‘A SPINELESS retard with the character of pond scum.” A “whacko,” “greedy un-American idiot,” “fascist,” “whining liberal” and “nasty little gun grabber.”
Those are just some of the names I’ve been called since I published an Op-Ed article in the Washington Post to commemorate the fifth anniversary of my brother’s death. After briefly stating that David and his fiancee were shot and killed by the fiancee’s mother, who was angry that she had to move out of their L.A. apartment, I went on to argue for a national ban on handguns. The gun control lobby, led by the Brady Campaign, has worked passionately to make guns safer and to regulate their sales. But such measures, I contended, will never significantly reduce the annual U.S. death toll by firearms -- 12,000 -- because most murderers use legally purchased handguns and know how to operate them safely.
A couple of days later, while procrastinating on a writing assignment, I Googled my article. And so began my strange, weeklong trip through chat rooms on such pro-gun websites as keepandbeararms.com freerepublic.com, packing.org and rightnation.us.
I was not surprised by the insults directed at me. I’m familiar with the name-calling in gun control debates: “stupid,” “beyond stupid,” “liar,” “criminal-coddling leftist scumbag,” “Los Angeles coward.”
I also expected threats: “OK beotch ... come get my gun ... bullets first.”
I was hardly startled by the misogyny: “bitch,” “broad” and “bimbo,” but also “sweetums,” “Miss Jenny” and “Jenny honey” (I’d rather be called a “spineless retard with the character of pond scum”).
The sheer meanness could be breathtaking, but it was not unexpected: “Gee, Jenny dear, perhaps they just needed killin.’ ”
I calmly read accusations that my true goal in writing the article was to sue gun companies and profit from my brother’s death. The barrage of counter-statistics was standard too, as were the paeans to the 2nd Amendment and the endless iterations of “guns don’t kill people -- people kill people.”
But objections to my account of my brother’s murder left me speechless. There were two sorts of challenges.
First, many chat-room members declared that the killing had to have been justified and was most likely an act of self-defense.
One participant, “armymarinedad,” wrote: “I would submit it was a liberal mind-set.” Liberals, many others agreed, are mean to their parents -- mean enough to warrant homicide. “One can’t help wondering,” went one response to armymarinedad, “what the mother had done in a previous life to deserve ... a Liberal for a daughter.”
The second challenge was that I had made up the story of my brother’s murder. “Law-abiding gun owners simply do not commit crimes,” “Gunslinger” posted -- logic hard to refute. But like David’s killer, thousands of law-abiding citizens annually become criminals when they pick up a firearm and shoot other people.
“Chances are very good,” wrote “Plutarch” on freerepublic.com, “that her brother, if she has one, is alive and well.”
Plutarch and his freerepublic fellows Googled my story about David -- and were encouraged when they came up empty because they were certain that “this remarkable murder” would have received massive media attention.
“I love to catch them [liberals] lying!” declared “mad_as_he$$.”
Lamentably, a double homicide by a friend or relative of the victims is an unremarkable news event in Los Angeles County, where 17 people, on average, are shot to death every week. The Times’ and Daily News’ stories were brief and buried on inside pages. Because the police took all day to notify our family, David’s name did not appear in them.
No matter. The freerepublic.com gang Googled some more, LexisNexised, scoured The Times’ archives for headlines, dug up Social Security records. They wondered whether David and I had different last names: A “rabid feminist” like me, of course, would never use her husband’s name. But “Ghengis (Alexander was a wuss!)” surmised that David and I had different fathers because that was so “common in California in the ‘60s.”
In the midst of my detective work, I received an e-mail from a medical doctor who praised my “terrific opinion piece” and asked for “a link to any newspaper accounts.” But I quickly determined that Plutarch had sent the e-mail using his real name (I can Google too).
Plutarch found a photograph of me on the Internet and posted it on the freerepublic site. He worked so hard on the case that I was rooting for him to be the guy who finally figured it out. But just after he promised his colleagues that he’d call the L.A. County coroner’s office, “DakotaRed” posted a recent newspaper piece about my family that mentioned the murder. The freerepublic discussion stopped abruptly, and the chat rooms on the other pro-gun sites soon moved on as well.
So ended the efforts to prove that David either deserved to be shot to death or that he never existed.
The discussions left me profoundly sad. “You know,” a friend tried to reassure me, “these are just guys who sit in front of their computers at 3 a.m. in their underwear.”
But when these gun-obsessed guys in their underwear talk to like-minded guys, they build a community that reinforces a level of intolerance that is off the charts. After all, the Internet doesn’t create community. People create community -- and how the Internet is used depends on the people who use it.
I’d spent a week in the company of people with closed minds and cold hearts. And what saddens me most is that vengeful intolerance is all too common and leads people every day to reach for a handgun to kill people.
When the National Rifle Assn. commits itself to spreading peacefulness and tolerance among its members, I’d be all for it. Meanwhile, do you really want these people on these websites (and 40 million other people in the country) to have guns?
I can cite statistics, and I can tell you why the right to carry a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun with a 10-shot clip is not guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment. But the paranoia and bone-chilling hatred that spew from such sites as packing.org and freerepublic.com make for an equally -- and unusually -- effective argument for a ban on handguns.