Monday, May 2, 2016

Lessons From Gun Ownership Gone Awry

Gun ownership gone awry.

It's been in the news lately.  And tragically so.

Today, here in Arlington, Texas, where I live, a man being described in our local media as a "good Samaritan" was shot to death in a Walgreens parking lot after witnessing another man shoot a woman.

Last Sunday, in suburban Philadelphia, a young man preparing to attend a church worship service was shot to death by another man attending the same worship service.  Witnesses say the drama began after some confusion over where the victim wanted to sit in the church's sanctuary.

Today's "good Samaritan" had gone to his car to retrieve his gun, a weapon police believe he was legally registered to own, after personally witnessing a shooting at the drug store in which a man shot a woman in her leg during an argument.  Initial reports are that the woman, the first shooter's wife, worked at the store, and was the victim of a public display of domestic violence.

Apparently, after shooting his wife, the original gunman then left the store, got into his vehicle, and attempted to drive away.  So the "good Samaritan" tried to stop him from leaving.  He went out to the parking lot, got his own gun out of his vehicle, and pointed it at the departing gunman, ostensibly to encourage him to stop.  Instead, the departing gunman shot him in the head, killing him on the spot.

Today's "good Samaritan" with his wife,
from his Facebook page
The whole thing took place in front of the "good Samaritan's" wife.

Back in Pennsylvania, in what is supposed to be a house of worship, just before the service was to begin, an unusual yet mild disturbance over some seats that other people had saved for themselves was in the process of cooling down.  A couple of ushers, a church staffmember, and a female witness had soothed a young man who'd been told he'd sat in a seat saved by somebody else.  According to multiple witnesses interviewed by the police, after the initial ruckus had subsided, a man came across the sanctuary, brandished an amateurish copy of a license-to-carry permit, and provoked the young man with his gun. 

The young man, incensed at the escalation of the incident, physically threatened the gun owner, who then fired his gun, killing the young man.  Days later, the shooter was charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment after nearly 50 churchgoers who'd witnessed the shooting all told police that it was uncalled for.

Usually, when we talk about gun rights in the United States, the debate veers from questions about public safety to the controlled responsibility that average gun owners like to describe themselves as possessing.  And it is true that despite 32% of American households owning at least one gun, there is no actual gun crisis in average, everyday America.  Yes, there are shootings, some of which are sensational enough to capture widespread news coverage.  And yes, there is gun violence in the United States, but by and large, gun violence usually takes place in the same areas of town where illegal gun ownership is believed to be the highest.

Hey; think about it:  People aren't normally shot in church by a fellow congregant.  Otherwise, the story out of Pennsylvania last week wouldn't have been news.  And "good Samaritans" aren't often shot in Walgreens parking lots, either.  Although it must be said that the church shooter almost certainly acted out of hubris and misplaced bravado, while today's gun owner obviously wasn't eager to use his weapon, since he'd left it in his vehicle.

If anything, you'd think your gun might come in handy more inside a retail store than a house of worship.

But both of these stories serve as deeply grave reminders of the profound accountability gun ownership entails.  These stories do not prove, or even remotely suggest, that we need more background checks.  But the sanguine blandishments from gun-rights advocates about the level-headedness of their peers could benefit from a reality check.

Adrenaline can do some funky things to us.

First, while it's noble of the man at Walgreens to take the initiative and return to his vehicle to retrieve his gun, had he fully assessed the situation before committing himself to it?  Does a man standing outside of his vehicle in a parking lot stand a good chance of stopping a fleeing shooter by aiming a gun at him?  His victim did not have a life-threatening wound, and her attacker was leaving; how great is the need to risk your own life at that point?  It's not the "good Samaritan's" fault that he got killed, but don't you know his widow is wondering if the cost of his actions is worth it.

Fortunately, even though today's shooter fled the scene, he eventually turned himself in to police in another Texas city.  So he'll have his day in court, and the "good Samaritan" will get some sort of justice, albeit posthumously.

So, lesson number one:  if you're going to use your weapon to defend somebody, and the situation is utterly spontaneous, make sure you have enough valid information about what happened and what might still happen before your own brandishment of a weapon unequivocally makes you a raw target.

And as far as the needless shooting in the Pennsylvania church is concerned, there is no major gun rights group in the United States publicly defending the shooter.  The gun advocacy website has called him an "idiot."  Although this gunman will also have his day in court, his current explanation for his actions - that he felt threatened, even though witness say he provoked the outburst that lead to him firing his gun - likely won't pass muster with a jury of his peers.

(Meanwhile, as for the church in which this shooting took place; it must be said that people who "hold" seats before a worship service and then go off and socialize obviously have no interest in creating a welcoming and inviting environment for people to come and worship our Creator God.  If the worship service is worth getting "good" seats for, it's worth you sitting in those seats and preparing yourself for corporate worship, right?)

It's not that gun ownership is a bad thing.  And it's not that the violence in our society is going away anytime soon.  In fact, it's not even like these two incidents in Texas and Pennsylvania have much more in common with each other than the fact that gun owners ended up facing some pretty bad consequences for their actions - one noble; the other, not so much...

But if you're going to own a gun, why not take a moment and appreciate once again the grave consequences that can come from your commitment to carry such an incendiary weapon.  Be prudent, be wise, be discerning, and know what you're doing.

After all, the life you're trying to protect could be your own.

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