Nobody knows.

Add to that several home invasions involving machetes, guns and who-knows-what--one victim almost lost an eye--and keeping a gun begins to sound like, hmm, a not-bad idea. A close neighbor showed us the Nancy Reagan-size pistol he carries in his pocket at all times, just in case. He also employs an armed night watchman.

But just as paranoia starts to boil in your head, logic and logistics bring you back to earth.

The U.S. consul cautioned that although it is theoretically legal to keep a gun for self-defense in one's home, the realities of an American expat killing a Mexican citizen has the ingredients of a really ugly political situation. Remember the spaghetti bowl that passes for criminal law in this country?

But let's think about the scene of two armed burglars--their adrenaline and experience with weapons presumably much higher than yours--breaking into your home while you're sleeping or watching television.

By the time you reach for your cherished gun and start shooting, your odds of coming out alive go down to damn near zero. More likely the ensuing and chaotic shoot-out will leave you or someone in your family dead. Or maybe both.

Frustrating but true is that you're ultimately better off handing over your camera or iPad to the intruders instead of reaching, Rambo-like, for your gun, machete, baseball bat or whatever. A camera is replaceable, a limb or one of your eyes is not.

Lamentably that scenario is not very heroic or suitable for a thirty-second television spot by the National Rifle Association. But is the most sensible and realistic thing to do in such a situation, whether in San Miguel or New Orleans.

Before that happens, it's far more useful to padlock gates and windows, get a gang of noisy mutts--Mexicans, including burglars, are for some reason deathly afraid of dogs--leave lights on, hire a watchman for when you're away and take a number of other measures far less dramatic or catastrophic than buying a semi-automatic, whatever that is, and commence shootin'.

Ultimately, the paranoia involved in buying and keeping a potentially lethal weapon so diminishes your quality of life that it seems hardly a worthwhile exercise. Who wants to have to check that their gun is loaded in the night stand and ready to kill someone before going to sleep every night? Or have a firearm within reach anywhere in your house?

If life around our ranch becomes that perilous, it'll be a clear signal that it's time for us to move, though judging by the gun-induced mayhem and hysteria back home, I'm not sure it would be back to the U.S.


For a different, if not very persuasive (to me), point of view I just read in the New York Times, read this:

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