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How Some People Learn Their Lessons

by Michael Z. Williamson


The sign read:  “Combating gun violence.  Reasonable safety standards for today’s world.”

There was a good turnout.  Eighteen candidates.  Finally, people were waking up!

But the candidates' speeches shocked and appalled Carla Lee.  Fifteen of the eighteen were Libertarians, and they were all rabid, spouting gun nuts.  Not only were they reciting propaganda, but were angry at the crowd for not agreeing with them.  They even had a token woman and a token African-American with them, to try to appear “mainstream.”  What load of bull had they been fed to hang out with this bunch?  And why were they wasting their time here?  Did they expect their lunacy to be listened to?

The fifth candidate, a Mr. McKay, was from the school’s district, she noted, and a real kook.  He was a Libertarian, of course, dressed all in black.  He didn’t look bad, in fact was quite neat and clean.  He had a goofy looking fanny pack that destroyed the lines of his outfit, though.  She made notes for class on his presentation.

She paid scant attention to his actual speech, simply copying every major word for reference.  He rattled off a military career, Persian Gulf, Army, competitive shooter, gun show dealer, etc.  Just the kind of fruitcake to keep out of office, she thought.  He probably believed there was a global conspiracy by the Bavarian Illuminati, or some such.  He made a comment that angered her, about, “...we are obsessed with violence, but attempt to blame inanimate objects.  This is like blaming Ford for drunk-driving deaths.”  Did he actually believe there was a comparison between the two?  A domestic dispute was made worse with alcohol, true, but it was the presence of guns that made them lethal.  Another soundbite made her guts roil.  “There’s no gun show loophole, there are no cop-killer bullets, there’s no such thing as a semi-automatic assault weapon, trigger locks are dangerous, and Elvis is dead.”  As if she were the nut in this debate!

Some of the crowd were agents provocateur and were playing along with these clowns.  Dr. Davis and Professor Jennings had a hard time keeping order.  They shouted out questions and heckled.  This was why they needed to make the group more private, but if they did that, it would be harder to reach the people they needed to.  They’d just have to grit their teeth and take it, she figured.  Some jerk shouted out, “And if I can’t protect myself with a gun when I go to the bank, what do you suggest I do if I get attacked?”

“Just run away!” Jennings replied. 

“EASY FOR YOU TO SAY!” another troublemaker shouted.  They turned to face him.

He was in a wheelchair.  “Just run away?  Me?  What about Mr. McKay’s three-year-old daughter?  Should he run away and leave her?”

There was an embarrassed, pregnant silence.  “Well, once we solve the gun problem, that will be less of an issue.  And keep in mind that the number of people who are actually attacked by gangs is almost non-existent.” 

“That’s small comfort to the almost non-existent few,” Mr. McKay said.

It took several minutes to regain order.  Davis took the opportunity to list his patients from his practice.  The girl who’d taken her father’s rifle and blown her brains out.  The father who’d shot himself in front of his kids.  Tragic stories that should sway anyone.  Carla looked around, and was shocked even more.  Mr. All-black looked bored and put upon, and so did some of the others.  Heartless, selfish, self-absorbed jerks!

“Of course, no one ever killed himself by smashing a car into an abutment,” Black Guy said.  “And since Japan’s suicide rate is triple ours, with no guns, it should be obvious that there are plenty of other means available, and other issues here.”

“I’m talking!” Davis snapped.  “Now...yes...this obsession with the Second Amendment, and the way you’ve taken it out of context... we certainly don’t expect people to have their own artillery or fighter planes.  It’s a state right, and the courts have always said so--”

“Actually, Sir,” Black Guy interrupted again, “That turns out not to be the case.  In US vs Miller, the Court said that without evidence to the contrary, they didn’t see a short-barreled shotgun as a militarily-useful weapon.  It is, but they had no evidence.  Note the term, “militarily useful.”  My National Guard unit--” he produced an ID card-- “is paid by the Federal Government, takes orders from it, violating our perimeter is a federal crime, as is stealing our weapons, which are US property.  We have members from Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Florida, so we clearly aren’t a ‘state militia.’  And we have orders for wartime, if unable to reach our base, to ‘recall the militia,’ which is anyone with a rifle.  The National Defense Act of Nineteen Sixteen, which created the Guard and the ROTC also defines the Militia as quote ‘all able bodied males between seventeen and forty-five, and anyone else who wishes to declare so.’  That’s anyone with a modern rifle.  As to the other, there’s a guy not two hours from here who owns a Vietnam-era F-100 Super Sabre fighter, and about a dozen people in town with tanks or artillery.  Perfectly legal.”

Where did he get this?? She thought. 

Jennings steered back onto topic, “Well, anyway, we aren’t here to discuss the Second Amendment, we’re here to discuss reasonable safety precautions.

“How about a reasonable requirement that a psychiatrist undergo a stability check?” someone jeered.  There was laughter.

“OR A FIVE DAY WAIT ON NEWSPAPER PUBLICATION!” another shouted.  It took long minutes to get back under control.

One of the rational thinkers got a good comment in, she thought.  The State Senator from up north, Mr. Jervis, spoke.  He rambled a bit, but was entertaining and clever.  “I bet if we took a bunch of black people to one of these gun shows, and walked out with guns, we’d get them shut down in a hurry.”  There was good laughter this time--from the reasonable people. 

Black guy finally looked furious.  “We get many black customers, Sir--” he started.

“I’M talkin’ now!” Jervis bellowed.  “We can just shut those shows down.  We don’t need predators sellin’ illegal Isuzus to gangbangers--”

“Do you mean ‘Uzis’?” the lady Libertarian asked.

“Yeah, whatever,” Jervis said, derailed again.

“Open bolt or closed bolt Uzis?” Black Guy asked.  “The FBI doesn’t record a single case of an Uzi being used in gang activity.  And no legit dealer can sell them except to a licensed holder, so if they do have them, it was illegal to start with.  So much for your ‘reasonable’ laws.”

There was another pause for order.

During the question and answer session, Carla got in her licks.  “My question is for the gentleman in black,” she said.  He stood, and she continued, “If gun control is not the answer, what is?”

“I take it you didn’t listen to my speech,” he said, dryly.  “It’s a social issue, with social cures.  If people don’t think of violence as glamorous, they are less likely to be involved.”

“And what do you propose to do about it?” she prodded.

“Well, for myself, I spend a lot of time with my daughter.  Instead of TV, we play.  When we do watch TV, we mostly stick to educational shows, PBS, and kid-oriented videos or Disney.  We don’t let her play pro-wrestling, or hit people, and we keep her busy with constructive toys.  She sees guns constantly, but always handled by professionals, and never as toys.”

“It’s good that you are so involved,’ she admitted, surprised.  “But what about my neighbor’s kids?  They’re troublemakers.”

“Ma’am, I can’t legislate how your neighbors treat their kids.  If they do something neglectful or harmful, report them.  But the courts decided a long time ago that no one is responsible for the actions of others.”

His Democratic opponent took the opportunity to speak about the need for more public education and social programs.  Of course, he shook his head, opposing those, too.  Some wacko shouted, “The problem is they took God out of school!”

Jervis retaliated for them all when he said, “He never should have been there in the first place!”  She was surprised to see the Libertarians agreeing with that.  Weren’t they ultra-right idiots? 

The last one was precious.  He was an old guy, making the usual noises about firing a gun when he was three and getting slammed by the recoil.  That recoil must have damaged his brain, because he went off about Bill Clinton and China and some conspiracy to disarm America for an invasion.

She approached Mr. Man In Black after the debate.  “Why did you come here?” she asked, angrily.  “Do you actually expect us to vote for you?”

He smiled, still infuriatingly calm.  “I had hoped there were arguments you hadn’t heard,” he said.  “And I had hoped my compatriots were better organized.  But since they’re not, and you ignore logic, I’ll settle for the twenty votes I did pick up.”  He pointed to the back of the hall.  “Your opponents back there will vote for me.  And there’s more of them than there are of you.  By the way,” he continued, as she started to turn away, “This is my British Passport.  I’ve been here about twenty years.  The crime rate in Britain?”

“Yes?” she prompted. 

“Let’s just say I’d rather walk through the South Bronx than Soho.  And that’s a fact from a native, not propaganda from an ignorant, obsessive freak, or that racist kook.”  It took her a moment to realize he was talking about Professor Jennings and Mr. Jervis.  She opened her mouth wide, shut it, and stormed out.

“If you really want educated as to weapons and terminology, so you don’t look foolish by talking about “semiautomatic assault weapons,” I’d be happy to provide either reference or information.  You don’t have to agree with me.”

“No, thank you,” she said, frostily.

“Sure.  Better to ask an expert,” he replied.  “Dr. Davis certainly knows more about firearms than a career infantryman.”  She stiffened and kept walking.

Carla was steaming as she left the hall.  Behind her, the gun nuts were gathering and ranting amongst themselves.  It was hard to believe anyone was that deluded.  She’d been sure beforehand that they were all lunatics who wanted to overthrow the government, but they kept citing laws and the Constitution.  Most of them were veterans?  Didn’t they know firsthand how dangerous guns were?

No, they they were just fools.  Typical of soldier types.  Rather pathetic, if they weren’t such a threat to society.  All those constitutional quotes.  Did they all think themselves lawyers?

Her thoughts churned as she turned south on Delaware.  As far as all those statistics--get real.  She didn’t even need to check with the FBI or the CDC to know that what they were claiming was ridiculous.  The information was so readily available, and all the good researchers agreed:  the presence of guns caused crime.  No doubt they’d twisted some figures to prove their lies, but it wasn’t anything she needed to waste time on.  When they had real data, she'd look at it.  But not such obvious bull.

She turned off Delaware onto 38th.  It was a bad neighborhood, but a major street.  She wasn’t worried, especially before midnight.  The fog was a bit creepy, though.  She knew it was childish, but she decided to take the long way around the front to her building, not the short cut through the alleys.  Then she got angry again.  No, she would not let herself be afraid.  The alley was the short route, that’s what she’d take.

She passed the boarded up gas station that was next to the pager and cell phone shop.  She really felt sorry for people in this neighborhood, having to worry about drive-bys and drug dealers toting guns.  It was time they didn’t have to be afraid.

“Yo, lady, you got any money?”  The man asking was dressed in expensive track shoes and a team jacket.  She walked wide around him.  “Sorry,” she said.  “I don’t even have bus fare.  That’s why I’m walking.”  She increased her pace while shivers ran through her.

Another youth stepped out in front of her.  She said, “Excuse me,” and tried to move past.  He put up a hand to restrain her.  Before she realized what was happening, there were a lot of them.  She couldn’t even count them, but she was surrounded.  Some of them had clubs and knives.

“The number of people who are actually attacked by gangs is almost non-existent.”  “That’s small comfort to the almost non-existent few.”  Both phrases ran through her head, over and over, blending together.  Welcome to the few.  Hands snatched at her skirt, and she whimpered.  Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod.  She forgot that she was an atheist, and prayed incoherently.  Her coat was yanked, and a knife sliced it open in jagged tears.  She felt herself hyperventilating in panic.

“Leave her alone or I’ll kill you!” a deep voice shouted.  Then came scuffling noises, and she wondered what had happened.  Cops didn’t talk like that, did they?

There was a terrific sound, physically slapping at her, and the thug holding her collapsed, blood spraying.  Then another roar and another punk down.  Shouts of alarm and curses filled the air, and they milled about, seeking cover and the source of the trouble.  In doing so, they blessedly forgot about her.

The source of their distress appeared through the fog.  A man; tall, mid-thirties, in good shape, wearing all black.  The fanny pack at his waist flopped down, and the pistol it had held was aiming again.  His stance was like none she’d ever seen on TV, and she knew just by looking that he was a professional.

Several of the attackers ran off, one screaming in a high-pitched keen.  The four left shouted angrily and charged him.  The one with the tire iron swung it, and it made contact with the pistol.  It clattered to the ground, and her savior yelped in pain.  What was his name?  She’d forgotten already.  She watched, fascinated and horrified as the metal bar was raised again, but the fight was far from over.

His foot snaked out and tangled an ankle, while his hands grappled the weapon hand.  There was a crunching sound and a shriek, and a third attacker was down.  His other hand had been holding one at bay, and he turned that way.  Whatever he did was lost in a swirl of mist, but as it swept by he reappeared, astride another limp form.  Then the last two caught up to him.  There came sickening thuds and groans, and he dropped to the ground, curling up and crying in pain.  She cried, too, watching him get pulped for helping her.  She shimmied backwards.  Since they didn’t see her, maybe she could reach a house with a phone.  The police could be here in a few minutes...

Her hand brushed a cold, metal object.  Instinctively, she clutched at its shape, trying to discern it.  It was a gun.

His gun.

It took only a moment to scoop it up.  She pointed it at the nearest youth, who was whooping and cursing his former foe as he kicked again and again at the limp form.  She aimed high, so as not to shoot the victim, and yanked the trigger.

The hammer of God kicked her in the head.  Her arms shook, her wrists ached, her ears rang, and she lost control of the weapon, but it was enough.  The two gang punks still functional ran away, one holding his shoulder.

Gasping, weeping and blind with tears, she sought his shape.  Probing gingerly, she decided that his skull probably wasn’t fractured, but his arm was likely broken.  He was covered in blood, but his pulse was strong and vital. 

Sirens and lights interrupted her, and she waved to attract attention.  In a few moments, cops and firefighters swarmed around the area, carefully straightening and splinting the dark, wet figure.

“Are we pressing charges, Ma’am?” an officer asked her while another took photographs of the tire iron that had been left behind, then aimed the camera at the gun.  The investigator had to repeat the question before she could track.

“NO!” she snapped back.  They thought he was one of the criminals!  Just because there was a gun there.

Well...hadn’t she thought so?

“No,” she said.  “He saved my life.”  She told the story while the officer scribbled notes, and the thought kept echoing through her brain.  He saved my life.

Had he known who she was?  Had he cared?  She’d ridiculed his outdated sense of self-sufficiency and involvement at the meeting, and he’d almost died to protect her.  Was she a stranger to him?  Or a tormentor?  Which would make him more honorable?

It took hours to detail everything she remembered.  The police caught two of the suspects at a nearby hospital, and found another lurking in a back yard nearby.  By the time she identified them and signed forms, and was given a ride home, it was light again.  They assured her for the dozenth time that her rescuer was fine.  Bruises, some of them internal, contusions, one fracture and a few pressure cuts, but nothing permanent.  Apparently, he knew how to take it as well as dish it out.  She decided food and a shower could wait.  First, there was something more important to be done.

Professor Jennings was in his office.  “Carla!” she said, startled.  “What happened to you?”

“I was involved in an incident with a gun-toting fanatic,” she said sarcastically.

“That’s terrible!” he replied, urging her to a seat.  “Are you alright?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” she replied.  “Tired, but I wasn’t hurt.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” he said, sitting behind his desk.  “But we can still use it.  I want to see the looks on the faces of those kooks from last night when we put this in the papers.  Tell me what happened,” he said.  His face suddenly reminded her of a vulture.

“It’s already going to be in the papers,” she informed him, gulping bile.  Was that how he viewed rape and murder?  A means to a political end?  “There’s only one thing I need to tell you.”

“Yes?” he prompted.

“Go to Hell,” she said.  As the silence dragged out, another phrase came to mind.  She stood, whirled, and reached for the door.  As she opened it, she added, “You and the rest of those Fascist bastards.”

She made a note to look up that rabid politician tomorrow.  He had her vote.  He’d have as many votes as she could raise on campus.  And she’d learn a few things from him.  Like how to shoot.

Copyright 2000 by Michael Z, Williamson, all rights reserved.  This work of fiction appears as a public service on All other publication rights remain with the author.

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