Over the years, I’ve written several columns on guns, and picked rhetorical buckshot out of my hide each time. Talking about firearms just sets some people off.
For advocating gun control, I’ve been called a moronic idiot and a lot worse. My manhood, virility, and — as if it matters — sexual orientation have been questioned. But I’ve always suspected the guys bragging about their big guns are compensating for a lack of size elsewhere.
What does bother me, though, is that in a country that still celebrates the frontier spirit, we’re becoming a nation of cowards and neurotics, gripped and governed by exaggerated fears of other people, especially people unlike ourselves. George Zimmerman saw something in hoodie-clad Trayvon Martin that made the unarmed African-American teenager a target.
Unfortunately, young Martin’s needless death didn’t change much. Nor did the slaughter of 26 people — 20 of them children — at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut nearly a year ago, by a gunman wielding an AR-15 assault rifle with a 30-round magazine. Since then, state and local governments have promoted more lax gun laws and wider latitude to use lethal force.
Last month, members of the Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives approved a measure that would modify the state’s concealed-weapons law, expanding the circumstances in which people can shoot to kill. For good reason, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police oppose the so-called stand-your-ground bill.
Ohio laws already state that people need not retreat in areas of personal domain, such as their homes. Extending that space to anywhere a person has a legal right to be invites vigilantism. Someone will die unnecessarily.
A recent Texas A&M study found that stand-your-ground states showed a “statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters,” without decreasing incidents of burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault.
THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
With their focus on crime and violence, the media have stoked our fears, especially of urban areas. Nationwide, violent gun crime has dropped dramatically in the past two decades. Still, most Americans think it’s more of a problem now than ever before, according to a Pew Research Center study released in May.
Just after I moved to Toledo early this year, I met a woman who said she had quit going to Chicago to shop because she couldn’t carry her concealed weapon to protect herself.
Protect herself from what? An irate customer at the Burberry store? Her chances of getting killed while shopping in downtown Chicago would be less than in a freeway accident driving there.
During the national debate over banning high-capacity magazines, a gun rights advocate on YouTube argued for them because five or six people at the same time might try to kill you. Mind you, he was talking about the streets — not a war zone.
Sure, it’s possible. So is getting crushed by a meteorite. If you’re that afraid of life, you might as well lock the door and stay in the house.
When I lived in Detroit, I knew suburbanites who feared entering the city, or getting out of their vehicle in some parts of town. I’m not sure what they thought was going to happen. Downtown Detroit is about as safe as any other place on the planet.
In my 15 years in Detroit, I spent a lot of time, during the day and night, in the most devastated parts of the city’s east side, where my in-laws lived.
I owned two handguns but left them at home. I never had a problem I couldn’t handle without them. I don’t necessarily oppose CCW laws, but your best weapon is usually your mind.
I bought my first handgun — a .22 caliber — shortly after high school, and later moved up to a Smith and Wesson 9mm semiautomatic. It was a beautiful gun.
When I pulled the slide and heard the metallic click of a round entering the chamber, I felt as though I had an “S” on my chest. I suspect a lot of other young men, facing an uncertain future and feeling a little unsure of themselves, felt the same way.
As I grew older, I learned that carrying a handgun can cause more problems than it solves. It’s close when emotions run hot, and it can force serious split-second decisions that most people aren’t trained to make.
Which brings me to Nathaniel — a guy I knew in Detroit and wrote a column about at the Detroit Free Press two years ago.
Nathaniel was 59, worked as a supervisor at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command center in the Detroit suburb of Warren, and had a spotless record. He carried a 9mm handgun for protection.
One Sunday night, his knucklehead neighbor jumped on Nathaniel’s porch and threatened Nathaniel’s wife. Growing more belligerent, the neighbor reached in his back pocket and began to pull something out. “I got something for you, m-----f-----,” he said.
Nathaniel shot him once in the arm. But police found no weapon on the neighbor (Nathaniel said he saw a knife), and a Wayne County jury sentenced Nathaniel to two years in prison.
The neighbor’s arm healed while Nathaniel sat in an Upper Peninsula prison, 600 miles from his wife and family. When he gets out, he’ll have a felony record that will jam him up for life.
Don’t think that Ohio’s stand-your-ground bill will protect shooters in similar circumstances. People who shoot someone will still have to justify their actions.
From prison, Nathaniel told me he wished he had never gotten a CCW permit. The rest of the country, though, has moved the other way.
Nearly a year after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun-control legislation in Congress is all but dead. States such as Ohio continue to push for even greater latitude to shoot to kill.
The swag is back for some gun-rights advocates. They’re openly carrying firearms into dangerous spots like Starbucks. Two months ago, dozens of them walked through downtown Toledo, some carrying pistols, AR-15 rifles, and shotguns.
I’m not impressed. The next time you see someone carrying an assault rifle into a coffee shop, ask him or her the question we should all ask ourselves:
What are you so afraid of?
Jeff Gerritt is deputy editorial page editor of The Blade.