Invitation to a shooting

Americans who buy guns to feel safe
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″
Msrp: $259.00

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?


15 thoughts on “Invitation to a shooting

  1. You consider a shirtless thug saying “gimme your wallet” on a dark night a “trifling provocation”? Jeez, man. I'm glad Greg was armed. He did the right thing.And what did the thug's being black have to do with anything? Stereotyping, are we? Tsk, tsk.


  2. I'd heard that, thanks for bring it up, though it doesn't answer the question in my post, i.e. whether an increasing number of guns in circulation really affords better public safety. Thank you for your comment.Al


  3. Felipe: On the scale of crimes, “gimme your wallet” is a notch about pickpocketing or purse snatching. It's not nice but pulling out a gun is likely to make things much worse. A wallet is not worth it. I would have just said “I don't have a wallet” or thrown it on the ground. Being black was mentioned in Greg's email. It wasn't sterotyping on my part, though sadly most people perceive “two black guys” as being more dangerous than “two white guys.” That's includes the police which has a tendency to shoot blacks more often than whites.Thanks for your comments. Onward. At least it has started to rain in this part of the world. al


  4. Anonymous

    If you repeat a lie, you are no better than the original liar. The news media has become the propaganda media. They have lost all trust by the American people.On the question of an armed society, I feel better knowing that someone may be able to bring down a criminal or a terrorist. Criminals and terrorist will always have arms. Only law abiding citizens would surrender them when asked to do so by the government.We don't want to live in a Detroit or a Chicago. Robert GillPhoenix, AZ


  5. Robert: We lived in Chicago for a long time and it's a beautiful city, except for the climate.For my information, where do you get your news from if you don't trust the “mainstream media”? Thanks.Al


  6. You have clearly set forth the calculus. If you pull a gun, you must be ready to pull the trigger. If you cannot answer the question “Am I willing to shoot a stranger” with a “yes,” you should not have a firearm, and, you certainly should never pull it out. There are some people who can answer the question “yes.” And most of them are well-trained, like Greg and my niece. I can no longer answer that question “yes.” But I am not going to restrict those who have answered the question differently. It is a choice of liberty we must all make.


  7. I'm with you, Steve, in your zealousness regarding individual liberty. I've lived in a communist society, and slithered along in the shadows for many years as a closeted gay man, and the flipside of individual liberty is no fun at all. I agree too that many people need to have a gun for protection of limb and property. The problem in the U.S. though that our obsession with the freedom to own a gun, and our refusal to concede any restrictions whatsoever on that freedom, lead every year to the deaths of more than 30,000 people—men, women, children, young, old, innocent or guilty. It's nuts. Sadly the politics on this issue make it impossible to agree on any sensible solutions.Enjoy the rain. al


  8. Anonymous

    You asked what news sources I read. I read “The Drudge Report.” Drudge does not write articles, but publishes a compendium of other articles and links to a lot of columns. There is a lot of information there.I also read “Breitbart News.” It is also interesting.Breitbart Watch Dog Zero Hedge here is an interesting article quoting Julian Assange's evalutation of the state of the Democratic Party. He is spot on. nation is so divided that it scares me. The left wants to oust President Trump so badly, and the people that elected him will not tolerate that. This will not end well.Robert GillPhoenix, AZ


  9. Robert: Thanks for the links. I agree with you completely that the country is reaching such a level of acrimony that political discussions end up in shouting matches, or people avoid exchanging points of view for fear of starting a brawl. Democracy can't function in such chaos.


  10. Anonymous

    Statistically speaking, owning a gun puts you at greater risk because it's infinitely more likely that you or your family will be victim of that gun due to accident, error, or mistaken identity, e.g., a family member comes home at an unexpected hour and you shoot him/her. This is a fact that gun owners like to deny. I also have a serious problem with the idea of the “good guy” disarming a lunatic shooting in a public space. And it's this: how is anyone supposed to know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy? Imagine a theater with one lunatic and several armed “good guys.” The lunatic starts to shoot, and good guy #1 shoots back. Good guy #2, perhaps a bit slow on the uptake, starts shooting at good guy #1 thinking it's he who is the lunatic. And then on and on. This argument too is essentially irrefutable, at least as a not far-out possibility. Yet gun advocates don't like it either. So there's really no rational basis for individual gun ownership. But, and this is a big “but,” the constitution permits it, so we have to either amend the constitution (not gonna happen) or live with the guns. I've come to accept the latter. However, I'd very much like to see EXTREMELY hefty taxes on ammunition, which probably is constitutional. The real problem is that there are far too many inner-city gangbangers shooting at each other, and those folks aren't following the rules anyway. A tax might make them think twice. Saludos,Kim GRedding, CAWhere there are plenty of “legitimate sportsmen” toting rifles.


  11. Anonymous

    P.S. you really should make the jump to WordPress. It would let your comment section come alive, rather than have us all suffer through moderation each and every time.


  12. I agree. The WordPress layout is much more elegant, clean and efficient. I tried to install Disqus comments on my Blogspot blog and it didn't go well. For some reason it wouldn't work unless I went into the line code and changed something, which I haven't tried. al


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