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The Way of The Gun

"Gun control means using both hands in my land..."

De La Soul

I got to know guns, and the damage they can do, fairly early in life. I was only about five or six when the best friend of my then-teenage uncle died after being shot in his leg. In my first week of high school, a young man was gunned down near campus during a fight. By the time I graduated 12th grade, I had lost more friends to . 38-caliber tragedies than I cared to count — and the body count kept mounting right on through my college years and beyond. By age 25, I'd had, on two separate occasions, been forced to load bloody, convulsing gunshot victims into cars so that they could be rushed to hospitals. (One guy didn't make it.)

In spite of all that, I'm a legal gun owner. Pistols, shotguns, rifles — I've had 'em all. I once even flirted with the idea of joining the NRA, and I might have actually done it if I wasn't certain that my donations would be used to help defeat progressive political candidates. And I don't own guns for fun or to prove my devotion to the Second Amendment, either. As harsh as it sounds, if I'm honest about it, I have to admit that I own guns for one primary purpose: To shoot other people. Granted, I'm talking about people who would maim or kill me and my family, but still, other human beings.

So yeah, I believe guns can help you manage certain threats. But I also believe it's extremely dangerous to rely on guns to help you manage your fear of those threats. A gun isn't some magic force field that will safeguard you from any and all danger. Guns don't make you invincible, just that much more dangerous.

That's why, when I see gun owners making arguments to openly carry weapons to places like the upcoming Arts, Beats & Eats cultural festival in Royal Oak, I'm left shaking my head. I mean, I know what the law may say, but do you really need a sidearm at an outdoor festival that'll be attended by tens of thousands of people in one of the most granola suburbs in our area? Doesn't Royal Oak have a police department? Are that many metro Detroit gun owners that given over to paranoia?

Douglas Holloway of Westland said he would leave his gun at home if his safety and that of his family could be guaranteed at the event.

"I don't think anyone can do that," he told Royal Oak city commissioners. "You can't stop criminals."

So stay your ass at home then if that's how you feel.

This isn't about rights, to me. It's about reason. I mean, being able to imagine a threat doesn't make it plausible. Walking to the ATM at night or jogging through a park or pulling into your darkened driveway, you'd be smart to be packing. But strolling among street artists and smiling couples and little kids chowing down on BBQ chicken wings? For this you need a gun bulging from your hip holster? Oh, I'm sure you could concoct some Jack Bauer-esque scenario that would call for you whipping out the Smith & Wesson 1911, but again, how reasonable is that?

Growing up, I'd always hear the dudes who stayed strapped going on about how "I wish a motherf----- would..." They had their guns and not only were they willing to use them, they were looking for an excuse to do so.  Sure, they may have been random thugs rather than legitimate gun owners, but the motivation was the same as what I sense in this debate over guns at the festival. They were afraid and deluded, desperate to show strength and possessed of unreasonable expectations of how their gun would help them deal with their anxieties. Needless to say, this led to more than a few of the shootings that still scar my memories.

Think legal gun owners can't fall victim to the same unchecked emotions? Edward Bell was a licensed gun owner. He was 65 years old, a hard-working Detroiter and by all appearances a responsible man. And yet when thrown into the heat of a serious incident in May, a carjacker making off with his ride, Bell didn't act reasonably, intelligently. The thief had already taken his car without harming him. The actual "threat" was gone, speeding away in Bell's SUV. But the fear and the anger, they still lingered. So instead of calling the cops, Bell ran up the block shooting at the carjacker. One of his bullets killed 69-year-old Geraldine Jackson as she made dinner for her family.

She died because a licensed gun owner lost control and made a serious mistake. It wasn't just that Bell couldn't stop a threat. It's that he let emotions and knee-jerk reactions turn him into one.

I'm not suggesting that the Arts, Beats & Eats Festival will become a shooting gallery because legal gun owners are openly carrying. But neither do I believe a band of super-crooks will descend on Main Street (yes, that really is the name of one of Royal Oak's big thoroughfares) to rob old ladies of their cotton candy and take children hostage near the face-painting booths.

All I'm saying is, of the two scenarios, the latter is a risk I think reasonable folks should be willing to take.

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