Whatever Happened to Crazy?

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 adamrosswrites@gmail.com.