My Aunt Rozi’s husband, Jimmy, shot her June 3, 1974. He was drinking, they argued and in a few moments, she lay dead on their kitchen floor. She was 38. She has now been dead for as long as she was alive. Her four children grew up without her.
If Cape Elizabeth, Maine, had decided to arm its good citizens to protect themselves from “bad guys,” Uncle Jimmy would have been handed a gun with a smile. He was exactly what people picture when they talk about the “good guys”: middle-aged, middle-class, white, college-educated, an English professor and poet.
In 1995, another good guy tried his best to murder my father. That “good guy” also was middle-aged, white and a college graduate. He was wealthy, a churchgoer, a respected businessman. When his wife left him for my father, Malcolm went berserk, hunted Dad down and stabbed him repeatedly. Two very brave bystanders and an excellent hospital saved my father’s life.
Not a fatal shooting appears in the newspaper without my thinking, “That would have been my family if Malcolm had had a gun.”
The armed-citizenry approach to safety is based on a moral myth of bad guys versus good guys. Crazed mass killers or conscienceless drug lords aren’t the perpetrators of most murders. Murders occur when the heat of the moment meets a highly fatal weapon. My family’s tragedies are typical: personal dispute + alcohol or other drugs + a person prone to irrational thinking and violent behavior. The difference between Aunt Rozi’s death and Dad’s near-miss was that Jimmy had a gun and Malcolm didn’t.
But, people argue, guns in other hands might have saved those situations. Really?
If Aunt Rozi had pointed her own gun at Jimmy, paranoid, enraged and drunk as he was, and told him to back off, he probably would not have dropped the gun the way a movie bad guy would – he’d have pulled the trigger. If someone had tried to use a gun to intervene in Dad’s stabbing, they’d most likely have sent bullets ricocheting off the tile and metal walls, endangering both of them.
Yelling “Freeze!” at the attacker works on TV, but if Malcolm had been amenable to reason, he wouldn’t have been wrecking his own life by responding to an affair by attempting murder.
In most murders, the bad guy appeared to be a good guy until he had too much liquor, too much wounded pride, too little ability to handle his anger – and a deadly weapon in his hands. That is one reason the most likely victim of the gun you keep in your house is you or someone you love.
Let’s be clear: If we enact the National Rifle Association’s dream of an armed citizenry, we will be handing guns to Jimmy and Malcolm.
Gun-rights activists, lobbyists and legislators have exploited the Newtown, Conn., shootings to advance the notion that arming more citizens will make us safer. It’s rooted in fiction and fantasy. It is just plain wrong – and it kills.
The Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern is parish minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston Road. For more information, call 494-0541, ext. 26, or visit www.uucpa.org.