Friday, August 31, 2012

A sobering conversation (no poker content)

About ten days ago there was a bizarre incident at the Dairy Queen nearest to me, maybe 1 1/2 miles to the south. Around noon, a man came in swinging what was described as a Samurai sword, demanding money from the cash register. One of the employees of the store--a son of the owner--shot and killed the robber. You can read more of the details here and here.

This caught my attention because an average of once a month or so I stop at this same DQ to get myself a treat (most often a Snickers Blizzard) on the way home from a successful evening poker session. I've been in there dozens of times over the years. It's also right next to the Albertson's where I've done most of my grocery shopping (Sahara and Maryland Parkway).

I don't know a lot about the family that runs the DQ, but it's obvious that they are Middle Eastern in origin. (News reports said that they are Lebanese immigrants.) They have all been unfailing polite and friendly to me, even though I don't go in there often enough that they recognize me as a regular customer. They've just always struck me as good, solid, honest, salt-of-the-earth people, the prototypical small American success story of immigrants working hard to make it in their adopted homeland. I'm a softy for that sort of thing. I love that we live in a country where that happens every day, in every city. (And I deplore the wave of anti-immigrant fervor that has perversely enveloped us over the past ten years or so. I say open the borders to any non-criminals who want to come. They make us better, stronger, and wealthier.)

Anyway, I was shocked that these good people who had been a tiny part of my life had been visited by such bizarre and horrific violence.

Last night on my way home from poker at Caesars Palace was the first time I've been to DQ since the shooting. By coincidence, it was the father of the family working alone last night, and I was the only one in the shop. So after he handed me my Blizzard, I said to him two sentences that I had rehearsed in my head while he was making it, so that I wouldn't mess them up: "I'm sorry about that terrible incident that happened here a couple of weeks ago, but I'm very glad that you and your family didn't get hurt."

Now, I couldn't possibly have been the first one to say something along these lines to him, and he doesn't know me, but it seemed that he very much wanted to talk about this. That surprised me. In fact, it is my assumption that people will not want to talk to strangers about terrible events in their lives that usually causes me to just keep quiet when dealing with somebody that I know has had a recent tragedy.

He was not at all bragging about his son being a hero or anything like that. On the contrary, the whole thing had understandably disturbed him very badly. He kept shaking his head and saying that it was all just "Terrible, terrible." He related some details that had not been in the media, such as that the man was swinging the sword at the heads of people in the store, and could easily have caused grave injuries. I didn't ask for or expect this outpouring of facts and emotions. I had thought he would probably give me a perfunctory and practiced, "Thank you," I would turn and go, and that would be that. I was humbled and honored that he seemed to want to make a connection.

I didn't tell him that I have a keen and longstanding interest in the subject of self-defense, particularly self-defense with handguns. That wasn't important to my message to him. In fact, I felt that sharing that fact would make it seem that I cared more about the weapons involved than the people, which was not the case.

Some gun enthusiasts feel like high-fiving each other when a self-defense shooting makes the news and another felon bites the dust. I don't. Each such story is an awful tragedy for all involved. The state marks the death of one of its citizens. One family mourns. Another is shaken to its core. There is not one good thing about it. But this fact remains: The only thing that would be sadder than the death of the bad guy would have been the death of one of the members of this good family, or of one of their innocent customers.

Not everybody in the world can easily be classified into the "good guy/bad guy" dichotomy. But when you have, on the one hand, hard-working, law-abiding family members collectively trying to support themselves by operating an honest small business, and, on the other hand, somebody brandishing a deadly weapon to threaten their lives for the measly sum that was in the till that day, I have no qualms whatsoever in applying those labels. There were a bunch of good guys, and one bad guy, period. There are times when bad guys decide to put good guys in a kill-or-be-killed situation. When that happens, it is not just OK, but a positively good thing that the good guys have the means of effective self-defense, and the courage, skill, and willingness to deploy it.

A few days after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in July, Sheldon Richman, a writer for my favorite political magazine, Reason, wrote this:
The criminal, unfortunately, chooses the time, place, and manner of his crime. I don’t like that rule either, but that’s the way it is. Criminals aren’t irrational, so they tend not to pick victims standing near cops. When you are attacked, calling 9-1-1 will do little good. For the record, the police are under no legal obligation to defend you. The courts have spoken on this—not that your survivors’ ability to sue the police would bring much comfort.

The upshot is that, high-flown political theory aside, no one can truly delegate his or her right to or responsibility for one’s own self-defense. Ultimately, you are the only one who can look out for your safety, because you are only one who is with you 24/7 and therefore the only one you can count on when the criminal targets you. That’s just a fact.
Another fact is that while guns are used to take innocent life, they are also used to protect innocent life. The numbers are in dispute—ranging from 100,000 to over 2 million times a year—but no reasonable person can doubt that people use guns to prevent violent crime, often, if not usually, without firing them. Gun opponents downplay this by distracting us with dubious statistics on how often criminals disarm and kill their victims or how often guns are used to escalate arguments over card games and fender benders. The fact remains: Guns save lives.
Many people don’t appreciate this because most such incidents are not reported to police or the news media. Moreover, the national media are uninterested in defensive gun-use stories. Local news outlets pay attention when an elderly person or shopkeeper uses a gun to thwart a would-be criminal, but the national media, which give wall-to-wall coverage to mass shootings, apparently have no time to report life-saving uses of firearms. No wonder some people believe handguns are only tools for criminals.
Even if we concede that tighter gun laws would have stopped the Aurora shooting—unlikely, because a determined Holmes could have acquired guns in the inevitable black market—those laws also would have cost innocent lives, because people who would have used guns to defend themselves would have been unable to do so. Why are those lives less important than the others?
People are not interchangeable. Even if gun control could save one life—or a hundred—in one place, that would not justify putting other people at the mercy of criminals somewhere else. People have a right to defend themselves, and handguns are by far the best way for smaller, physically weaker innocent people (women, please note) to protect themselves from larger, stronger bad people. (If all guns were to disappear, who would gain the advantage?)
I take no joy in the death of Mr. Bongkuk Pak. It's terribly sad that his life was wasted that way. But it would be far, far sadder if one of the Lebanese brothers had tried to stop him without an effective weapon in hand and, as a result, had himself been killed. I hate to imagine what he must be going through, to have to live with the social, emotional, and legal consequences of having taken another man's life, even if the circumstances made it perfectly justifiable. But I'm glad he's still around to endure that hardship, because the alternative is even worse.

I hope that this good family can find peace and comfort.


Andy L said...

'The fact remains: Guns save lives.'

As a regular reader from the UK its hard to put into words how alien and wrong this statement sounds, I have no empirical evidence to hand but it seems absurd to suggest that more guns = saving lives. Surely you are only creating a race to the bottom?

Guns for sporting activity is one thing, but for Richman to suggest it unlikely that the Aura shootings could have been prevented with tighter control is frankly insulting. The fact that the suspect was legally allowed to buy all the gear is madness in my humble opinion.

I would like to hear (if people would be willing), a coherent explanation of why with such tight gun control, the UK (and other EU countries) does not have a thriving black market and indeed high death rate from firearms? Such is the low perceived threat that our police do not (normally) need to carry guns!

All comments welcome.


Rakewell said...


The US is simply a much more violent country than yours, and that is true even if you take guns out of the equation. E.g., we beat each other to death with our bare hands a lot more often than you do. (Maybe we should ban hands.)

It's fine to theorize that we'd have a lot fewer deaths if we prohibited guns. It might even be true. But that ignores the practical problem that we have tens of millions of legally owned guns, and their owners are not just going to hand them over to a governmental functionary. (And the ones that would are surely not the violent types that we need to worry about.)

Even if you banned manufacture and import of all guns starting today, and even if magically no black market arose, the ones already in existence would last for decades. Rounding them up is not just difficult: it's an actual impossibility. It is impossible legally, economically, politically, and physically--no matter how persuasive might be the arguments that we would be better off by doing so.

Pete said...

Andy you might want to take a look this.

reporting on a study showing a 40% increase in the use of handguns in crime following the UK's ban on possession of handguns in 1997.

GMay said...

(And I deplore the wave of anti-immigrant fervor that has perversely enveloped us over the past ten years or so. I say open the borders to any non-criminals who want to come. They make us better, stronger, and wealthier.)

I'd say it's more a wave of anti-illegal-immigrant fervor. Which is somewhat justified. Our federal government's complete negligence in enforcing its own laws in this regard also has the secondary effect of amplifying the more generic "anti-immigrant fervor" you mentioned. Considering that this is occurring in the tens of millions and many of these people are depressing wages by taking jobs, reducing federal tax revenues, and benefitting from taxpayer funded programs, they are definitely not enriching us.

Enjoyed the rest of your post.

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