If, as a poet once wrote, fear is a slinking cat that stalks the shadows of the mind, it prowls freely in today’s L.A. Ask anyone who owns a gun.
They’ll tell you that rustle in the bushes is someone out to take their life.
They’ll tell you the headlights behind them is a car following them home.
They’ll tell you the guy next to them at an ATM machine is an armed robber.
They’ll tell you the noise downstairs is someone in the house.
Fear takes them to gun shops and firing ranges. Fear makes them suspicious of anyone not like them. Fear locks them in at night.
And fear keeps their finger on a trigger.
There’s a gun in every fourth house in L.A. County. In a five-year period, almost half a million handguns were sold, one for every 19 residents.
And the likelihood is, that number is increasing.
In a recent gathering of four couples, two had just purchased firearms; one a pistol, the other a shotgun.
They’re people I know, gentle people with good hearts . . . but violate their lives or threaten their property, by God, and they’ll blast you into hell.
Or will they? Could they?
Criminals fire without compunction. Innocent people hesitate, wrenched by the horror of hurting another human being.
“Could you kill a man for stealing your car?” I asked one. He simply stared at me, never answering. The cat prowled . . .
This is about people who believe in the right to own guns. I wondered who they were and what they were like.
I spoke to half a dozen, three of whom were members of the Westside Firearms Assn., a unit of the NRA.
Generalizations are dangerous, but this much can be said of them:
They are intelligent people who believe fiercely in the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
They are intense and emotional people who blame drugs, the media and the criminal justice system--and not guns--for an increase in violence.
They are people who began an association with guns in childhood and carried it to a kind of love affair in adulthood.
And they are people whose perceptions are guided by degrees of fear that range from wariness to terror.
The cat prowls freely among those I visited.
A medical worker hasn’t left her apartment after sundown in six years. It began when she thought someone was following her home from a market.
“The only way anyone will get me out of here at night,” she says, “is to burn down the building.”
A real estate agent sleeps with a dog, three Lugers and a rifle within easy reach.
His logic: “If there are two or three armed intruders, I don’t want to be outgunned.”
A U.S. Customs official believes it is not only his constitutional but his God-given right to bear arms in self-defense. His voice breaks when he talks about all of the evil in the world.
A free-lance journalist says, “In nature every living organism fights off intruders that would do it harm. I’m following nature’s plan.”
All three members of the Westside Firearms Assn. regard as fallacious the idea that police are here to protect us. That’s not a policeman’s job, they say, and even if it were, there aren’t enough of them to do it.
The job of the police is to patrol and solve. Allow them to get big enough and strong enough to actually protect the citizenry, the WFA members insist, and you create the potential for a police state.
“The job of self-protection,” one says, “is up to us. And it’s becoming more necessary with every passing day.”
Could they shoot someone violating their property? Yes, say all three. Unlike those who newly purchase guns, there is no hesitation.
One sits near a poster that depicts the muzzle of a six-shooter pointed straight-on. The caption reads, “Attention Thieves: Please have I.D. ready. We notify next of kin.”
A second man says, “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six.”
A third: “I could shoot someone to stop them. Killing is irrelevant, as long as it stops them.”
They’re not gun nuts, they say, but decent citizens who suffer the slinking cat of fear poorly. They’re tired of being victims and angry at those who would deprive them of the weaponry to fight back.
They see a war going on, and are arming to win it.
The danger here is that in any combat between the psychopathic bad guys and the self-righteous good guys, all the rest of us are going to be caught in the cross-fire wondering why it ever had to go this far.