Thursday, July 3, 2008

Well Dang, Shoot Fire!

BB Gun - Roger Alan Wade (mp3)
Pistol Grip - The Blakes (mp3)

The wife and I aren't what you would call gun-huggin', Charlton Heston-lovin', Bible-thumpin' conservatives. We lean left. If politics were a football field, my ball is probably on the 35-yard-line of the Liberals.

When I was in high school, I started on the 20 of the Conservative side, but I've been plodding down the field in three yards and a cloud of dust for 20 years now. It's unlikely I'll ever make it into the Liberal Red Zone, if you will, and I'm positive I'll never actually score points for either team. If anything, I worry that I'll get penalized here and there for being offsides or a false start and end up creeping back towards midfield by the time I hit my 50s.

But when I see news stories like the one we watched this morning on Good Morning America (video here), I tend to wonder just how liberal someone has to be to fall on one side of this debate as compared to the other.

The story is about Joe Horn, a 61-year-old man from Houston who hit most every branch on the Ugly Tree on his way to earth. He has no previous record of combative behavior or violence that we know of. But the man sure talked tough to a 911 operator while he fidgeted and squirmed knowing two men had broken into his neighbor's house. And the longer he talked -- waiting for cops who apparently weren't coming anytime soon -- the more he compelled himself to go outside with his loaded shotgun and enforce justice. I honestly believe ol' Joe Horn meant every tough-talkin' word he said and simultaneously didn't really know he meant it. Like my college roommate who always told other obnoxious drunk guys that he wouldn't hesitate to kick their asses. He kinda meant it, but he didn't really intend to do it... unless they chose to cross that line he'd created in his own mind.

So this old guy shot and killed these two immigrant burglars. I think most of America -- let's just say 75% for argument's sake -- is mostly OK with this outcome. Burglars don't deserve to die, and the punishment didn't fit the crime, but as the saying so eloquently puts it, you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. And sometimes those fleas are 61 years old and carrying a loaded shotgun out their front door. My favorite part in the lead-in is where Diane Sawyer says the two burglars weren't armed. All they had were tire irons. And I'm like, Madame Sawyer, if two menacing black illegal immigrants headed your direction with tire irons, and you weren't standing inside an auto body shop but rather outside the house they just burgled, would you consider them armed and dangerous, or would you be expecting a hug and a pedicure?

I'm not one of those goombahs who believe Texas has the right idea in wanting every adult with a heartbeat to walk around armed and ready to pull a trigger. Further, I can't even envision a future scenario where I own a firearm that loads with anything but Nerf bullets or paintballs, so my sympathy for Joe Horn and his odd moment of vigilante justice isn't because I could be in his shoes, nor is it because I admire his state's aggressive self-defense laws. But. These two dudes broke into a house in broad daylight. What kind of world do we now live in where everyone cowers in a corner, takes no responsibility for their neighbors or their neighborhood, and just lets bad shit happen? That's the culture we've created, the rules we've apparently embraced.

My grandfather, a Baptist minister, would open his doors to transients, hobos, and Mormons. He set up places in his barn for people without shelter for the night, people who were passing through, places for them to sleep. Baptist preachers in the South weren't exactly raking in Jimmy Swaggart bling 60 years ago, so feeding others on top of a family of eight was nothing to sneeze at. "You never know when you might be entertaining angels," he was fond of saying.

My grandfather, although a preacher, wasn't doing anything most of his neighbors wouldn't have done. It wasn't being a preacher. It was being a decent human being in a different time, with different cultural expectations and rules. If you don't believe me, go watch that new Kit Kittridge movie! But if he caught one of those people trying to steal from him -- or, I suspect, from the neighbors -- I also suspect my grandfather would have shot them. Angels in disguise wouldn't steal or abuse their hospitality.

So now, we shut our doors. We don't know our neighbors. We donate to charities better than any other country, but we don't see if someone across the street needs help. Or better, we watch them squirm in their odd lives and talk about them at dinner with the other neighbors.

The Good Samaritan is a nice fairy tale and all, but the world's just too dangerous to open your home, your car, your illusion of safety. Better to write a check to Red Cross and help the poor bastards that way.  

"BB Gun" is from Roger Alan Wade's first album -- yes, he has two -- All Likkered Up. He performed this song many times at Bud's in Chattanooga. "Pistol Grip" is from the Blakes' first full-length album. Both are available on both iTunes and's mp3 site.

1 comment:

jennifer said...

I'll weigh in, since I'm a liberal-leanin' Texan who grew up in a fairly conservative family, with a dad and brother who love their guns. My immediate reaction to this story (which we first heard here several months ago) was one of horror. Especially since talk radio here was playing Horn's 9-11 call frequently. Every time I hear that shotgun cocking and firing, I just cringe, knowing that someone's body is shutting down at that moment.

I'm empathetic that there are humans who lost their life in this situation, however, because they chose to commit a criminal act, that's the risk they faced. So, the more I think about it, the less blame I put on Horn for his reaction to the situation. We don't know exactly how this guy felt, what history there may have been in crime in his neighborhood. When you're faced with an emergency situation, you're required to make split-second decisions. He did the right thing by calling 9-11, but it must have gotten to the point, when he saw no sign of police presence, that the time was running out for justice to be done. May it have been flawed thinking? Did he stop to consider that on the scale of justice killing ought to outweigh stealing? I wonder if he thought it would be effective to go out and brandish his gun at the thieves, or if he feared they might see him as a scared, old man and just beat him down.

I'm glad you're thinking and discussing it this way, because it's a complex issue--as many issues are--but the media (both TV and radio) like to boil these down to black or white issues. I initially reacted in a "this guy should go to jail" way, but the more I think about it, I know I just don't have enough information to pronounce judgment on him. The people on the grand jury must have decided there wasn't enough, because he wasn't indicted.