As it turned out, yesterday, before I’d heard any news of the Sandy Hook massacre, I’d decided, upon returning home from an errand, to have lunch with my first grader, Margot. Her school is under a half mile from our house, also a neighborhood school. She eats at 10:30—what with Julia Green being overcrowded, they have to rotate kids through the lunch room in early bird fashion. Before I entered, I noticed there were workmen on the roof, and an extension cord was running from the main office to the top of the building, which propped open the door. Consequently, I didn’t have to be buzzed in by the secretary. But, of course, the secretary, Ms. Stark, whose daughters I’d taught when they were at Harpeth Hall, knows me—to the degree, that is, that anyone knows anyone—and would’ve buzzed me right in anyway, as she does everyone, I imagine, who comes to the door, right?
I came home afterward and, surfing for a second before resuming work, jumped onto CNN.com. At the time they were reporting three people injured in the shooting, but within a half hour, everyone knew it was much worse than that.
Let me share with you my numerous experiences with violent crime, gun crime particularly. Sometimes I feel like I’m cursed.
I certainly did at Holland House a couple of years ago, when our New York friends, Amanda and Larry, were in Nashville to see a Predators game and asked us to join them for a late dinner at East Nashville’s Holland House. About a half hour into our meal, two masked gunmen entered the restaurant—one with a sawed-off pump action shotgun, the other carrying a pistol—told everyone to get on the ground, and robbed the place. The guy with the pistol went to one side of the establishment, into the kitchen; the other took the bar’s money and then patrolled the booths for valuables. I was lying on my back, my hands folded behind my head, as if I were at the beach, muttering to myself about my fate, that it was my destiny to get capped thus, since it was my third time being held up at gunpoint.
I guess it was my way of dealing with the situation. Later, I’d think about how the dude with the shotgun calmly strolled toward our table, looking me right in the eye, and took, of all things, my Blackberry. If I’d been armed, I thought later, in my vainglorious and after-the-fact videogame dreams, I could’ve shot him at close range, but further analysis stared spooling contingencies. What about the other guy, then? Would he have fled? Or would we have exchanged gunfire in the restaurant? Who else would we have managed to shoot in the process, if anyone? Had I been killed, or killed someone, or the gunman, would it have been worth the scant cash I carried, or my Blackberry? It seems to be an experience one shouldn’t wish for. Afterward, while we were all getting seriously drunk to soften our adrenal crash, I was thankful for two things: that no one was hurt and that the police showed up late enough for the two men to get away. Who knows what would’ve happened if they’d arrived in time for a standoff?
Of course there was also my 2001 incident at Nashville’s Sevier Park. At the time, I was working at the Scene, editing our Best of Nashville Issue. I had a long night of work ahead of me and so at 6 p.m. I bolted home to let my dogs, Henry and Tucker, out for a while. I grabbed my six-foot-long lacrosse stick—I was a defensemen in high school and college—a ball, and loaded the boys up, choosing the dicier location over Elmington Park, which was farther from our home then. It was twilight when we arrived, two women were just leaving with their dogs, and within a minute of playing fetch I heard someone say, “Yo!” and turned to see two youths approaching from the top of the hill. “Here we go,” I thought, drawing on too many experiences to count, “I’m about to get mugged.” But I had my dogs with me, a weapon, and, by God, wasn’t I also was a state champion wrestler. Let us have at it. Here’s what I didn’t do: run. And that moment of hesitation, be it from social training or the dictates of the super-ego—whatever makes you assume the world isn’t deadly—might’ve been my undoing.
Both kids, for they were no more than seventeen, were heavily armed. The one who’d called out had a Tec-9, the hived suppressor on it so long he had to carry it in two hands. The other had a .38, which he was brandishing gangland style, grip parallel to the ground and barrel pointed at my face. I was stunned by the artillery present, utterly speechless. They stood by my sides. “Get on your knees,” the kid with the Tec-9 said. He got no reaction from me—I was still too gob smacked by all the firepower—so he cracked me across the temple with the suppressor. This left a perfectly circular welt, which I’m thankful to say I was able to show my wife later. The experience also permanently destroyed my deterrent fantasy that a fierce looking dog (Tucker, our blue heeler, was big for his breed, with a bobbed tail and Shepherd’s ears, not one to be messed with) would keep you safe in a dark park.
“Get on your knees,” the thug repeated, and I did, at which point, Tucker, latched onto the other perp’s calf and began to do his death roll. Here we’ve arrived at the other great macho fantasy: that your dog, however big, might do a Rin Tin Tin and save the day. In fact, it only made a grim situation worse. The guy screamed, told me to call the dog off or he’d shoot him. I, meanwhile, did the thousand-yard stare, said: “I can’t make him do anything,” at which point Tucker miraculously relented and, along with our border collie, lay down, panting. The assailants then put both weapons to my temples and said, “Empty your pockets.” And here, reader, I had that clichéd mental event you’ve heard about but perhaps thought non-existent: the out-of-body experience. I teleported a good fifteen feet away and stood watching this scene: Two black kids with their weapons to the temples of a kneeling man, a lacrosse stick laying across his thighs. At this point, I had a clear thought uttered like a whisper: “You’re going to hear two pops and then you’re dead.”
But they took my wallet and loped off.
I won’t bore you with the story of my late 80s drug buy on 87th and Amsterdam with Michael Dorrian, Jon Flanagan, and the not-yet-preppie-murderer Robert Chambers, which nearly ended with us being shot by a crack dealer packing a .45. I’ll also spare you the story of the kid I got into a fight with while I rode the uptown bus to school my senior year, who pulled a Bigfoot lock-blade on me that I didn’t see while we were having words nose to nose and also wasn’t murderous enough to disembowel me in those seconds of unawareness, and whose wrist I ended up breaking in the fight that ensued, and made me something of a legend among Trinity’s lower classmen present, none of whom came to my aid, mind you, none being as brave or selfless as Sandy Hook’s principle or psychologist, the pair who ran toward the gunshots (fuck y’all who hate teachers unions) as we were locked in mortal combat, which it was.
Unfortunately, unbelievably, I could go on—I was first mugged when I was five—but I’ll spare you those stories as well as the foiled attempts (in middle school, come spring, I started carrying a baseball bat to Trinity, and once had to use it) that still didn’t educate me enough to avoid the one I’d described earlier, because one is blessedly not educated enough in a civilized society. But here’s my point:
The idea that anyone only partially trained carrying a concealed weapon could’ve prevented or, at least, limited the deaths in Aurora or CT, is ludicrous. We the civilized are civilized because we walk around like citizens, not soldiers. We don’t expect crime. We may be street smart, but we aren’t trigger-ready or battle tested, and even the well-trained (see New York City’s recent Empire State building shooting) miss. A lot. In other words, we’re not first to draw and last to shoot. It’s opposite, if we even draw.
We react to the crime, and we react late. Being civilized, the lag is what the criminal relies on.
So let’s please drop the personal defense argument. Or, put another way, name three instances off the top of your head when an armed citizen took out a criminal. I can’t either. And pre-crime technology, with all of its fascist implications, doesn’t exist yet.
I don’t want my daughters in a school where teachers are armed.
I don’t want my teachers armed. Using deadly force isn’t part of the job description. Teachers, for some kids, are scary enough. Teachers, for some kids, aren’t scary at all. Dig?
Heightened security, albeit important, is always an after-the-fact band aid. To whit: American airline security. Yes, let us please review safety procedures at our schools. But remember, once the lockdown’s taken place, someone’s already in your kid’s school, shooting up the joint.
I don’t want to take guns away from responsible owners. Let them go to the range with their kids and shoot as many targets as they like. Or animals, for that matter.
Here are my humble suggestions for reasonable stricter gun controls:
1. You must be thirty years or older to own a gun. That way, your psychological history is well-enough established that any flags would appear on a background check.
1a. The background check must include an applicant’s medical/psychological history; or at least it must be accessible.
2. As to the background check, make the one to get a firearm really fucking expensive. Like at least a thousand bucks.
2a. Add a prohibitive safety tax to the purchase of any handgun that is proportional to its firepower. So you have to pay, say, an additional $1000 tax on an AR-15 Tactical rifle, as well as on its bullets. The latter will be known as the Chris Rock tax.
3. Have the money raised by these taxes fund more school psychologists and give them a more active role in educating their student bodies about warning signs among peers. Make them the vanguard defending our schools from within. You won’t prevent all crimes but you’ll prevent some.
But Christ Almighty, do something.
Thoughts? Feelings? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.