View from Afar

There were three popping sounds on the street below my second story apartment. A visiting friend was startled.

“Gunshots,” I told him calmly.

We went to the window but saw no police cars. I told him the gunfire was probably more than a block away, and he would have no difficulty walking to his car.

(One of the moderately useful skills I learned in the Army in Vietnam is the ability to distinguish between the sounds of bullets and bombs and those of backfiring trucks and firecrackers.)

The next morning, my landlord John told me that a 15-year-old kid was murdered a half block from my front door.

“The cops probably hadn’t arrived yet, when you looked out the window,” he said.

Gunfire is a constant reality for those of us who live in urban centers. I remember a neighborhood backyard picnic on Memorial Day. Gunfire broke out a block away. All the parents checked to make certain their little ankle biters were accounted for and out of any possible trajectory-and kept on roasting hotdogs.

My friend Ben tells the yarn of going to the Good Humor Ice truck and standing in a long line one summer evening. A gun battle broke out in the alley.

“The problem was-should I take cover and lose my place in line-or just ignore it?”

Being the newlywed, he bravely kept his place in line to get ice cream for his wife.

Urban gunfire produces numbness and bravado, but also fear and grief.

How did the American frontier evolve into peaceful communities? The six-shooter did not settle the prairie. Rather it was city marshals who disarmed cowboys in Abilene, Dodge City and Newton.

It was not the shoot-outs that settled the West but rather the disarmament of the West that led to its modern tranquility.

The modern battle is urban mayors, police departments and elected officials trying to establish a sane regulation of guns, versus rural legislators who coalesced around the National Rifle Association and insist that hand guns and armor-piercing bullets are merely toys for hunting bunnies.

The Constitutional right of citizens to bear arms is a logical extension that state militias should have co-equal firepower with the federal government.

But using this logic, shouldn’t the NRA also advocate for the right of private ownership of thermonuclear devices-after all, the “Feds” have them, and we need them to protect ourselves?

And maybe small atomic bombs could be useful-for clearing pastures in spring-or flushing out pheasants and quails so they can be killed with armor-piercing bullets?

All I know is that kids in Marion County go hunting-and the same statutes which give them this right, produce murder and mayhem on my block.

The problem is writing one law that covers all situations-rural, hunting culture and urban/suburban violence.

Kids in my neighborhood die-so kids in Marion County can go shoot bunnies. And no compromise seems possible.

My own denomination passed a resolution calling on its members to give up owning and keeping weapons in their home. The Episcopal Church-hardly a pacifist tradition-sees the links between private ownership of guns and violence.

Maybe this is how change has to start, with our own attitude toward the sacred gun.

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