A little while ago, Mark and Patricia McCloskey pointed their guns at some protesters in St. Louis. One of those guns was a semi-automatic rifle, a weapon of war. The protesters were walking together past the McCloskey house towards the home of their city’s mayor in order to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. They were not armed. They did, however, walk into and through a gated community.
In many countries, gated communities allow the residents to separate themselves from other, less salubrious, members of the town or city in which they reside. The gates are justified by fears of theft and violence, and are a consequence of the very large wealth gap. It is the modern equivalent of the moat around the castle. Similarly, most of us practice appropriate kinds of precaution. We lock our houses, bolt the back gate, and install security cameras. We are afraid.
No matter what you think about the Black Lives Matter movement, it has been largely non-violent. Initially, there were some instances of vandalism and looting, but as far as I can tell they were not representative of the movement as a whole and occurred on the fringes of the first few marches in a few cities. They did, however, get a lot of media coverage.
This, then, is the backdrop to the McCloskey’s fear. They were already feeling vulnerable when they moved into their community, and then the violence and theft that accompanied the BLM movement exacerbated their fears. They were very scared and they were gun people.
When I saw on television a group of people expressing righteous indignation, the McCloskeys had seen an angry mob. When I might have gone outside to cheer, they went outside to protect their property. Where I saw kindred spirits, they saw personal threats. In any case, the protesters never actually stepped onto the McCloskeys property.
This week, when I saw an article about the McCloskeys in the San Jose Mercury News, I commented: In my world, a person who waves a gun at an unarmed person is the threat, not the defensive person.
The first response was: Do you have room for one more in your world? This one makes less sense every day that goes by. I’ll take my chances in yours.
Subsequently, the responses were: You live in crazy world, in mine when their are riot, looting and hundreds people trespass on your property it makes perfect sense to protect yourselves when the police are ordered not too.
And: How were they to know at the time that those invading their neighborhood were unarmed? They could have had knives or maybe a gun that was not visible. I don’t blame this couple one bit. They were well within their rights.
And: Like someone waving a gun to dissuade banditry or worse on BART? You’re wrong, I’m afraid. [note: BART is the Bay Area Rapid Transit system]
So, three out of four people think I am wrong and they think that the fear justifies the reaction. They use the words riot, looting, rights, and banditry. Here is why I think they are mistaken.
First, the fear in this instance is greater than the threat. Fear makes us all irrational. No-one was rioting, looting, or being bandits. All involved were exercising their rights.
Second, if gun owners are protecting real estate, that does not justify killing. Trespass does not deserve the death penalty.
Third, if they are protecting possessions, that does not justify killing. It is all simply “stuff” and I have lost and gained enough stuff in my life to know that you can get it all back. Yes, it hurts to lose it, but life goes on.
Fourth, if they are protecting their lives, their defence is out of proportion to the threat. The protesters were unarmed. Yes, they were many, but they were not focused on the McCloskeys and they were not menacing.
However, in three of the four replies to my comment, the fearful response is being justified by the perception of threat, not by any actual threat. That is very troubling.
In addition, I would challenge the notion that a gun is an appropriate response to a fear of potential theft or violence. The dissonance is in the degree of lethality. The whole “stand your ground” ethos becomes a different creature when you factor in the gun culture. The McCloskeys felt justified because they thought their only strength was in their guns. They couldn’t fight the people they feared unless they had a weapon, and the weapons they had were guns. The display of lethal weapons was so far removed from the actual threat as to be illogical.
Apparently, I am in the minority on this, but I’m OK with that, too. I lock my doors, I bolt my back gate, and I have security cameras. What I don’t have is a gun, and I never will have. I would rather be killed than kill someone else, and that is where we differ. I cannot reconcile my need to protect myself, my family, and my property with the willingness to kill. Take precautions; yes. Check the locks; yes. Be prepared to kill; no.
There are two interwoven threads here. One is about fear and our reactions to fear. The other is about guns and the justifiable use of guns.
It comes down to the question, should we all arm ourselves? My answer is, no. There will always be people who make us feel unsafe, but adding more guns would simply make the world more threatening, not less so. When a society has fewer guns, there are fewer deaths. It is that simple.