I own three guns: a handgun, a hunting rifle, and a pump shotgun. I bought the handgun after my house was burglarized in Houston. A police officer, who came to investigate, asked me if I had a gun. When I replied no, he said: "Mister, you must be crazy." He then told me that I could shoot anyone invading my house and if I shot a potential burglar in the backyard, I needed to drag him into the house and "the police promise not to notice."
OK, so I bought my first gun out of fear. Having a gun, created a problem with my three small children, 2-4 years of age at the time. I taught all of my children how to handle the gun, check if it is loaded, and never pull the trigger for fun. Then I taught my little children how to run away from a friend's house if another child gets hold of daddy's gun. By the age of 8, my son was quite a good shooter. My powerful hunting rifle is used to hunt deer, and everybody in my family but my wife has practiced shooting it. The shotgun has even more fear embodied in it, and we do not like to shoot it.
Cars kill a little more than twice as many American children as guns. In 2007, 3,000 American children, ages 0-19 were killed with guns. Also in 2007, drownings, poisoning, burning, and suffocation/ strangulation - together - killed 3,800 children in the U.S. (Source: National Center for Health Statistics.). Thus, cars and guns are the two major causes of accidental deaths of children in the U.S. I was very lucky that my children learned to avoid touching my gun and other guns on their own, and survived.
Our widely scattered neighbors are a diverse group, from avid liberal environmentalists to ultra-conservative Christians. Guns are a big element of our lives, so we talk about them occasionally. A recent lively exchange in the neighborhood chat-group was precipitated by shots fired on someone's property, and quickly evolved into a discussion under what circumstances it is OK to shoot a stray dog, a coyote, and so on.
Coyotes, stray dogs, snakes, and deer do not appear to me as a mortal danger to the welfare of my family. Being around these animals is what life on the Big Country Ranch is. In addition, my peaceful and safe neighborhood definitely is not a war zone, and I do not need to keep my guns on the table at the ready.
I have lived in the Big Country neighborhood for four years. I run and walk a lot, and I work outside on the trees. I have seen a shadow of a coyote once at dusk, and for one second. But I hear them often not more than 50 yards from the house. It turns out that only a few our neighbors observed a coyote. Here are three typical stories:
I have seen a coyote twice in the last 9 months. It was moving too fast both times - didn't make it back outside with my gun fast enough.
On our far back edge of Big Country we can always hear what seems to be dozens of coyotes in the vacant land between Big Country and the Polo Club, but in 28 years I’ve never actually seen one. Seeing foxes is common, and we’ve lost at least four cats in the last 28 years to coyotes, but I never seen one on our land or in the surrounding neighborhood. “Stealth” should be part of their Latin name.
About 6:30 one morning a coyote attacked our pet cat who was sitting in our driveway. My husband saw it, grabbed a gun and shot at it as it ran into our pasture. He missed the coyote who dropped the cat, but the cat was already dead.Obviously, coyotes are not vegetarians and do kill other small animals. We live in their country, so occasionally they kill our careless pets. My wife and I always admonish our beloved cat, Zabka, to watch out for these stealthy scoundrels.
What still eludes me is why our natural reaction is to grab a gun and attempt to kill a coyote we were lucky to see? Even if we kill one, what would it accomplish? Should we also shoot at thunder clouds or the burning Texas sun? In addition, I do not know answers to these questions:
- Why do we need to keep guns loaded and ready to use in a second?
- Why do we think that it is OK to shoot at anything we fear or merely do not like?
“Many would say I have no need to carry (a gun) in Canada,” Wawra wrote. “Yet the police cannot protect everyone all the time. A man should be allowed to protect himself if the need arises.”Protect himself by pulling a gun on two unarmed people asking a question?! The officer's letter caused a storm of heated replies from the disgusted Canadians, who did not share his paranoia and addiction to guns.
Fear is what drives us to buy guns. More fear justifies buying more guns. Guns give us a sense of security and power. We often use this power to kill animals we do not like or fear. Sometimes, yet all too often, we use this power to kill people we do not like or fear. In the U.S., dozens of people are killed each year, or month, by gunmen with fuzzy grudges and semiautomatic weapons. We, the targets, feel ever more threatened, so we buy more guns and delude ourselves that we would be able to defend our lives when suddenly attacked.
Fear is an ugly feeling. A society built on fear can only become uglier with time. Unfortunately, in the U.S., we are becoming a more suspicious, fearful, and brutal society. Somehow I cannot feel good about all of this, even if I buy myself a new, sexy semi-automatic AR-14 rifle, and cuddle it every day. But wouldn't I also need a thousand shiny yellow bullets to keep this particular addiction going?
P.S. On the day I published this blog, the Texas A&M Campus was locked down for a couple of hours because a shootout in the adjacent neighborhood left one constable, the shooter, and an unarmed civilian dead. An unarmed civilian?! Why do we use military terminology to describe a guy walking down the street in his own neighborhood? What was that man supposed to do? Wear full-body armor and a military helmet to feel safe during a morning walk?
A day earlier, three policemen in New York fired 12 shots at a man wielding a kitchen knife on a street. Reliable sources confirm that the man dropped his knife when seven of the 12 bullets killed him.
If 3,000 children are killed with guns each year, and we value their unfulfilled lives at $10 million a pop (no pun intended), the annual cost of our love affair with guns is $3 billion per year, just for our shot-to-death children. Who's going to pay for all of this? (As a mental exercise, please add the complete costs of shooting 70 young people in Aurora, Co, and killing 12 of them. My answer: $400 million at the minimum for compensation and medical treatment.)
And how many children are wounded? How many adults are killed and wounded by gunfire? (A hint: In 2007 alone, 31,000 people died in the U.S. because of gun-related causes. Source: CDC. In 2007, you were roughly 60 times more likely to die as a combat soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan than to be shot to death in Happy Town, U.S.A.)