Life in America is changing and very much not for the better. We see more gun-crazy citizens who are armed to the teeth, primed to be afraid, and likely to respond to any provocation or anything out of the ordinary, by opening fire. Often, they use an AR-15, a weapon made for the sole purpose of killing human beings.
We can no longer depend on simple human decency — or even common sense — in our interactions with other Americans.
Turning Down the Volume
Who among us has not, at some time, asked a neighbor to turn down the volume? It may have been too-loud party music, a teenager’s drum solo, a noisy barbecue, or an out-of-control pool party. The cure used to be simple, if not always successful.
You knocked on the door or picked up the phone and asked politely for them to tune it down so the kids could sleep. Then you hoped they made the right choice so everyone in the neighborhood could settle down for the night. If not, you made the decision whether to escalate and call the police or let it ride.
What you didn’t expect was for the neighbor to burst into your house with a military-grade weapon to slaughter you and your family, including an eight-year-old child.
Knocking on the Door
Who among us has not knocked on a stranger’s door to sell Girl Scout cookies or fundraising chocolate bars, to solicit for a charity, to urge the neighbors to vote for your candidate, to ask for signatures on a petition, or even to proselytize for a particular faith?
Why you didn’t expect was for the resident to approach with a loaded weapon and shoot you without even opening the door.
Getting In the Wrong Car
Who among us has not accidentally gone to the wrong car in a parking lot? Maybe you saw four white SUVs in a row or five black sedans that looked pretty much the same. You were distracted by a conversation with a friend, a message on your phone, or a run-through of the game where you were a cheerleader. You got confused.
This one is a little trickier. The owner might have met you with a laugh and a few words that indicated had gotten into the wrong car. If the driver was a male, you might have received a creepy invitation or a too-familiar greeting. What you didn’t expect was for the driver to pull out a gun and shoot you.
A More Neighborly America
Once upon a time in America, we behaved toward one another in a more neighborly way. We did it to be friendly, to keep the peace, to help someone out, or to start a discussion. People didn’t feel threatened by a teenager at the door, or a cheerleader getting into a car, or the guy next door.
Sure, there were guns—although nowhere near as many as there are today. Because of the draft, however, generations of men learned how to handle weapons safely and with respect. The National Rifle Association functioned largely an organization for hunters and it conducted classes on gun safety. The Second Amendment protected the right of a militia to own guns—but not anyone, anywhere, anytime with weapons of mass destruction.
Americans used guns as tools to protect herds from predators, shoot dangerous snakes, and plunk cans off a fence. Sure, there was crime—there is always crime—but no-one screamed “unfair” when the government made machine guns illegal for civilians to own. What law-abiding citizen needed a machine gun?
That has all changed. Thanks to an unholy alliance of the NRA, the Republican Party, and the gun manufacturers, guns have become the response of choice for anything people don’t like.
Gun-Crazy American Since 1992
Despite the recent flurry of such lethal incidents, however, this murderous trend did not start here and now. America has been gun crazy for a long time.
In October of 1992, Japanese exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori went to the wrong door in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, dressed in costume for a Halloween party. He and a friend were looking for #10311 but accidentally knocked on the door of #10131. Neither Hattori, costumed as John Travolta, or his friend, dressed as an accident victim with a neck brace, looked threatening.
Getting no answer, the two boys had turned to leave when Rodney Peairs, a 30-year-old supermarket butcher, opened the door holding a .44 Magnum revolver. Hattori thought they were being admitted to the party and started walking back toward the door. Mr. Peairs shouted “Freeze!” then fired once, hitting Hattori in the chest and killing him.
Americans have forgotten Yoshihiro Hattori’s name—if they ever knew it. The Japanese remember. He was going to a party, but that can be lethal in America.
Open Carr, Open Season
The Unholy Alliance of Three has since passed bills that allow a gun-owner to “Stand Your Ground” or “Defend Your Castle.” They have made it easier for Americans to buy guns, even the assault rifles that were illegal from 1994 to 2004. In many states you cand buy a gun more easily than you can adopt a dog, get a hunting license, or drive a car.
You can carry it openly and take it almost anywhere (except for the Republican National Convention or the NRA Convention), In many states, you don’t need to pass a background check, store it safely, or take any training in how to use the weapon.
If you don’t like something a neighbor said, if you are a grown man frightened by a cheerleader or if you feel threatened by a teenage boy on your doorstep, just grab that gun and fire away. In America, it’s open season all the time—and the prey of choice is other human beings, especially children.
Thinking Twice About Door-to-Door
This means Americans have to start thinking twice about whose door they knock on, what they say to the man next door, or what car they approach. It could spell the end of door-to-door fundraising, political outreach, or religious proselytizing.
This fear may only apply to some parts of the country, although I can’t be certain. I used to feel safer here in blue Massachusetts, the state with the strongest gun laws in the country. But when the FBI arrested Air Force Reservist Jack Teixeira’s home in North Dighton, MA, where my aunt and uncle lived, they found a “virtual arsenal of weapons.” More appeared in his parents’ home. He had acquired all of them legally.
This says a lot about guns in America. But it also says a lot about Americans.
- Either grown men frighten easily or they just want an excuse to use the guns they have bought and sometimes carry with them everywhere.
- People fire a weapon as the first response instead of using other, less lethal options such as talking to the person, subduing a teenager, or simply not opening the door.
- If you’re white and male, the cops will probably give you a pass, especially if the victim is female or a person of color.
- In America you can get away with murder. Rodney Peairs did. Only a civil trial held him accountable.
It says that Americans have become not just more divided, but more fearful, angrier, meaner and crueler. “Truth, justice and the American way” has transformed into “Divided, scared and likely to shoot.”
And it gets worse every day. Republicans in Congress have replaced American flag pins on their lapels with AR-15 pins to show allegiance to their donors in the gun industry. The country has more guns than people and many of those people are trigger-happy and proud of it.
I wish I could see a light at the end of the tunnel but it only gets darker.