Sunday, December 6, 2015

Even In This City

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was watching the news as I got ready to go to work in downtown Portland. All that day, and for weeks thereafter, I got very nervous when I saw an airplane flying overhead, especially if it was (from my perspective anyway) approaching a building. I'm not nervous about that any more - haven't been for years, as it quickly became obvious that the chances of my dying in a terrorist attack were about the same as being attacked by a shark in the Willamette River: not out of the realm of possibility, but extremely unlikely. That's why I don't understand America's obsession with that date, or those events (unless they have a direct personal connection), or our continuing willingness to put up with security theatre that has proven to do more harm than good. Not to mention bombing the hell out of innocent civilians in other countries, but that's not the topic of this post.

The topic of this post is security, and fear, and the need for protection, perceived or real. Specifically, how that plays out in our daily lives. And when I say "our" I'm not talking about people who are required to put themselves in dangerous situations, like police officers or soldiers. I'm talking about Jane and Joe A. Merican, living their lives in any of the fifty states, going to work, coming home tired, taking the kids out to the movies, walking the dog, going to the local shopping mall as I did this morning to pick up things like coat hangers and push pins. Why do they feel the need to carry guns around with them, openly or not, while doing those boringly safe things every day? Will a gun do anything against a suicide bomber? Well-armed US soldiers serving in the Middle East have been killed by such methods by the dozens (if not more) and all their guns did, I imagine, was add to the explosion. "But what about the deranged person who comes in with guns and starts shooting the place up?" I hear you asking. And here's my answer:

If the gun laws in this country were not so ludicrously lax, that deranged person would not have been allowed to buy those guns in the first place.

Before we get into the "responsible people don't" and "hunting puts food on my table" and "my family grew up with guns and we've never shot each other" arguments that get rolled out in these conversations - though strangely enough statistics such as the 10,000 children who are killed or injured by guns every year in the USA rarely come up - let me tell you what happened this morning on the way to the shopping mall. I was walking down 82nd Avenue, enjoying the breezy sunshine, when I happened to notice a car stopped on its way out of a store's parking lot, and a man standing at the driver's side, engaged in what, from my position across the street, looked like a heated argument with the person(s) inside the car. I slowed down, then stopped, then turned around and went back to the previous cross street and went west to 80th Avenue, so that I didn't have to walk past them, even separated by five lanes of pavement. And do you know why?

Not because I was afraid of getting into the middle of a fistfight. I could have run fast enough to avoid that, if a physical fight had broken out and somehow carried on across the street.

Not because I was afraid of being hurt by knives or broken bottles or baseball bats or dead cats, had those been used, for the same reason - I was across the street, after all.

Not because I was worried that I'd be run over in the unlikely event of a car chase, as I could have done exactly what I did do, only more quickly.

I crossed the street because there was absolutely no way I could have avoided stray bullets, if someone had pulled a gun and started shooting. Perhaps I could have made myself thin behind the telephone pole at the end of the block, if there was one (I don't even remember), and even protected a small child if there had been one next to me, but there was no other place to duck for shelter, especially not in the milliseconds it takes for a bullet to travel a few dozen feet.

Now please explain to me why easy access to guns is not the one factor in this morning's scenario that made me so nervous. And please explain this, as well, if you are in the pro-gun and especially the pro-carry camp: why are you voting, organizing, protesting against stricter gun control? As far as I can tell, the only thing that most people are advocating for right now is better oversight and making it harder for people who could pose a danger to others get access to guns and ammunition. Reinstating the Federal Assault Weapons Ban would be nice, as I can't imagine why anyone other than soldiers on active duty would need automatic rifles, but hey, if you can't shoot an elk without arming yourself like Rambo first, that's not my problem. At least not as long as I stay out of the woods during elk season. But taking that weapon to the local shopping mall? What purpose would that serve?

And if you aren't confident that you'd be able to keep your guns under any new legislation because you can't prove that you're responsible, not deranged, will keep your guns locked up away from children, and will use them appropriately, then maybe you shouldn't own those guns.

The bottom line is that so far I have heard no good reason why nearly-unrestricted access to more firearms than currently exist in most countries with active war zones is making me, or my fellow citizens, safer and less nervous. As far as I can tell, it's not making me any safer, and it's definitely making me more nervous. Even in this city.

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