Monday, July 13, 2009

It's Summertime and the Living Is Deadly

The sky above is pale blue. The lake below is deep blue and dotted with little white boats full of rich white people. Navy Pier is hopping. The 4 masted schooner is moving out, taking people on a late afternoon/early evening lake cruise. It is one of the loveliest of lovely mid-summer days, a day for a leisurely 20 mile ride, a day for an encounter on the tennis courts with friends. It is 75 degrees at the Mini.

Summer means many things to many people. To me it means I don't have to wake up early and drive to work. It means I have time for leisure and personal pursuits that make me more than a one dimensional man. In the traditional Chicago it means stoop sitting, and visiting with the neighborhood as it passes you by. To a great many people it means evening meals cooked on a grill in the backyard. It means being outdoors and savoring the ease that is summer, before the winter winds arrive again and we all go in again for the long, cold season.

To a great many people in Chicago and in most large cities, however, it means that someone you know is going to die from a gunshot wound. It means the weather is warm enough to bring the gangs outdoors to strut their colors and wave their weapons ,to shoot anyone who they think may be dissing them, and to shoot a great many innocent bystanders because they are godawful shots. It means that on the Southside and the Westside of Chicago someone is going to get drunk and get in an argument with someone and resolve the argument with a pistol. It means that in Brooklyn, and Harlem, and the Bronx someone is going to catch a boyfriend or girlfriend with someone else and is going to get revenge for their bruised ego with a gun. It means that in East L.A and South Central someone is going to need some cash for drugs and is going to shoot a clerk in a convenience store. In the poorer neighborhoods of America, this is summer.

A week ago I went for a run along the lakefront and ran into some crowds at North Avenue Beach. As I was making my way through the crowds and was about to get onto the pedestrian bridge that crosses Lake Shore Drive to Lincoln Park, with its trees and ball fields and rowing lagoon and driving range and zoo, I encountered a group of teenaged Mexican boys. They had obviously just come from a soccer game and several were still in their team jerseys. Then I noticed one pulling his long t-shirt down over his belt just so. It occurred to me at that moment that he could be pulling that t-shirt down to cover up a pistol that he had tucked in his waist band. Then I thought, "Oh man how callous have I become? He's just a teenage kid with his friends." Then I looked closer and there was no pistol tucked in his waist band. There was a pistol, an obvious pistol handle, sticking out of the pocket of his jeans. And I thought "Mother Fucker! What is this kid (no more than 16) doing at North Avenue Beach with a fucking pistol?" I looked around. There was not a cop in sight. There was a sea of people on a warm Sunday afternoon, at the beach for a little fun. I had no cell phone with me. I continued on and said nothing. I am not one to create an altercation with a kid carrying a gun in his pocket.

As it turns out I didn't turn on the news that evening and subsequently hear about a shooting at the beach. I thought about the possibilities, though and the result of none of them was good. There were thousands of people at the beach that day. There were black kids, white kids, Latino kids, women with children, people out walking their dogs, runners, bikers, roller bladers, and dumbass drunk white guys with tatoos. This kid could have ended up in an argument with any number of people at the beach that day, and the fact that he had a gun in his pocket would have made him just a little bolder, a little more stupid, and someone could have died. If he had been just an arrogant teenager with no weapon and he got in an argument, someone might have gotten their nose broken, gotten a busted lip, or in a worse case, a busted skull and bruised ribs. In all likelihood they would have survived. Add a gun to the mix and they die, almost every time.

The National Rifle Association likes to quote the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and its guarantee of the Right to Bear Arms. They like to incite people in rural areas and tell them that the liberals want to take away your hunting rifles. They like to incite the poor in major cities and tell them that the Constitution guarantees them the right to have a gun to protect yourself from citizens who are outlaws, and from a repressive government that has become outlaw. The government has never, I repeat, never tried to outlaw hunting weapons. People can go shoot deer and birds and rabbits to their heart's content. The government does not give a shit. For the record, automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles are not hunting weapons. That is, unless the game you are hunting is human. AK-47s, Uzis, M-16s, and weapons of this class are not intended for shooting deer. They are intended for killing other people. You do not have the right to kill other people, and frankly, if you are one of those who wish to go off the grid because you think the government is oppressive, and you think you need an assault rifle (or several) please stay in the middle of nowhere in Idaho, Arkansas, or wherever the hell it is that you're hoarding your stockpile of weapons, because frankly my life is pretty good here, and I have never ever needed a weapon to protect myself from the government.

Fact: The Mexican drug cartels that are so heavily armed that they are a threat to the Mexican police and the Mexican military are arming themselves with easily obtainable weapons bought across the border in the U.S. Fact: The easy accessibility of weapons across the U.S., coast to coast, allows gangs to arm themselves to the teeth and kill thousands of people every year in the process of their illegal pursuits. Haven't we had enough? I have lived 58 years on this planet and I have lived in good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods and I have traveled coast to coast, in rural areas, in urban areas, and in suburban areas. I have never, not once, in my life had need of a gun. People aren't protecting themselves with their constitutionally guaranteed guns. They are killing each other for incredibly dumbass reasons.

Do I believe we need gun control? Hell yes! No one in this country needs an assault weapon. No one really needs a hand gun. Both of those categories of weapons are intended for one purpose, the death of other human beings. The NRA would have us believe that if more of us owned guns, then fewer of us would die from lethal assaults using hand guns, because we would be able to protect ourselves. The truth is that if guns were more controlled, fewer people would have access to guns, and fewer people would have need of protecting themselves from idiots with guns. As for the real deer hunters, the real pheasant hunters, etc. out there. I don't want your guns. You are not the ones making people afraid to come outdoors in the summer. For those of you who like to get drunk and run around in the woods with high powered rifles and shotguns, well maybe I do want your guns. You who shot the woman in her backyard in Vermont because she was wearing white gloves while hanging clothes on a clothesline and you thought she was a white tailed deer. You who provoked an argument with a Hmong man in Wisconsin and then complained bitterly because you lost the argument when he shot several of your friends. I want your guns, and the guns of the Hmong men who would also solve arguments with their hunting rifles.

I have come to the end of my day's rant, but I just need to let it be known. I am tired of children dying in the summer, instead of riding their bikes and playing in the park. I am tired of the death trap that summer has become in the poorer neighborhoods across this nation. I am tired of stupid people carrying around weapons and ruining the lives of countless people because of some cowboy mentality. We, as a nation, have to stop the insanity. We, as a nation, have to realize that guns are not protecting our lives. They are destroying our futures.

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