NIGHTSTANDS AND CLOSETS


About four years ago, I came within six inches of never being able to hike again.  I was at a holiday party given by an acquaintance who was a retired field grade officer in the Air Force.  We had a mutual interest in astronomy—he became an amateur-professional whereas I remained an amateur.  Indeed, he once told me that my eclipse chasing wasn’t really astronomy, so I stopped mentioning it to him.  Then again, back in late 1991, he said the annular eclipse of 4 January 1992, visible from San Diego, was “no big deal.”

Annular solar eclipse 4 January 1992.  It ended before it reached the coast, but from a 300 m high hill, we could see well out into the ocean.  Two hours later, it was pouring rain.

Annular solar eclipse 4 January 1992. It ended before it reached the coast, but from a 300 m high hill, we could see well out into the ocean. Two hours later, it was pouring rain.

Seeing the “ring of fire,” the Moon inside the Sun, set into the ocean, ranks as one of the best natural views I’ve ever seen.  He missed it.  My acquaintance had made some public statements that offended the fringe who believed in odd celestial occurrences.  For that, he told me at the party that he had received death threats.

“Want to see my weapon collection?” he asked.

I didn’t want to, since weapons bother me.  When my father died, we found a handgun in his nightstand and couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.  Fortunately, we knew a deputy sheriff.  My host showed me a laser guided gun on his nightstand, ready to fire in case anybody broke in and tried to kill him.  Wow.  I looked at the gun and saw instant death, oblivion, cessation of existence. Then he showed me his closet with as many weapons as clothes, several different kinds of firearms, any of which probably could have taken out the neighborhood, had he been crazy.  At that point, a samurai sword, unsheathed, dropped from a hanger on to the floor.

Six inches from my left foot.

This is a smart person, but where were the safety checks?  No, this wasn’t a gun, “only” a sword, that could also kill, and a lot faster, had it been grabbed, than a nearby firearm. Had it been a loaded gun and discharged, I could have died instantly.  I never went to another party there again.  It just freaked me out.

Gabby Giffords, who four years ago was shot in the left parietal lobe by a crazy gunman, 4 miles from where I lived, at a store where I almost went that day, was recently at the Capitol to support a bill expanding background checks before firearms are bought.  Such checks are espoused by an overwhelming majority of men, women, Republicans, Democrats, and firearm owners themselves.

The NRA wasted no time tweeting how Giffords’ own shooter passed a background check, omitting the fact that the individual complained about the difficulty he had.  The NRA proffered other examples where background checks were done and firearms were later used in homicides.  That’s like saying somebody in an accident wearing a seat belt died, so we shouldn’t wear seat belts.

We have gun shows where people purchase firearms with no background checks at all.  Video recordings are amazing.  They show things occurring that people still deny, be it buying a gun at a gun show and leaving, without any checks, to denying that one ever said Iraq clearly had weapons of mass destruction.

Will background checks prevent all murders?  Of course not.  Will they make them fewer?  I believe they will, a verifiable prediction.  If I am correct, would not the prevention of one murder be a good thing?  Exactly how are people’s rights to own a firearm infringed?  We don’t have unbridled freedom of speech; why should we have unbridled right to bear arms?

I made the mistake of reading some of the comments at the end of the article.  One guy basically swore at Ms. Giffords; another, while extolling her courage, wanted to make sure his right to protect his family was not infringed.

Does this man think his family is under siege by robbers just waiting to kill him?  Does he not know that the presence of a firearm in a house nearly doubles the likelihood of a mortality there?  It increases the likelihood of a suicide of a man living there thirty-fold.  Could a gun protect him?  Sure.  But a bigger problem is the number of deaths in this country from domestic violence.  Three women a day die here on average from domestic violence. Want to end it?  Make it a lot more difficult for stalkers and people within 2 years of a divorce to own firearms. Why two years?  Not sure, frankly.  It seems like two years is enough time to get over the fact that a relationship is over.  If I am wrong, that could be changed.

Exactly how many people need firearms to protect their families?  Truthfully, I DON’T KNOW.  One of the reasons I don’t is that we don’t have research on this and other issues dealing with gun violence, because the National Rifle (read: Gun) Association has prevailed upon Congress not to allow this to be done by the CDC.  If gun violence isn’t a disease that needs to be controlled, then I’m missing something.  Over ten thousand people a year in this country die from it, triple that if you count suicides; seven times that number are injured.  Had Ebola killed this many, we would have shut the country down.

I’m worried, too, not of being gunned down, but that my car will be vandalized if I put a sticker on it saying “Americans for Responsible Solutions.”  Sam Brownback has signed into law that allows Kansans to carry concealed firearms without a permit and without requiring a gun safety course.  There is a sense that Kansans will do the right thing, and they don’t need the government to tell them how much training or responsibility they need.  There won’t be a blood bath in the streets, they say, this isn’t the Wild West.  Perhaps they are right.  What if they aren’t?  Where is the evidence?  Who is counting?

Each day I read of people gunned down, of children taking guns, pulling the trigger, killing their mother, sibling, friend, or themselves.  I’m not scared I will encounter a situation like that; although it is certainly possible, it is improbable. As one who thinks firearms need to be better controlled, I am unpopular, at least among a vocal, scared, hateful group, not a majority, who nevertheless control the agenda for firearms.

Guns are too slow and too quick.  If you are a teacher with one in your desk drawer, and a mass shooting breaks out, you may well be gunned down before you get it.  If you have one available, and you shoot at what appears to be an attacker, but who isn’t, which almost happened that day in Tucson, then it’s too quick, too final.

After 9/11, we talked about arming pilots.  How does that sound now?

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