On Judgment and Worry

The gun industry wants to sell your kid an AR-15.

It does. It really, really does.

Meanwhile, there have been some recent conversations whether moms are nice enough to each other or if they worry too much.

Guess what? Mothers are kind of built to be “not nice” and… Judge. Mothers worry. All. The. Time. (or at least A. Lot. Of. The. Time.)

I am guilty of both actions, as a mother. (I was guilty of both actions before I was a mother.) But this gun thing–this industry that tries to argue that semiautomatic firearms are not weapons, for example–it should drive any person to judge. And worry.

I just read Stephen King’s “kindle single,” Guns. All proceeds from sales (99 cents for the single) go to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. His bottom line: culpability does not equal responsibility. Sometimes it’s important to do something to help correct a situation, not because you’re to blame, but because you’re sensible.

The gun industry? It is not culpable, but it is in fact responsible, for gun deaths: you can’t have a gun death or other gun violence without a gun. It’s a risk inherent to the industry. So? Minimize the risk.

That’s my judgment.

And parents? There are an infinite number of ways to be irresponsible… or to be complacent. I could list so many of them in the next five minutes, based on actual, first-hand accounts. So many.

That’s my worry.

you can’t make me

Wow. This just hits me in the gut: “NRA touts mother who shot intruder as gun control debate heats up.”

Basically, a woman got scared of a man who was about to enter her home. So she got her kids, got her gun, hid, locked a door, locked another door, then called… her husband. Her husband called 911.

What? And when I say “what” I mean WHAT?

At her husband’s direction (he told her to “remember what I taught you”) she shot the intruder several times while he pleaded with her to stop. In front of her children. He drove away.

The family doesn’t want to talk about the shooting. But the NRA thinks she proves why everybody needs a gun. (This guy in Utah couldn’t be happier.)

It’s their right to think and say so. I think and say things, too.

In the first year of our marriage, we lived in a cute (and tiny) row house. One summer night, as our neighbors immediately next door enjoyed drinks on their front deck, we watched tv. It was about 10pm, and we heard a knock at the door. My husband answered, and a guy was there, clearly in some sort of altered state, and he told my husband he wanted to give me (yes, me) something that was in a rumpled paper bag in his hand. My husband told him to go away. He did. My husband went upstairs to bed, and I continued watching whatever tv show was on. Our neighbors turned in for the night. Then the doorbell rang again. It was the same guy.

I peeked out the front window through our blinds, and yelled to my husband, “He’s back!”

My husband ran down the stairs while I grabbed the phone and dialed a 9, and then a 1. I waited. My unarmed, half-dressed husband opened the door and yelled at the clearly drug-affected man, who by that point was calling me his queen and telling my husband that he was here with a horse to take me away. My husband told him to get the f— out of here and that we’d be calling the police.

I hit “1.”

The police came within minutes, took their report, surveyed the area, and asked about my habits. Was I at home during the day? Did I take walks around the neighborhood? I told them that I usually went running every morning. They suggested that the man likely noticed me and fixated, and told us to call and reference the correct CR # if he showed up again. Uh, okay. They didn’t seem alarmed. Or, they didn’t want to alarm me. (But I was scared… we later deduced that the same man, suspected of similar home invasions, later hung himself in a park near our home. He was very, very, unwell.)

If my husband hadn’t been there, here’s what I would have done: I would have left the house out of our basement-level garage and driven away, or if the car was in use, ran to my neighbors’ or my landlord’s home, just down the street. Easy enough, or foolish enough, as we were not yet parents, to do what we did. All I can say is that city living can be a drag, but it can be handy in situations like that.

How about a couple more stories? (Individual anecdotes seem to be enough for the NRA, maybe they’re enough for me?)

Four and half years ago, we took the kids (then ages 3 and 1) on some errands one Saturday evening after dinner–not a usual thing, we usually ran errands in the morning, before anybody needed a nap, and saved weekend evenings for early bedtimes for the kids and wine and movies for us.

We broke our pattern. We got home at the kids’ bath time, and needed to get a diaper changed, a potty used, and the car unloaded. We managed all of that nicely, working together like we always do: kids were in bed not too late and we still had time for our wine and movie.

We went to sleep at the usual time… 11 or 11:30. We both woke up at about 5:00, when we heard a door creak open. We both thought at first it was our daughter–she’d sometimes wake up and come to our room. But then at virtually the same second we both realized that the door creak was different–it wasn’t from our daughter’s room but from the door that leads to our garage.

My husband bolted out of bed and ran across the house. I heard him shout “Hey!” while I grabbed my glasses and the phone. He told me “call the police!” and I heard him shout “What are you doing here?” I called 911, and I was alone–as my husband was gone, having run out the door, in his bare feet, with no glasses, but with boxers and t-shirt.

Alone until, while on the phone trying to describe calmly what was going on, our daughter came out of her room to see me.

“Mommy? Where’s Daddy?”

I don’t have that 911 recording, but I’d hate to hear it now: the sound of me, telling her that everything was okay and then telling the dispatcher that my husband just chased somebody out of our home.

Turns out we forgot to close our garage. Two people entered our home after attempting to take things out of my husband’s car (locked, in the driveway) and mine (unlocked, in the open garage). We neglected to lock the door between the garage and our home (because the garage is usually closed) so the car-burglars decided to walk in and see what was readily available. A third person was waiting in a running car up the street.

My husband couldn’t catch them. They got well into our home, about three feet from our daughter’s closed bedroom door. My husband chased them away.

We were lucky. Fingerprints on my car led the police to one of the perpetrators — an 18-year-old male. They questioned him, but he did not admit to entering our home and would not “rat out” his buddy (they didn’t touch anything in our home, except my handbag, which they took with them). He ended up paying us about $200 to cover our losses.

We were new to the neighborhood then, and later, at a neighborhood New Year’s party, one neighbor suggested we get a dog. Another suggested a gun.

We’re dog people.

Had I been alone with the kids? Chances are, I never would have broken our pattern. I wouldn’t have run errands with them after dinner, I would have had them in bed early, and I would have triple-checked all doors and windows before sitting on the couch with a glass of wine. My husband travels a lot. I have a very rigid routine when he’s gone. Had that routine nonetheless been broken? Had I heard somebody enter our home, I think I would have screamed, hoping to scare them away or at least draw them to where I was and away from our kids. I would have called 911. And several neighbors who have been on speed dial since we moved in (we have great neighbors).

Flash forward to May, 2012.

It was a Wednesday morning, at about 6am, and we heard a loud banging on our front door. My husband, once again, bolted out of bed and to the door. He did not open the door, but yelled, “Who are you? What do you want? We don’t know you. Leave or we’re calling the police.”

I grabbed the phone (once again) and dialed a 9, and then a 1.

There were incoherent rumblings and the man at the door decided to sit on our front patio furniture and smoke a cigarette.

I dialed 1.

The police came, “discussed” some issues with the clearly extremely intoxicated man, and took him away. One officer, in concluding our conversation, remarked that the man was lucky that we weren’t followers of the Castle Doctrine. (The officer was.)

Had I been alone? I would never have spoken to the goofball at the door. I would have called 911 after peering at him from our window. And a couple of neighbors, who may or may not have brought a gun.

Look. I’ve said it earlier, and I’ll say it again. I don’t want to take away anybody’s gun. I don’t think people who own guns are bad guys. If a person believes that they need a handgun for self-defense, that’s that person’s choice.

But it’s not my choice.

NRA? Mr. LaPierre? Don’t proselytize.

Just because you think that mom in Georgia was a hero to shoot an unarmed man multiple times in the face in front of her nine-year-old children at the direction of her husband–a mom who apparently phoned her husband at the first sign of danger, and not the police, with her kids in the home with her–just because you think she’s a hero, and did wonderful things with her gun, and maybe even needs a more powerful gun (she ran out of bullets! what if there had been two invaders?), well, it does not mean that I think so, too.

Even though I am a mom. With two kids. Who is often home alone with them. Who has dealt with pesky home invaders or squatters or whatever you want to call them.

The three experiences we endured? They were with unarmed people. Stupid, ballsy, drunk and/or drugged, unarmed people.

I get the sense that Mr. LaPierre would have been fine with me shooting them all until dead. That’s still his right to think so.

Tonight, I asked my husband (the brave man who confronts strangers and invaders in his boxers, armed only with his indignation and anger and belief in himself and the power of a phone dialing 911) whether, even after all that we’ve experienced, even after Newtown, would he want a gun? Would he want our children’s school to have armed teachers or armed guards in every classroom, as LaPierre suggested all too recently? Would all of that make him feel safer? He answered with characteristic clarity and brevity:

“No.”

Me neither.

It’s our right.

Perhaps we’re fools in the eyes of many. Or perhaps we’re fools in the eyes of a loud, angry, opportunistic few.

riddle me this

This morning I was encouraged to read this, “The Riddle of the Gun” by Sam Harris, perhaps because some of my latest facebook posts on (1) gun control efforts, (2) my disgust with the NRA and Louie Gohmert, and (3) keeping firearms away from children, have portrayed me as, at best, a bit skittish and irritated.

The blog post is worth your time–it’s interesting and informative, and presents a much needed reminder of the utility of risk analysis when it comes to policymaking. It is, however, mildly off-putting that Harris tends to lump “liberals” in favor of gun control into a sort of foolish mass of fearful folk.

I’m no fool. And I don’t fear guns.

Granted, I do not understand the need to own a firearm that is capable of firing 11 or so bullets into each of 20 children inside of five minutes. I do not understand it. There is a difference, a core difference that I can’t readily identify, between me and anybody who loves and needs a gun with that kind of power, who insists on the right to own a gun with that kind of power. The only thing I can guess is that such a person fears more than I could ever fear.

But, as Harris points out, handguns are responsible for most gun violence in America. And I still don’t want to take anybody’s handgun away. As I said, I’m not scared of guns.

I don’t believe gun owners or gun enthusiasts are monsters, or even bad guys. But they could end up looking like they are, because bad things happen to good guys all the damned time. And when there are children around, the risks of bad things happening to good guys increase.

Children, like the six-year-old boy I babysat as a teenager, who, while his little sister was napping, took me into his parents’ room, opened the nightstand drawer, pulled out a big wooden box, opened it, and showed me the handgun inside of it. He whispered, as he touched its barrel, even though nobody else was there but me, “This is my Dad’s. I’m not supposed to to touch it.” (I responded, “Let’s do what your Dad says.” And we put the gun away.)

Children, who grow to the age of majority while still living with their mother, a mother who legally owns very powerful weapons, a mother who tried, in vain, to manage her son’s deteriorating mental health, a mother, who ended up dying by her son’s hand before he went on to kill 26 others. With her weapons.

My husband and I were talking recently about whether it would it be helpful to know, as Holly Korbey suggests, whether a parent of your child’s friend has guns in the home before your child visits. My husband rightly noted that we already keep our children home and invite other children here, just to minimize risk of all kinds, notwithstanding gun ownership. True enough.

After all, I know our house is as safe as we can make it. It’s immaculate, with cleaning products stored up high, away from children’s reach. Our electrical outlets are covered. We have a pool safety fence at the ready, and locks on our screen enclosure and backyard fence’s gates. There are open areas in which children can chase and play, we have sturdy (but still stylish!) furniture. Our shed, containing landscaping equipment and fuel, is secured. There are no guns in our home. (And our knives, Mr. Harris? They are in a butcher block on a kitchen counter, beyond the reach of our older and taller child.)

I know we live as safely as we can. We have immaculate driving records, our cars are in good condition–inspected every year even though our state does not require it. We wear seat belts, our children use car booster seats. We see our doctors regularly, we vaccinate ourselves and our children. We get our vision checked. We don’t smoke. We eat healthfully. If we offer food to a child, we check with their parents first, to confirm the children are allergy-free.

We do the best we can to ensure the safety of those who cannot ensure their own: our children and their friends. I want every parent to do their best. In fact, I’d love every parent–gun owner or not–to be just like me. But they’re not. So our kids invite kids here.

I do have this fantasy, though. It reflects a desire for increased effort, increased information and transparency on the part of parents who are gun owners. That desire stems only from the fact that a gun can kill quickly and accidentally, or quickly and on purpose, and the fact that owning a gun legally requires skill and training and a license. Maintaining a safe home does not (though I would be the first in line to prove how awesome I am at home safety… I’d like to think responsible gun owning parents would be the first in line to prove how awesome they are at gun safety.)

So my fantasy is inspired by this, and perhaps honors Sam Harris’ call for everybody to take some responsibility for preventing violence, accidental or otherwise. He might disagree. It goes something like this (and no, I haven’t thought this through completely. Did I mention this is a fantasy?):

  • Parents who are gun owners, and their children, and anybody living in the home with guns, schedule and attend mental health well-visits, annually, as part of their annual well-visits to pediatricians or primary care physicians. If they choose not to, they pay a tax.
  • Parents who are gun owners invite, happily and proudly, firearm safety authorities into their homes annually, to review how guns and ammunition are stored and secured. If they choose not to, they pay a tax.
  • Parents who are gun owners complete extra safety training sessions annually or semi-annually–whatever is deemed necessary by training authorities–with their children, as soon as their children can walk and pick up an object at the same time. If they choose not to, they pay a tax.
  • Parents who are gun owners let their children’s schools know that there are guns in their home. If they choose not to, they pay a tax.

Perhaps the taxes collected by some parents who are gun owners would fund the mental health well visits, home inspections and extra training for those parents who choose to play along in my fantasy. Or perhaps, if gun owners were all as lovely, responsible and healthy as Sam Harris, no taxes would end up being collected. (That would be one deficit I’d be happy to pay for with my taxes.) Of course, since this is a fantasy, maybe the gun manufacturers would pay for all these efforts and no individual would be taxed. They want their customers safe, right?

Well. Fantasies are often silly. And far from perfect.

Just as no policy is perfect, and no conversation about policy is perfect. Conversations about policy are filled with poor information, volatile exchanges of opposing views, loud screeching from special interests, painful silence from apathetic bystanders, reasonable concerns about money, the law, fairness, ethics… Conversations are messy. But they reflect curiosity. And effort.

I always appreciate them… as long as nobody assumes the other is a fool.