Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This Is What I've Been Talking About

How would this story have ended if Stanwood Elkus had not had a handgun? If he had not been so easily able to walk into his doctor's office with death hidden in his pocket... death he could deploy at a moment's thought (or lack of thought), with the most minimal of effort? If he had not had the means to so casually turn his otherwise ordinary anger into murderous violence?

If he hadn't had a gun, might Elkus have "lain in wait" for for his urologist, Dr. Ronald Franklin, with only his fists, or with a knife, or (as a retired barber) with a straight razor or a pair of shears? Perhaps. But there's no saying Elkus could've succeeded in doing much harm in hand-to-hand combat with a man nearly a quarter century younger even if he had.

More to the point, there's no saying he'd have had the stomach for hand-to-hand combat in the first place. My bet is that, without a gun in the room, this dispute would have been a shouting match or a lawsuit, instead of violence of any kind. It's impossible for me to know whether Elkus had a legitimate gripe with Franklin... but even the most legitimate imaginable gripe certainly wasn't a death-penalty crime.

This reminds me of the Jovan Belcher/Kasandra Perkins murder-suicide story: For all the talk that stricter gun laws won't affect determined criminals (as an aside, I disagree, but that's an argument for a different post), the most disheartening stories are those of people like Belcher and Elkus, who are probably not criminals, determined or otherwise, but likely just flawed people too weak to deal appropriately with their own anger and despair. This is absolutely not to exonerate them for their actions, but....

Guns empower the weak, and they make killing easy, quick, and remote. Those are the things guns were invented to do; they're the reasons people want guns to begin with. But by the same token, guns empower us in our weakest moments, and make it quick and easy to kill — others or ourselves or both — before we get over them.

The deranged spree killers, terrifying as they are, don't scare me nearly as much as the "regular person" next door, or in the next chair in the waiting room, or across the aisle on the metro, who's having a bad day... and also has a gun.

No comments: