WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LIVE BY THE GUN
Fear never strikes out. Now even Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson deems it acceptable to boast on public television of a newly purchased rottweiler and home security system.
Johnson explains: "We had a gentleman who was crawling in and out of our windows. He broke into our personal things. When arrested, he was wearing my wife's undergarments. Apparently, he had stalked us for six months."
The mayor spoke without expression. He and his wife, Christa, were speaking on the public-access television station, explaining how marvelous it was to be the city's first family.
The mayor added, "I used to see him around our house constantly when I went out jogging in the mornings. In fact, I always waved to him. I thought he was simply someone who lived in the neighborhood."
I have no doubt the mayor waved to him. Our mayor is like a wind-up political doll. Wind him up and he either waves or else delivers that wan, characterless smile. Johnson has tired of being our gregarious boy mayor and would now like to become our stately boy governor. Naivet is his trump card. Johnson apparently hasn't decided as yet how it will play for a Democratic candidate to talk about packing a gun these days.
That's okay. Johnson is just about the only one in town who isn't talking about the necessity of carrying a personal weapon for protection. Newspaper columnists feel compelled to write about it once a week. Talk-show hosts address the matter every day.
@body:I know a retired Phoenix firefighter with a history of personal heroism. He stands better than six feet and weighs more than 200 pounds. He still lifts weights regularly to maintain good physical condition.
But he is a realist. He always carries a pistol with him in his car.
Recently, he was driving through Metrocenter on a shopping trip. He halted his car at an intersection. Several teenagers, dressed in clothing identifying them as local gang members, began taunting him from the sidewalk.
"They stood there cursing me and indicating they had guns under their jackets," the firefighter said. "What should I have done? Should I have jumped out of my car and slapped their snotty faces?
"Did they really have guns? Should I have picked up my own weapon on the seat next to me and confronted them?"
The ex-firefighter's sanity prevailed. He simply drove away from the scene.
@body:A former police officer, who is now a well-known Phoenix lawyer, left a restaurant and headed for his car in the parking lot.
As he approached his recently purchased Porsche, he noticed a pickup truck jockeying back and forth to get out of a tight parking space. The rear end of the pickup truck slammed into the right front fender of the Porsche. There was the grinding sound of metal on metal.
"I shouted and waved at the pickup's driver, signaling that he had damaged my car. His answer was to give me the finger and pull away, speeding out of the parking lot.
"I sized up the situation. He just looked to me like somebody who might be armed. I had a .38 special on the front seat of my car. Did I want to risk getting shot over a fender that can be fixed for a thousand dollars? I simply stood there watching as he drove away."
@body:I know a judge who is six feet nine inches tall and is so imposing in appearance that one would think it would require the membership of several gangs to take him down. He, too, never leaves home without his pistol on the seat beside him.
Would he shoot someone who attacked him? I remember when he was a prosecutor, he was assigned the case of a 70-year-old man who was pummeled in a Seventh Street tavern by a bully. The elderly man went to his car, got a pistol from his glove compartment and shot the bully dead. He pleaded self-defense, but was convicted and died in Florence prison.
One of my best friends is a retired newspaper photographer of enormous talent. He now lives in an Iowa farm community in which the crime rate has not risen since the year Franklin D. Roosevelt crushed Alfred M. Landon in a presidential race now recalled only by historians.
This staunch family man who was once so passionate about Nikon and Blaupunkt cameras has built up a collection of automatic weapons varied enough for him to make a last heroic stand against several squads of elite Russian paratroopers.
He speaks glowingly about one of his weapons, so powerful that the bullet could go through a truck and kill an attacker standing on the other side.
I wonder how he would feel if he actually did ever fire any of these weapons in anger or even self-defense.
This is the problem with guns. They take away options. An ordinary argument is always elevated to a life-threatening situation.
So why carry one unless you are fully prepared to use it at the slightest provocation? And if you are actually willing to employ deadly force, then you are headed for trouble, anyway. Society professes to admire Clint Eastwood types--but only on the screen.
@body:This is the Christmas season. I recall an unforgettable dinner during another Yule season, shortly after Christina the Lawyer and I got married. That would make it almost 20 years ago.
Seated at the head of the table was our host for the evening, a retired Navy admiral. He was a decorated hero of the Second World War, born in Bisbee, Annapolis-trained, who had spent most of his adult life in Texas.
Whenever the admiral got into his car to make one of those long, Texas automobile trips, he stuffed an automatic pistol in his glove compartment. On the seat alongside him, he placed the longest and heaviest screwdriver in his collection for use as a quick-draw defense weapon.
The admiral passed the dinner retelling stories about how many Japs he had killed in the war in which he had been a highly decorated fighter pilot.
His favorite war story was the recounting of the day in the South Pacific when he had strafed American sailors to prevent them from surrendering to the enemy. They were on a small naval vessel that had been heavily damaged by enemy fire. Some began swimming to shore, where they would be captured rather than risk drowning at sea.
The admiral, flying overhead in a fighter plane, spoke proudly of sending down a withering rain of machine-gun fire which had an obvious message. If they swam for shore to give up, he would gladly shoot them rather than allow them to become prisoners of the Japanese.
The admiral was a raging bull of a gun enthusiast. At the conclusion of the meal, he went into another room and came back out with a small, black-leather carrying bag.
He placed the bag on the table and from it he pulled out a pistol and pushed it across the table so that it rested next to my dessert plate.
"Here's something you can use to take care of yourself," he said. "You never know when you might need it."
I declined the gift. The admiral glared at me. I'm sure my refusal only confirmed his suspicions about either my willingness or ability to act like a man.
During this period, I also chanced to encounter the admiral's younger brother. He, too, was a man of a most fierce nature. He had spent his adult life in the Central Intelligence Agency.
For years he was stationed in the Middle East. One day, he was taken prisoner by men he didn't know. They tied him up and then beat him severely. Then they threw him down a deep well in the desert, leaving him to die.
But this was one tough Texan. He refused to die. Somehow freeing himself and then managing to crawl up out of the well, he was found and taken to a hospital.
In critical condition, he was flown back to the United States, where he was hospitalized for months and took more than a year to recover.
When he finally did regain his strength, he took more than a year's salary in cash and headed back overseas to avenge himself upon the men who tried to kill him.
His method was simple. He spread the word around in the right circles that he was prepared to pay $25,000 in cash to whomever could lead him to the men responsible. He had been in the CIA long enough to understand what motivated men to betray others.
Within days, one of his attacker's cousins came forth to collect the money and provide full details about the two men who attempted to kill him.
In the best Eastwood tradition, he went straight to the men, armed to the teeth. He caught them by surprise. Tying them up, he drove them to the same well into which they had tossed him. He shot them both in the head and dropped them down the well.
I bring this up only because I think the admiral and his brother are the only types of men who are truly comfortable carrying guns.
You might wonder what happened to them. They both eventually went back home to the small town in Texas where their mother still lived on the family farm.
She was approaching 90. Overbearing men of the world, they made it plain to her that it was their plan to take over the running of the farm and build a small place for her to live on the property.
She was just as strong-willed as her two boys. She didn't like the idea. They both died mysterious deaths from poisoning.
The town was so small, the county attorney never bothered over the matter.
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