I suppose we thought it would be an accident.
A couple of years ago, a gun shop opened up on our street, a mile or so south of us. I drive by it frequently. It sits between a church and a financial advisor’s office, which to me was a funny enough setting that I featured the strip mall in an earlier post. But despite my irreverence, I have to admit that we worried that something might happen there–something that would affect our neighborhood.
An accident–someone hurt in their shooting range, a novice gun owner doing something silly.
Last week, that something happened. But it was no accident.
We have a new dog–a rescue adoption. She is as sweet as they come, but she needs some obedience training and some serious help with her social skills. To help her (and us) with that, we’ve had a trainer come over and work with us. We were out for a walk, just down the street from the gun shop, and we saw blue and red flashing lights in its general vicinity. We didn’t think much of it–we live on a street with a good bit of traffic and it’s not unusual for people to be picked up for speeding.
We finished our walk, finished up some other training exercises with the dog, and our trainer went on his way. I checked my phone for messages, and noticed a friend of mine had posted a story about a robbery and shooting at the gun store. It was then that we realized the lights we saw had nothing to do with speeding tickets.
The local media descended pretty quickly, and we began to learn details: four men entered the store with the intent to ransack and rob, gunfire was exchanged between the robbers and one of the co-owners (the shop was owned by a married couple). The wife was struck in the face, all but one of the men committing the robbery were injured in the gunfight, and the husband was killed.
The nearby schools were locked down, the police responded quickly, two of the assailants tried to flee and knocked on the door of a nearby house. Watching the news, hearing the play-by-play, even after the fact was unsettling, and more than a little scary.
And of course, the things that happen after these sort of events happened. Someone started a GoFundMe account for the surviving spouse. There were press releases including language about the right to bear arms AND that no one should make a political issue out of this tragedy. There was, last night, a candlelight vigil. There are people donating glass to fix the storefront windows, and people from our neighborhood giving three sentence interviews on the local news (email me if you want to know which ones made me shake my head).
The whole thing has been swimming around in my head all week. I’m not a gun guy. I don’t own any, and don’t care to, really. I respect people who are responsible gun owners, but I sure don’t believe that the second amendment was written as an endorsement of the private ownership of military grade weaponry. We spent some time after the shooting scanning the Facebook page of the gun shop, and quite honestly, found some posts that were really great–clear, brief instructions about gun safety, a New Year’s Eve wish for safety that advised all of their Facebook followers to a) not drink and drive and b) leave their guns at home if they were going out to celebrate.
On the other hand, I have a very clear memory of an ad I heard on the local Classic Country station (What? Don’t judge. Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings kick ass!) for this very gun shop. A female narrator, reminiscing about safer days gone by, warning listeners that they were not safe, and that if they wanted to protect their families, they should buy a gun.
While I’m all about preparation, self-defense when necessary, and protecting the ones you love, it is this sort of thinking that really gives me pause. I’m not sure that a proliferation of guns in the suburbs makes our neighborhoods safer. The gun lobby has done masterful work pressuring grant-making institutions and universities think twice about studying the connection between gun ownership and public health, and while I take seriously the admonition that “the plural of anecdote is not data,” stories of children accidentally dying after they find guns in their houses are not exactly rare, and studies that point to the presence of guns as a factor in suicides that might not otherwise occur are out there for your consumption, too.
And I feel terrible for the woman who lost her husband in this. And terrible for the young men (I don’t think any of them were old enough to drink legally, even) who were at such a point in their lives that they thought it would be a good idea to rob a gun store. And I feel terrible for a neighborhood that feels a little less safe. And I feel terrible for that–because I know there are neighborhoods that know violence much more regularly and that there are complicated dynamics of race and class and wealth and poverty and privilege that make their stories 30 second spots while our community has been featured multiple times for an entire week on multiple local news affiliates.
And I feel terrible because we had a feeling about that place, as soon as we saw the sign go up. But the human cost is far too heavy for my preachy “I told you so.” This isn’t a Yelp review; it’s real life. So I’ll hug my spouse and say a prayer for a woman who lost hers in front of her eyes. I’ll continue in my own work which has at its root a spirit of reconciliation, of peace building, of hope, and I’ll work to remind myself that the work that others do, when it values protection, defense, and “just in case” is, in so many ways, the flip side of the same coin. I’ll continue to drive by that storefront, no matter how long the gun shop remains there, and I’ll continue to feel a complicated sadness as I do.