This piece is not the usual fare found on my blog. It is not a story from my childhood or a tale from the heartland. It involves a subject of considerable concern, especially during the last few days. Unlike many of those individuals who struggle on each side of the issue, my opinion is based less on emotion and more on a lifetime of exposure to the pros and cons involved. My desire is not to convert or attack, but to offer observation that is tempered by experience in such matters and bolstered by an understanding of the way things are, as opposed to the way we might like them to be. Volatile to be sure, the subject is guns.
The recent tragedy in Colorado has, as events of this type do, activated the opposing firearm forces and given both sides the excuse for even more rhetoric. From the idiots who actually believe we can take all the guns away from people and make the whole world sweetness and light, to the lunatics who think they should be able to own .60 caliber machine guns and rocket launchers, there are some really committed folks out there vocalizing their twisted views on firearms. I guess it’s my turn.
Once upon a time, I was a cop. Back in the days of the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, the S.D.S. and such, I carried the badge, packed the gun, and toted the stick. I’ve been through the riots and burnings, the concertina wire and the National Guard, first hand. Not a voyeur, couch-bound and staring at the tube, but right out there in the weeds, a participant in the madness. Many times I’ve been fired on with automatic weapons, and not in Southeast Asia or the Afghanistan desert, but right here. The good old USA. I’ve had vehicles shot out from under me, humped railroad tracks while taking fire, huddled behind trees as bullets cut through the branches, and dozens of other things I care not to do anymore. I’ve risked my life time and time again for people like you, while outnumbered and out-gunned, and I’ve done it anyway…not because I’m a hero, not because I’m brave…but for the same reason almost anybody else does it. I promised I would.
I worked my first murder scene in 1968, a shotgunning. An eight-year-old boy killed a seven-year-old boy with his father’s twelve-gauge shotgun, a loaded weapon left by the front door because of problems with neighbors. This man was too stupid, too wrapped up in his own macho, too self-centered and uncaring of his child’s welfare to simply unload the weapon and put it away. It was a horrifying, sickening scene, waste beyond wastefulness. As profoundly as it affected me, not for one instant did I blame the gun.
As far as those with the desire to murder are concerned, Jack the Ripper and the Boston Strangler didn’t use guns. Neither did Genghis Kahn, and he certainly managed to kill a few people. If the will is present, the way seethes with possibilities. Even the young man who committed the atrocity in Colorado a few days ago didn’t need guns. He knew how to make bombs. From bicycles to bullets, there are hundreds of ways to kill ourselves or each other. A gun is just another method.
The problem is not gun laws, we have plenty. I watched a lady on television the other morning as she pointed to a hundred-round magazine and claimed it should be banned because it’s only purpose was to kill people. Wrong. The purpose of the magazine is to contain ammunition. Nothing more and nothing less.
The problem is not the police. Cops are in a re-active business. Unless you can afford to hire your own force to be with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the police cannot protect you. Even if you could enlist your own herd of bodyguards, it’s still pretty dicey. Ask the Secret Service.
The problem is not with guns. By itself, a gun is no more that an expensive paperweight. The lust for, and the thrill of, power is the largest villain. It’s part of our human nature. Most of us control it, or manifest it, in more socially acceptable ways. We become government officials, owners of companies, CEO’s, shift supervisors, high school principals, cops, politicians, and the like. Some of us become grade-school bullies, wife beaters, child abusers, rapists, killers, and talk-show hosts. Some of us even serve our lust for power by trying to do away with all the guns, or advocate owning our own personal arsenal to protect ourselves from the United Nations.
The statement is trite; the statement is true. If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. The guns are already out there, and all the laws on the planet won’t control those weapons or that tiny fraction of the population that misuses them.
The true issue is safety. We want to feel safe. We want to know that some severely bent individual will not come into a crowded theater and kill several of us on a well planned whim, bringing sorrow and grief into dozens of families who did absolutely nothing to deserve such horrific abuse. We’d like a guarantee. Sorry. There ain’t none. Safety is an illusion. Of the three big “rights”, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, number three is the only one to which we are entitled. We have no right to liberty or none of us would be in jail. And as for number one, jump out of a boat five miles off the coast of Florida and ask the ocean about your right to life. You will be sadly disappointed.
Some years ago, I took it upon myself to teach women how to effectively use handguns. I decided to instruct only women because women are that segment of our population most controlled by fear. People, they will hopefully never meet, tell them when they can go out, where they can drive, what time of day they can freely move about, where they can park, what laundromat they can use, on and on. It was, and is, a very rewarding experience for me to watch the empowerment that comes to a woman as she masters the use of a firearm. The loss of perceived helplessness and the gain of confidence is marvelous to see. One thing I did not do was teach self-defense. The very term implies that someone is already a victim. I taught women how to resist violence with overwhelming counterattack. From me they learned, when there is no other choice, when there is no other option, when the situation is in the gravest extreme, how to kill someone attempting to harm them.
Those wonderful women were prepared to accept the responsibility for their own lives and not blame their fate on an inanimate object. Responsibility is the ability to respond. A lot of whiners don’t want us to have it, just as a lot of fools would have us band together and do it for everybody. The ability to respond in the gravest extreme is not something a group, government, or police officer can do for us. Laws, gnashing of teeth, screaming of platitudes, pointing of fingers…none of that will help. Taking responsibility, or assuming the ability to respond, does. And yet, it seems most of us are more concerned with fighting plaque than fighting for our lives.
To become a victim does not require us to be victimized. It is a mindset. It is an attitude that is becoming alarmingly widespread. Taking care of ourselves is loosing popularity. Well, understand this: the most certain way for any animal to attract a predator, is to appear weak.