This is not a rhetorical question, though, according to my husband, it may be one that I come to regret asking in a public forum like this.
When I told him I was going to write an article about what happened in a gun shop the other day, he winced, "I hope you're ready for the fallout."
I guess I am, because I want to tell you the story and ask you what you think. I have come away from the whole experience with less "knowing" than I thought I had when I went in.
Allow me to start by saying I am a gun owner. I have several weapons and I respect all of them. I treat them with the care they demand and I am properly licensed. I have, thank God, always used them solely for target practice. I do not eat meat and do not hunt (though I admit that if there were ever an emergency and I needed to hunt in order to feed my family, I would reluctantly do so).
Mostly, I have them for home defense. I also, however, have a concealed carry permit. In my mind, carrying a gun in public has always had a dual consequence. It has not only implied that I can take care of myself, it has also meant that I have to be able and ready to to defend someone else if that is appropriate and necessary. I do not suffer from the delusion that I am a cop, nor am I secretly looking for opportunities to be a hero. I pray it never ever comes to that, but it is part of the deal (and responsibility) as far as I've been concerned.
The Case of The Sweltering Pup
In any event, this is what happened. It is an ordinary day. We are walking into a gun store to make a purchase. As we approach the building, we notice a dog languishing in a car with the windows only cracked open. It is in the mid-90's and the sun is searing. I point it out to my husband and he cringes, already knowing that I'm going to do something.
I have to sidetrack for a moment to acknowledge that he and I come from different worlds. In his, where everyone carried a gun, a person didn't get involved in another person's private affairs, even if those affairs were morally offensive. "Live and let live" was the Rocky Mountain tao by which he was raised.
My conscience was directed by different forces. What was perhaps the strongest code in my family was Edmund Burke's maxim: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." We not only believed in intervention, we actually intervened. We picked up clothes that other people dropped in department stores, stood between abusive parents and their babies, or wrote to congressmen and marched on Washington or the U.N.
When you saw something wrong, particularly something life-threatening, Justice was spelled with a capital J and doing nothing was not an option.
In any case, he was right about what was soon to happen. I walked into a store full of men with guns and told the clerk about the dog. "If you guys don't take care of it, I'm calling the cops." They said they would deal with him.
With a few questions, they found the man who needed to bring his dog to the firing range so he could leave him in a closed car in the parking lot in summer. They told him it was "unacceptable" and then they let him go back into the range to continue firing. The dog was still in the car. I waited a little while, then I went outside and called the police.
They came within about five minutes. And the guy, squealing and bleating in shamed protest, finally took his dog home, where hopefully he will live to see another day.
A Psychological Reality Check
I expressed my utter confusion about this to my husband when we got home. I couldn't understand how a store full of men with guns couldn't promptly and properly deal with a coward and a dog bully.
He said I misunderstood or misinterpreted gun ownership and that a good number of gun owners do not have guns out of any sense of duty and don't necessarily develop a sense of duty out of having guns. They have no bearing on one another. Many gun owners are profoundly honorable and benevolent people. But not because they have guns. Rather because they were raised well.
Most, he said, have guns for either sport or self-defense. It is a private matter. And it has no bearing on a sense of responsibility for anyone else.
I was surprised and still confused. But, but, but ... I kept asking him: Didn't the having of a gun at least bring some semblance of duty to bear on a person? All he could do was say, "They're just not the same thing, is all."
So, I called a friend of mine, a detective and CSI whose opinion and intelligence I have come to trust. I told him the story and he laughed and asked me, "So, you're living where?"
I told him.
"And the culture there says what about privacy and animals?"
I shut my mouth and let him continue. I had already begun to see the light.
"To stand up, they'd first of all have to agree it's wrong. What's the mentality of the place you're in? To them, you're probably crazy. Plus, you think that because you know mostly people who do get involved -- like cops or fire fighters or medics -- that everyone with a gun is thinking the same way. They don't necessarily want to be involved at all and don't want anyone else to be involved with them. They're not all that interested in being helpful. They're interested in maintaining a perimeter between them and the rest of the world."
It came to this: guns don't make the man. Quite the reverse.
So, sadly, it seems that the world is still as apathetic as it was when Kitty Genovese was killed in a parking lot in Queens, NY with a dozen people watching, none of whom called 911. I may have to accept this, but I don't have to like it. Just like I will never become the person who walks past the panting dog or crying child in the car and clucks their disapproval without putting any punch in their protest. Some things are worth the risk and the alienation, as far as I'm concerned. And to tell you the truth, I'd do it again.
A while back I was visiting friends in a suburb of NYC. We are walking down the street minding our own business. A woman screeches up to the sidewalk, yanks her kids out of the car, screams at them and leaves them sitting and crying on a park bench. She takes off in the car. My friends and I look at each other in stunned silence for approximately .05 second and immediately corral the children. I call 911.
They put me on hold! I should've known right there that something was up. But, caught up in the moment, I stand there like a numskull and wait. The mother drives back up and whines about how no one understands how hard her life has been and how they were driving her crazy and it was just a little lesson...etc... I told her to back away and wait to give her story to the police.
As things went from terse to truly tense, out of the bushes pop up a sound man, a couple of 20 year old girls with release forms, and John Quinones from "What Would You Do?"
I guess we answered the question our way. And no one was carrying a gun.
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