Justices’ gun decision met with cheers, fears

Times Staff Writers

Ben Cromeens has 17 guns at home, 13 that he bought and another four he inherited from his dad. He keeps two stashed in a secret compartment near his bed, just in case anyone thinks of messing with his family.

To the 32-year-old son of Central Texas cattle ranchers, Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that individuals have a constitutional right to carry firearms for self-defense seemed about as obvious as the sun. But, Cromeens said, he travels and knows that not all Americans agree.

“The way I look at it, it’s the right that ensures all others,” he said outside his taxidermy shop -- which was stuffed with turkeys, wart hogs and other trophies that Houston hunters paid him to preserve. “You can’t have freedom of speech and freedom of the press if you’re unsafe.”

In California, Charlotte Austin-Jordan has some painful reasons to disagree. She lost two children to gun violence in South Los Angeles -- her 13-year-old daughter, Ja’Mee, in 1988 and her 25-year-old son, Corey, in 1996.


She now lives in Valencia. But she still worries about her 24-year-old son, Derris.

“Every time he walks out that door, I’m scared to death,” said Austin-Jordan, who founded a group called Mothers on the March that counsels women who have lost loved ones.

To her, the answer to the urban bloodshed seems simple: Access to guns should be restricted. “I don’t want you to walk a mile in my shoes. Just walk a block and come back and tell me if you feel guns are necessary,” she said.

In New York, Dario Nunez, 45, a Brooklyn-based architect, agreed -- about everyone not agreeing about gun control in America.

He has no problem with people being allowed to have guns for hunting and protection. But he didn’t see it as some inalienable right -- and after pulling up the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday on the Internet, he remained unconvinced, calling the decision shallow and simplistic.

“We look at the Constitution almost like a religious text, and I think that’s a mistake,” he said. “Maybe the founding fathers left certain amendments vague so that it could be decided within the context of the times. Maybe they were trying to avoid absolutes and putting things down in stone.”

John Sawyer, an office manager from Herndon, Va., had something a little more tangible on his mind when he decided last year that he needed a gun in his life: He was robbed twice in two weeks. The first time, a man pointed a gun at his head outside a used bookstore. The second time, a masked assailant held up a private poker game.

Sawyer, 38, now has a concealed-weapons permit and carries a pistol wherever he can. He feels safer. “I decided it was up to me to protect myself,” he said. “It’s nice to know, the same way [as] if I’m driving somewhere and get a flat tire, I have the tools available to deal with the situation.”

But to Lauren Becker, a 30-year-old designer from Brooklyn, that feeling of safety will come only with more gun regulation.

“I don’t believe in guns. Period. I don’t think guns should be allowed, even for the government,” she said. “I think the regulations . . . should be broader and less influenced by the gun lobby.”

In Seattle, Eric Freytag, a barista at an espresso parlor, also said he saw no place for handguns.

“A handgun itself is a machine with one purpose: to kill people,” he said. “A machine like that should not exist in public environments.”

Freytag, 25, said the presence of guns does not resolve conflicts -- it just escalates them.

“Better if neither side had them,” he said, as he leafed through a copy of Wired magazine on his break. “This protection was granted in a very different time. America has come a long way.”

Back at his Texas taxidermy shop, Cromeens said he never thought of guns as anything but American. In his mother’s and father’s families, he said, guns and ranching “just went hand in hand.”

He said his gun-loving friends had been worried about what the court might have to say. But to him, self-defense wasn’t even the controversial part of the 2nd Amendment.

He said that the revolutionaries who founded the U.S. were worried about authorities disarming citizens in order to abuse power. The guns, he argued, are really supposed to protect people from the government.

“But when you say that now, even here in Houston,” Cromeens said, “people look at you like you’re loco.”


Times staff writers Nicholas Riccardi in Denver, John Mitchell in Los Angeles and Stuart Glascock in Seattle contributed to this report.