Sunday, September 07, 2014

Why I can't be trusted with a gun

When we were outside Friday evening, Mateo and I on the porch and Fernando watering a few of the plants in the front yard, a man started scavenging through our recycling. Fernando asked him to stop. He walked away, but from across the street—where we don't know, as we hadn't noticed him before—another man arrived. He began yelling, telling us everyone has a right to go through trash once it's on the street. He overturned a couple of the cans and then told us he was going to do the same thing to us, that he was going to lay us out and fuck us up and a few more things to that effect.

Since he had approached Fernando, I had gotten up. I wanted to get him to back up and back off. Rather than moving away, he rose to what he took to be a challenge. He approached me, started to walk into our yard—keeping himself just at the very edge—and increased the level and volume of his threats. He was clearly dangerous and certainly high (I know what meth looks like) or crazy. It was probably a mixture of the two. Neither one of us is small and I've appeared ominous to people I was trying to befriend. There was nothing rational in challenging us, especially when he hadn't apparently had anything to do with the original situation. I suppose it's possible that he saw himself as a Batman of the streets, but that's not a sign of good judgment, either, even if, as he so clearly discerned and announced, the men you are challenging are "fucking faggots."

So, I went in to get my phone and called the police. I explained what was going on—loudly, as my adrenaline levels were up—and he walked away, having heard me describe him to the dispatcher. As he walked away, yelling, he stripped off identifying clothing.

But, what if I had had something else in my house? What if I could have gone in to get a gun rather than my phone? For me, fight-or-flight is more fight than flight. And, here was a person threatening me and my family and coming onto my property. 

I'm not interested in the legal question of gun control or the Constitutional question. I cannot understand the connection between a well-regulated militia and the right to carry a concealed weapon into a movie theater or onto a campus, but that's not my concern.

Instead, I'm worried about what the presence of a weapon can do. In the last few years, we have seen a number of situations in which the presence of a gun allowed situations to escalate to killings. And, there is something natural and understandable about this. When threatened, it is natural to defend oneself. And, when one wants to defend herself, she will want to do it in the surest way. When a gun is available, use of the gun will be the surest way. And, that will often mean that someone ends up dead. Tools have a way of demanding their use.

Absent a gun, something else has to be done. The situation cannot escalate in quite the same way. It will have to be defused or the police will have to be called or people will have to walk away. 

I understand that one natural response is to ask, "But what if he had a gun?" Of course, he didn't.  The vast majority of people who get in arguments or elicit fear in others doesn't. And, in many of the most highly publicized cases recently—Renisha McBride's case is particularly relevant—the person who ended up dead wasn't armed, but the killer claimed to be afraid and, having a gun, used deadly force to address that claimed fear.

I don't have a gun because I am afraid that I might use it and that I might use it when it wasn't warranted. It might be that I am particularly vicious and so cannot be trusted with weapons. Or, that I am peculiarly prone to anger. Both or either of those might be true. I think there is as much chance that I am a little more reflective on this question and my own proclivities than those who think that weapons don't increase the likelihood that they will be used.

Guns don't kill people, but their possession makes killing more likely.