Each morning, as is my wont, I stop by Carol’s 16th Street Gourmet,
which we have laughingly re-named Carol’s Psychic Gourmet, since Carol
knows after your first visit what you will order every day from then on
Carol specializes in simple, mouthwatering “Mom’s cooking,” stuffed
peppers and shepherd’s pie and eggplant lasagna and pasta with spinach
pesto. She’s a tall rangy blond in her 30s, with a taste for good books
and big ideas, and a magnificent way with sweet corn chowder and piquant
conversation. Carol’s husband Pete, shorter, darker, wirier, is the
building maintenance engineer for a neighboring art deco-style luxury
high-rise. She’s an extrovert; he’s an introvert. It works.
We’re talking about guns, during a lunch lull, how Carol doesn’t have
a gun and doesn’t want one. How she’s had two small “incidents” in three
years. One was a Halloween Trick-or-Treat rampage when mothers watched
approvingly as their kids stuffed candy off Carol’s shelves into their
costume pockets. The other: two little children, a boy and a girl from
the nearby middle school on Lombard Street, came in and kept looking
over at her. “I know if they’re watching me watch them watch me, it’s
not a good sign,” Carol says, “and then the girl took two packs of
chewing gum. NO YOU DON’T, I said to her, GET BACK IN HERE, YOU’RE NOT
GOING ANYWHERE WITH THOSE! Later when I saw her sitting on the stoop
next door waiting for the bus, I told her, You better watch it, I know
ALL your teachers.”
Just then, a young African American man, a reporter for the black
newspaper down the block, enters the store, orders the Friday special of
white clam chowder and the chicken-mustard-green bean casserole, and
jumps into the discussion. Yes, he agrees with my premise; this country
like so many others WAS built on guns and genocide. “If it was kill or
be killed, I’d defend my life with a gun, but not my property,” he says,
then launches into vivid descriptions of Yakuza attitudes toward
weapons, how Samurais would sharpen their swords on the backs of live
bodies, and the time an elderly grandmother storekeeper shot the back
off a little girl’s skull for some minor mischief and got off scot-free.
I started writing this gun story a day or two before the Columbine
Massacre. Lately, the world feels very dangerous, like a bad
neighborhood at 2 a.m. — it’s true, even if G. Gordon Liddy said it
first. Three little kids in South Philadelphia were playing with a .44
caliber gun they had found under a car; the gun went off, and, soon,
Nafis Jefferson, a seven-year-old boy, was dead. It got me. Senseless,
gut-wrenching, but it didn’t make the national news. The “killer” and
“victim” weren’t “good copy.” They didn’t sport black trench coats or
spout crypto-Nazi slogans, and they certainly weren’t old enough to see
out of the front windshield of a BMW, let alone drive one to the crime
I am trying to understand the passion so many people have for guns.
I hate killing, and guns kill … don’t they?
It’s hard for me to imagine Charlton Heston, for example, Moses one
minute, head of the NRA the next. Though I have come to understand that
some true patriots actually consider the National Rifle
Association this country’s premier gun control
lobby. You sure could have fooled me.
OK, I understand that patriots and other gun guys and gals believe
the right to bear arms as guaranteed
by the Second Amendment of the Constitution is every American’s
birthright and our bedrock of freedom. That’s an interesting theory.
Further, I suspect they feel that to keep our country truly free
depends on an armed citizenry and perhaps even arsenal-stocked militias
as a countervailing force against both corrupt bloated bureaucratic
centralism and exponentially multiplying hordes of the great
multicultural unwashed who at any moment, give or take a decade, may
suddenly decide to rise up and assert themselves in incendiary
rebellions, thus fomenting the next Civil War. Did I get it right?
D’ya know in 1996, handguns were used to murder 2 people in New
Zealand, 15 in Japan, 30 in Great Britain, 106 in Canada, 213 in Germany
and 9,390 in the United States, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?
Didja realize having guns around the house increases your risk of
death? They say people who keep guns at home nearly triple their chances
of being murdered, usually by friends or relatives, but fail to protect
themselves from intruders. The National Rifle Association, of course,
rejects this notion with masterful Orwellian double-think: “These people
were highly susceptible to homicide. We know that because they were
Can you imagine a movie with nearly 200 million firearms in
the hands of U.S. private citizens? It’s here, playing at a theater in
your neighborhood, and it’s not “The Matrix,” it’s your life.
If ever there was an Us-and-Them situation, this is it. Who do you
believe? The Handgun Control, Inc. lobby? The NRA, which as of this
writing is still planning on holding a reduced version of its annual
convention May 1 in Denver — within shooting, er, shouting distance of
bloody, battered Littleton? Everyone has an opinion
(news.talk.politics.guns) about guns, don’t they?
Growing up in Jersey, I believed only killers had guns.
I was not swayed one whit by the pomp and circumstance of the
ceremonial firepower I saw at all those U.S. Army parades I was brought
to by my Signal Corps engineer daddy.
I lost my teenage crush on Arthur – down – the – street – who – went – hunting
the instant I found out he actually shot, killed, and ate a squirrel.
In college sociology class we learned that British Bobbies didn’t
carry weapons because private property in England wasn’t worshipped the
way it was in America.
I once knew a woman, “Honey,” let’s call her, picked up a guy in a
bar and brought him back to her house where he pulled a gun out of a
hidden holster and put his gun on the night-table before having sex with
her, but Honey, I have to tell you, could not slip into rapture because
she was worried what he “might do” to her with his weapon. He didn’t do
anything. He went home to his wife.
My former next-door neighbor Irv’s house was robbed by two skinny
young inner-city kids who slipped in through a front screen and stole a
stereo set and what I thought was one gun, which later turned out to be
three. THREE GUNS STOLEN BY DANGEROUS PIPSQUEAKS! I could just imagine
the shrieking newspaper headlines. The thought of two young unsupervised
kids of any color or culture walking around my neighborhood with three
guns gave me the creeps.
Where did I read that each day 135,000 American kids bring guns or
other weapons to school? I was really mad at Irv my neighbor for being
so careless. How, I asked Irv (not his real name), could he have left so
many guns laying around, and why? “Easy,” says Irv, a burly blustery
Rodney Dangerfield lookalike. “At night, when I get into bed, I unhook
my leg,” he motions to his prosthesis, “and take it off. If I hear
someone downstairs, and I don’t have time to strap my leg back on, the
guns are an equalizer.”
Yikes! Some guy breaks in, just walks in through Irv’s front door
late one night, and Irv’s ready for him at the head of the stairs. “OK,
sucker, you come any closer,” Irv warns, “I get to blast you to kingdom
come.” The dude practically pees himself, flees just as Irv starts to
pull the trigger.
I think many guys must enjoy making that specific kind of contact,
the crack of gunpowder, the spasm of release, the propulsion of bullet
against blood and bone and flesh. The Warrior thing, which they can’t
satisfy by football or sexual conquest or lawn-mowing alone. Or maybe it
goes back to the primitive rush some fellas feel from hunting, which is
NOT replicated — I don’t care WHAT those gender idiots Rob Becker and
John Grey say — by guys capturing the TV remote.
What is my own personal inherent hesitation about guns? Perhaps it’s
my belief only God, or the Goddess, can kill; all others pay cash.
I ask my Internet friend “Treetoplover,” not his real name, why he
has guns. “Cause they are cool, they feel good in your hand, you can …
POW, POW, POW with them,” he jokes.
“Guns? Gee, they’re neat. Guns and broads,” gibes my friend Bruce who
writes for Time, Inc., before I shoo him away.
Historian Joel A. Ruth gives a more serious consideration of guns,
tracing their role in the formation of our nation: “Guns are an
essential part of American culture. They always have and always will be.
The nation was carved out of the wilderness by an armed populace which
needed guns to protect themselves from savages, bandits and wild animals
– and as an essential tool of nutrition. A gun is manhood. America was
made by the gun, sustained in power by it and by the gun she will either
survive or perish.”
Today, Ruth says, guns are necessary “to protect God-fearing citizens
from the savages of our concrete jungles in addition to playing an
important role in the ecological balance of animal populations. But most
importantly, guns are needed to assure our safety and liberty from the
ever increasing encroachment of a tyrannical, dehumanizing, central,
imperial one world government, the taskmasters of the new-world
plantation orchestrated from the U.N. and Wall Street.”
In traditional tribal societies, he continues, “only free men could
bear arms. Slaves could not. Once disarmed,” Ruth reminds us, “citizens
of nations are no longer citizens, but rather subjects and slaves. So
tread not on me. …”
Finally I’m beginning to get a better grasp of the gun mentality.
Certainly it’s a reasonable perspective. Informed vigilance, if you
will. But for a contrasting viewpoint, I turn to ever-perspicacious
writer, performance poet and parent of two boys Sandy Crimmins, whose
current CD, Iowa Summer plumbs the
emotional undercurrents of America’s heartland. “Our society isn’t doing
right by boys, who are much more likely to be drugged with Ritalin and
Prozac than girls — boys who feel emotionally abandoned by their
parents when they reach ‘manhood,’ and who pick up guns as solutions to
life’s problems. Of course you can draw the conclusion that if the boys
were three years older, most Americans wouldn’t blink at sending them to
Kosovo with an even bigger gun.”
While Pam Ladds, a British-born nurse-turned-Philadelphia
psychotherapist, brings women, and gender politics, into the picture:
“Somehow in America guns are equated with individual rights, power and
freedom. I’d like to think it was only a male thing but of course it
isn’t! Women pack dainty little pistols too! It isn’t about protection
– although that is the excuse! — it is much more about feeling
powerful,” she observes. “Apparently we feel totally inadequate without
‘something’ else. There is more intensity about ‘the right to bear arms’
– which of course was only for white males when the Constitution was
written — than any other part of the Constitution. And that somehow
still plays into it — if I don’t have a gun I’m not a real man (read
white intact property owning MAN). Of course the Freudian interpretation
would to equate guns with [the penis]. And Freud was probably right!”
Going international, gun-owner/printer/history buff RC from Frisco
comments: “Guns are great. If it weren’t for ‘guns’ we’d still be
kissing the butts of Prince Charles and their shiftless ilk,” he
declares. “I have a few. Not an ‘arsenal’ by any means. I’m gonna get me
a handgun. And here’s one for you — if you take the Second Amendment at
its meaning, we should ALL have the ‘right’ to have tanks, bombers, even
nuclear weaponry, for the intent of the Second Amendment was that the
citizenry never be ‘out-gunned’ by ‘the government’. …”
Zat right? “Of course, when they wrote it,” RC says, “they only had
matchlocks, flintlocks and the like, and though it had revolutionized
warfare, the pike and sword were still the dominant force, but, you know
… if you have a well-armed citizenry, it’s hard for a guy like Hitler
to come along with his SS and deprive you of your rights. … The Jews
in Germany could have used a few guns. … I don’t wanna trade ‘freedom’
for ‘security’ when it’s only ‘security’ as long as the ‘good guys’
remain ‘good guys.’ Sorry, I’ll quit ranting,” he apologizes.
“Can I give you one more interesting fact though? In 1989, maybe
September or October, a guy named Patrick Edward Purdy walked onto a
Stockton California schoolyard with an AK-47 and murdered 5 or 6
schoolchildren … little ones. … This was on the eve of the
California Legislature voting on the most repressive gun control act yet
seen in the state. … Coincidence?
“Well, Purdy had been traveling al around the country, yet had no job
or known source of income. … He’d been under a psychiatrist’s care I
think and had been taking valium [one of the psychotropic drugs that
seem to be popular with a lot of these 'lone nuts' these days]. … On
his gun stock,” says RC, “were carved the lightning SS runes and
‘hezbollah.’ … Some have speculated that he was under a form of
‘mind-control.’” Others theorized he was a CIA tool.
“See, and when it’s ‘the children’, well, we’ll probably let them get
away with a lot more when ‘the children’ are at ‘risk.’ Purdy had been
hanging around with some Nazis too. … Neo-Nazis, I mean, though I
eschew the term ‘neo.’ The children he killed were Asian,” RC notes.
“Most commentators, however, said the real problem was Americans’
refusal to tighten gun control laws. ‘The latest murders, like the
tormenting series of previous ones, could have been avoided if the
United States were an unarmed society,’ the liberal Frankfurter
Rundschau newspaper [in Germany] said in an editorial.”
What does RC think about that? “I think it’s all rubbish. When you
feed a young soul a steady diet of ultra-violence for 17 or 18 years
what the hell do people expect is gonna happen? Most people can handle
it, but there’s always a few people who’re unstable in one way or
another, and as we become more populous, that number grows too,” he
adds. “Guns have been around for 500 years and yet this was never a
common occurrence, even during the ‘Wild West.’ It’s the result of a
devaluation of human life. Our ‘media’ has been systematically
de-sensitizing us to violence for 25 or 30 years.
“I suppose you could look at the statistics and you’d see a rise in
the rate of violent crime in that same period, and it’d only grow –
maybe not exponentially, but rapidly — and yet, it’s blamed on ‘guns,’
” says RC. “They also rigged up simple propane tanks as bombs — should
we outlaw barbeques too?”
That’s a good question, RC, when you consider how toxic charred
carcinogenic meat is.
Just then, Keith Edwards, a philosophically inclined communications
specialist from New Jersey, shows up online to offer a savvy summary of
some salient points on both sides of the gun issue. “My feelings about
guns are as mixed as the commentary that comes through the media,” he
replies. “Guns are useful for protection. They must be respected with
appropriate limitations. We must maintain the right to guns because the
U.S. government with its abusive agencies is often our biggest enemy. We
must do something about the adults who supply kids with guns. I think we
need more effort in this area. I remember some of the things I did when
I was a kid and, in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t have access to more
“As is often the case,” he points out, “the marketers are the worst
criminals in the entire issue. Their profit motives crowd out their
common sense. As with cigarette marketing, so with guns. I have no
absolute opinions in the matter but I do have a lot of thoughts. I
prefer not to be taken seriously by the masses or by the government.
Those who think will see the wisdom. For those who do not I prefer not
to be noticed. I’d rather hear from thinkers than people with opinions,
Later on, while I’m finishing up writing this piece, RC from Frisco
has an afterthought: ‘”When they came for the gun-owners, I was a little
worried, but after all, I was not a gun-owner … and so I did nothing,”
RC muses. “Well, the gun’s just like any other tool. I can kill someone
with a screwdriver or a power-drill. On the other hand, I’ve had guns
pointed at me. It’s mighty scary. So, well, I can understand the fear of
the people who want to throw away all guns, I really can. But I think
that once you give up a ‘right’ you never, ever re-gain it without a
massive struggle. I’m not knee-jerk about my advocacy, I mean, this
elected representative in California wants to limit gun purchases to one
gun every 30 days to keep people from buying a bunch and then selling
them to others. I could go along with that, but the thing is, I don’t
trust ‘the government’ any more than I trust ‘the criminals.’ ”
Who can you trust?