[Photo: A javelina]
TUCSON -- My favorite New York Times columnist is Tim Egan, and his column about guns and Tucson is the best I have read on that subject since that lunatic went on his shooting rampage Jan. 8.
The Egan column today, which is online, is headlined "Myth of the Hero Gunslinger." Egan describes himself as a third-generation Westerner who grew up among guns and "Second Amendment enthusiasts who wore camouflage nine months out of the year," as he writes, adding: "Generally, I don’t have a problem with any of that."
As an adoptive Westerner who has had a home in Tucson for more than five years and has lived here full time for over a year, I've been interested in the general media take on guns because it's axiomatic that many law-abiding citizens here are armed, even if they aren't packing -- that is, carrying a concealed weapon.
I was amused by the outside-media take on the Crossroads of the West Gun Show that was held on the county fairgrounds last weekend, a week after the shootings. I went to the gun show just to get a sense of it. Coming out, I was amazed by the number of out-of-town reporters (the TV types are the ones who you can identify, of course) who were so obviously looking for irony, and so clearly failing to get it.
That is, it was apparent to me that they were looking for wild-eyed gun nuts having themselves a wallow in the ammo a week after the massacre. A woman with a camera crew who said she was from ABC waylaid me on my way out. She was the only one there who looked wild-eyed, by the way.
"What'd you get?" she said, eyeing my plastic bag, which I could tell she assumed contained 31-shot magazines and maybe a new Glock.
I told her I was a reporter and moved along. Actually in the bag was a new $12 wallet, purchased from a guy inside who also sold ladies' purses designed to hold pistols. Oh, and also a $6 container of pepper-spray, bought on impulse and for the reason that my property in Tucson often plays unwilling host to a wandering herd of javelina.
Pepper spray, I had thought, would be a good backup to have in case one of the nasty, wild-pig-like javelinas charged me as I tried to shoo them off -- as has happened.
My wife did not agree. "Get that stuff out of the house. You'll blind somebody," she told me when I got back.
Actually, javelinas, though dangerous when in a panic, are stupid and very nearsighted. The one time a javelina charged me out back, just a month ago, he ran straight into a wood lawn chair and it knocked him over. Snorting, he cantered off in frightened bewilderment. Pepper spray would have been beside the point.
As to the matter of guns and potential assaults, people here are pretty sensible (aside from the violent paranoid schizophrenics, who everyone agrees should not be allowed to own a gun). I know that many of my neighbors out here in horse country on the East Side of town are armed.
Before we moved here full time in late 2009, I had been coming out to the house regularly from our home in New Jersey, sometimes for a month or more to work on a book. In my absence, one neighbor -- whose house we can barely see from ours -- kept an eye on our place.
I think I won his trust when I told him one night before leaving, "You see anything that needs shootin' over here, go ahead and shoot it."
That was a joke, which you could make before that awful shooting on Jan. 8.
And by the way, while many neighbors out this way seem to be armed, any one of them that I have ever had a conversation with about guns (I myself don't own one) has stressed 1. The absolute necessity of getting good gun-safety and gun-procedures training before you acquire a firearm and 2. The reality that any time you use or even display a gun in a situation you consider to be hostile or threatening, you will at least be having a subsequent conversation with a police officer or, worse, with a lawyer defending you in court.
Not long ago, we had a workman come in to refinish our polished concrete floors. The second day on the job he arrived four hours late. He looked pale and shaken. A legal Mexican immigrant who lives in the crime-troubled neighborhood of South Tucson, he explained that in the middle of the previous night, three armed intruders had broken into his house, evidently having mistaken the address for one occupied by drug dealers nearby. He, his wife and their two young children had been rousted out of bed and held at gunpoint for over an hour, while the intruders ransacked the house.
"Did you have a gun?" I asked him. No, he said. "If I had a gun, my wife and my children would now be dead, and me too," he said.
After the Tucson shooting, a lot of the usual national right-wing clowns bellowed and brayed about how the rampage could have been halted by a bystander with a gun.
Now, Tucson having a culture that is not all that far removed from the actual Old West, it was a given that a certain number of bystanders would be armed when Jared Loughner put a bullet in the head of Congresswoman Giffords, and then began picking off the other victims, one by one, rapid-fire, till 19 in all had been shot, six shot dead.
"When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim," said Arizona state representative Jack Harper," as quoted in the Egan column.
As anybody who has carried a gun in actively dangerous situation knows (and I carried one for a year in Vietnam), this is a foolish statement. Gunfire often breaks out without the slightest warning and in great, great fury and confusion. Bullets, as they say, fly.
Naturally, some law-abiding people at the scene of the shooting were carrying guns. Egan and others have pointed to one bystander, Joseph Zamudio, who was legally carrying a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol. With his gun, he rushed toward the shooting commotion -- and almost shot an innocent man who he initially thought was the assailant.
Zamudio held his fire because people were yelling that he was about to shot the wrong man. The shooter himself was actually knocked down by a man using a folding chair as he tried to reload, and then pounced on and subdued by other citizens who wrestled the pistol and a spare magazine from him.
Anyway, let me give you my notes, my less-than-scintillating report on the gun show in Tucson last week that failed to deliver the delicious irony that some of the media I encountered there were so obviously expecting:
--About 1,500 people had entered by 10 a.m. (doors opened at 9). Crossroads of the West Gun show at sprawling Pima County fairgrounds in Southeast Tuscon. This is a traveling gun show.
--All was contained in a big exhibition hall, where vendors had set up many rows of tables, and crowds wandered by. All kinds of guns and ammo, including some automatic weapons - but also things like survival gear, knives, high-performance hunting gear like flashlights and binoculars and scopes, bulletproof vests, leather goods (including womens purses made to hold concealed weapons).
--Some people brought little kids, including some babies. Mostly men, but some women too.
--Typical Tucson: friendly, cordial atmosphere. No belligerence apparent anywhere, "please and thank you and excuse me" all around. Even the bumper stickers and other signs were low-key, mostly in support of gun rights, military, etc. NRA presence obvious of course.
--One guy was wearing a tee-shirt that said: "I carry a gun because a cop is too heavy."
--Quote: "People here are all pretty nice. There are very few buttheads," Tom Colaric, a dealer in leather products at a display table where I bought my $12 wallet.
--One woman had a big big display of very fine, expensive Czech crystal: expensive cut-glass wine and whiskey glasses and decanters, and even glass Christmas ornaments. Her name: Jarmila Kovary, of Phoenix. She said she does a good business at gun shows because "more women have been coming to these things and people here come with money to spend."
One guy walking by said, "Nice wine glasses." And a guy with an NRA hat who was standing nearby said, "--for target practice." Jarmila Kovary seemed horrified at that.
--Outside the entrance to the hall, where a long line of people had queued to buy tickets by 10 a.m., there was a plexiglass hopper with this sign on front: "Tragedy in Tucson Victims Fund" It had what I guessed was about $50 in it, in dollar bills and some fives.
A guy standing beside it had just purchased a revolver and was spinning the chamber appreciatively in the sunlight. Then he snapped it shut and dropped a dollar into the donation box.
As the man at the leather goods display said, "Very few buttheads."