Lea Wait here. And, for the record, in case the rest of this post leaves anyone in the dark, I am not a member of the National Rifle Association. At one point in my life I would have said I was against all guns.
I marched for peace years ago. I was one of those mothers who wouldn’t even allow a water pistol in her home. I had to swallow hard when one of my daughters enlisted in the Army and then came home with a medal in riflery. Yes; I was proud of her, and, yes, I’m glad our country has strong Armed Forces. But her career decision was far outside my emotional compass.
I learned from her. I’ve also learned to have sympathy for those who live in areas where the lives of people and deer have overlapped, to the detriment of both (see Sarah’s post yesterday.) That was also true in the New Jersey suburbs I called home for some years. And I know people in Maine and other states who depend on their guns to provide meat for their families, and do so legally. I don’t begrudge them that right. I even went to a gun range with other mystery writers a couple of years ago to learn how it felt to fire a gun at a target. Not the real thing, maybe. But close enough for me.
But I still have a problem with guns. Handguns, in particular. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I write mysteries.
I’m also a realist. I know we live in a gun totin’ country. In 49 of our 50 states people can (when they meet legal requirements) carry a concealed handgun. (Illinois is the one exception and probably won’t be for long.) The NRA website says Wisconsin alone just celebrated (!) giving out its 100,000th permit. The February 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin has been in the headlines all spring. In 2010 there were 12,996 murders in the United States, which then had a population of almost three hundred and nine million. 8,775 of those deaths were caused by people using firearms, and, of these firearms, 6,009 were handguns. (These statistics don’t include Florida and don’t fully represent Illinois.) In the United Kingdom, a country of a little over sixty-one million, there were a few less than seven hundred murders in 2010. The UK has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world; even police officers (except those in Northern Ireland) do not routinely carry firearms.)
Still — and I hesitate to write this — horrible though even one murder is individually, 13,000 murders in a population of almost 309 million is still a tiny fraction. And most people murdered are killed by people they know. Family. Friends. Colleagues.
Despite these facts, hundreds of thousands of Americans are now carrying guns. What I want to know is: what are all these people afraid of?
As a young woman I lived in Pittsburgh for 4 years; in New York City for 10. I traveled on business, alone, to cities all over this country. For many years I was the single parent of four daughters. I remember sometimes being careful of where in a city I went, and when. I don’t ever remember being afraid. I never thought of carrying any kind of weapon. Nor did I ever suggest any to my daughters.
Four days ago an article on the front page of The New York Times shocked me. Woolrich, an 182-year-old clothing company known for its flannel shirts, jackets and conservative suits for men and women, announced a new “Concealed Carry” line of clothing for “the fashion-aware gun owner.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/24/us/fashion-statement-is-clear-the-gun-isnt.html
These chinos and vests look like normal, every-day clothing. They’re not like hunting garb, or police clothing, or the line of clothing Cabela’s carries labelled “Blackhawk!” No, these are the sorts of clothes you might wear anywhere. Which is, of course, where people who have permits carry their hand guns. Anywhere.
By the way, if you’re in the market for a weapon, Cabela’s, which has a large store in Maine (“the most peaceful state”), gives you a choice of 139 different handguns on its website, from 60 semiautomatic pistols to 14 “Civil War” revolvers. And, for women who don’t want one of the shoulder or belt or ankle holsters they carry, it sells four concealed carry purses, including one called the Gun Tot ‘n Mama. Cabela’s also offers a Blackhawk concealed-carry shirt sporting “profile-disrupting plaid”. It has a “zippered document pocket for discrete carrying of critical items.” Its longer length and plaid will, “maximize weapon concealment.” (What kind of critical documents will you need to hide in a shirt you order from Cabelas? Your shopping list? Your report card? Is this a fantasy game?)
When I first started to write this blog, I was going to make it funny. You know — little old ladies with their handguns in their purses. Wall Street executives and bankers having to walk around the metal detectors at work because of the gun hidden in their jacket.
But then I realized that wasn’t funny. Those things are really happening.
I can make it all come out right in the mysteries I’m writing. I can even make it sound funny if I want to. But then I think of the Lexington Avenue subway in New York City full of people with concealed weapons. Or a crowd at the National Zoo. Or a mass of emotional people at a sporting event anywhere.
Now that so many Americans are carrying handguns, for the first time in my life, I’m scared. I don’t care how many metal detectors there are. I’m really scared. And not just for me, living quietly in Maine, in that “most peaceful” state. I’m scared for all of us. I’m scared because something in this country has changed. For some reason we don’t trust each other any more. And I can’t believe that everyone carrying a gun is the solution to that problem.
In fact, it can only make it worse.