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February 07, 2013 8:46 am

The Amend Corner: Fear and firearms

Written by Don Amend

About 20 years ago, I noticed a lady approaching the tourist information hut I was minding down in Greybull one summer morning. I could tell by her face and her determined stride that she was steamed about something, and I was right. In fact, she was somewhat beyond steamed, just short of enraged.

She stomped into my hut, and without so much as a hello, demanded to know where the security guards were at the campground in the Big Horn Mountains where she and her husband had spent the night.

I was taken aback by the question. During my lifetime of recreating in the Big Horns, it had never occurred to me that campgrounds should have guards. I told her there were no security guards at the campgrounds, because they weren’t really necessary. I explained that I had never felt threatened by a human in all my time in the mountains, although I had inadvertently gotten too close to a moose or two on occasion.

That made the woman, who said she was from Chicago, even more angry. There were bad people out there, she said, and campers were susceptible to attack without armed guards around. She departed, still angry, and her parting words were, “It’s a good thing I have my .357.”

Now, I am not a gun person, but I’m not anti-gun either. I think that lady has the perfect right to own a pistol and to pack it along on her vacation, if it makes her feel safer. She had bought the .357 legally in a city with somewhat restrictive gun laws, and given Chicago’s reputation for crime and violence, I can sympathize with her. She was no doubt one of the “good guys” National Rifle Association Wayne Pierre says constitute the “only way” of stopping the “bad guys.”

But frankly, I don’t think her firearm made the Chicago lady one bit safer. Nor do I think I would be safer if I were camped near her. She was not in Chicago, now, and the odds that her campground would be attacked were pretty long. She was, almost without a doubt, perfectly safe as she slept.

But, considering how angry she was when she talked to me, and how fearful she was of possible danger, I have to believe she was a bundle of nerves and pretty jumpy as she lay in her sleeping bag that night, surrounded by darkness to which she was unaccustomed and listening to unfamiliar sounds in the night. She might even have a few beers working their magic on her brain as she listened.

Suppose, for example, a half-asleep Dad (I speak from experience) had startled her while escorting a 4-year-old to the john and blundered too close to her tent? Or suppose another camper’s dog had come sniffing around her tent just before dawn and she mistook it for a bear. In her fearful state, it’s easy to imagine her sending off a shot, either accidentally or on purpose, at some imaginary danger — a shot that might go harmlessly into the night or into a sleeping bag in another tent.

Now granted, this is an unlikely scenario, but so is Mr. LaPierre’s image of a mad rapist trying to break down your front door. For that matter, so is the prospect that a mentally deranged person will invade a Powell school. While such events are horrific and dominate the news for days or weeks, they are rare events.

But we live in a climate of fear, where every little case of gun violence makes the news. Where individuals are likely to see imaginary danger in a young man walking down a street, or a carload of teenagers talking back when they are asked to turn their car stereo down. Two such situations occurred in Florida in recent months, and each situation resulted in a dead teenager.

Both sides in the gun debate have contributed to this climate of fear. The gun lobby tells you that life is so dangerous that you must have a firearm at the ready to protect yourself. The other side argues that each and every firearm presents a clear, and possibly inevitable, danger for you and your children. Both are exaggerating the danger.

As I have said, I am not anti-gun. I have friends and relatives who hunt and protect their livestock with guns. Moreover, while I think better background checks and more efforts to deal with mental illness would be good things to do, I believe it would take many years, possibly generations, to make a dent in gun violence.

But I do reject Mr. LaPierre’s notion that more firearms in the hands of “good guys” are the answer. Good guys have bad days, and they aren’t always on alert. Nor are they trained to deal with every specific situation, and they may act out of unjustified fear.

In that light, consider the death last week of a firearms expert, Chris Kyle, the author of “American Sniper,” who was shot at a shooting range by a man he was trying to help. Despite his expertise and training, he was unable to protect himself from a deranged man with a firearm.

If that could happen to Mr. Kyle, what are the odds against you, me or even Wayne LaPierre responding effectively when threatened, regardless of the weapons we carry.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link March 26, 2013 10:02 pm posted by Morgan

    Incredibly clear logic Don... yet, so hard to grasp by so many.

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