may be their own worst enemies
My 67-year-old brother-in-law Greg is a model gun owner. He's trained in the proper use of a gun and has a concealed-carry permit as well as other licenses.
He says he needs his small arsenal for personal protection, though I'm not sure from whom.
During the summer he and his wife live in a very beautiful sliver of Minnesota near the banks of the Mississippi River, where in my experience bee-sized mosquitos are a much larger threat than armed bandits.
|Model 3701, Caliber 380 Auto, Capacity 6+1, Barrel Length 2.75"|
In the winter, they migrate to another small, equally picturesque town northwest of Orlando, Fla., there to join hundreds of retirees fleeing northern winters.
In an email a couple of weeks ago, he related an incident that illustrates how, ironically, America's obsession with firearms, supposedly for personal safety, creates a society more dangerous for everyone.
At the time of this incident most of the residents in the condo complex had already returned north. It was dark and Greg was hauling a couple of bags of garbage to the dumpster when he noticed a "couple of black guys" with their shirts off, loitering in the parking lot. He asked them to move off this private piece of property.
They refused and instead asked Greg, "you got any money?"
He replied, "Nope."
Then one guy keeps walking toward Greg and says "I gotta have your wallet."
At this point, Greg pulls out his Ruger .380 automatic pistol out of his pocket and replies "I don't think so."
Greg never steps out of his home unarmed, he told us the last time we visited, evidently not even to take out the garbage.
One of the members of threatening duo puts up his hands, "like I'm going to give them the Trevor Martin/George Zimmerman treatment," in Greg's words.
Martin was a 17-year old black high school student, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt at the time he was shot to death by Zimmerman, a white neighborhood watchman who was armed and later said he feared for his life. Zimmerman was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
I don't for a second dismiss Greg's concern about being assaulted. I'm acquainted with street fear first-hand.
I grew up on the West Side of New York—prior to gentrification and latte cafes—and even drove a taxi on weekends in Manhattan to subsidize my college expenses.
One time a fare I picked up kept directing me to a dark, deserted area under a soaring Riverside Drive overpass by the Hudson River.
I remembered being told that to catch the attention of the police in an emergency I should turn off the headlights and drive with only the parking lights on. In this case it worked: A patrol car began following me and at the next corner my fare jumped out of the cab and fled into the night.
Obviously my passenger—I don't remember his race—was up to no good, and if I had had a gun with me I might have pointed it at him even before sending the SOS that aborted the incident.
In Chicago and now in Mexico, Stew and I have done the gun-ownership math and concluded that in a confrontation with a couple armed thugs decades younger than us, gun-waving would be far more likely to get us killed than act as a self-defense equalizer.
Putting myself in Greg's shoes, and allowing for his understandable fear, my mind takes me to a series of what-ifs that don't make me feel safer. In fact, his gun increased the odds of an act of petty thievery turning into a murder.
I don't know much about guns but I know enough to realize that when someone is pointing a firearm at you you haven't much time to study all the possible outcomes. Your mind races and your index finger reflexively reaches for the trigger.
What if one of the young black guys had been carrying a gun himself and whipped it out, threatened by Greg's Ruger? Not an unlikely scenario at all, given that right now there are enough firearms in circulation for every adult in the U.S.
Or what if one of the would-be assailants had reached to scratch himself or made any move that Greg might have considered threatening? Is it time to shoot, possibly an unarmed person simply because he was young, black—and in your white mind—threatening?
Two or three trips ago to San Antonio, Stew and I were waiting at the parts counter of a Ford dealer and I was confronted by a gray-haired fireplug of a guy, about fifty, who shoved me slightly and growled "I was here first, buster!"
In fact he wasn't and my first reaction was to tell him to buzz off. But then I remembered that I was in Texas, one of the most gun-happy states in the country and the message flashed in my head: "This stupid m.f. may have a gun."
Stew who witnessed the encounter later told me he had the same reaction. I backed off. Get your oil filter first, buddy. We're in no hurry at all.
Even allowing for his fear and nervousness, Greg pulling a gun had escalated a trifling provocation into a potential shooting that could have left someone dead or wounded.
My reactions—not very macho, I admit—would have been to either drop the garbage bag on the spot and make a beeline back to my condo; continue walking toward the dumpster as if I hadn't heard anything; or simply throw my wallet on the pavement and bid the two young guys a pleasant evening.
Credit cards and cash can be readily replaced. My head or some internal organ, not so easily.
Perhaps I would have summoned the cops, which Greg did, and who arrived in a few minutes, and let them take care of the problem.
None of my reactions, I know, are very testosteronal or likely to inspire an upcoming episode of Law and Order. But at least in retrospect they might have been the sanest and safest options.
Instead, Greg later reported the incident to "an ex-Marine buddy" who lives in the condo complex and who now also carries his .38 revolver.
Are the geezers at the complex safer for all this gun-rattling? Or have we increased the chances of a pointless shoot-out—similar to those that occur every single day in the U.S., leaving people dead or wounded?