� Tommy Edward Scott | Main | Hotel Wifi �

May 09, 2005

Standing Your Ground

"Guns, we don' like to use 'em
Unless our enemies choose 'em.
We prefer to fight you on like a man
And beat you down with our hands."

-- Mohandas Dewese

I've been hearing people talking about new laws that change the burden of proof slightly in favor of people defending their lives outside of their homes. It used to be that if you were not in your home and someone was using violent force against your person, you had a duty to run away. Passage of this law means you are not obligated to run. I'm for it, but.

I'm street smart. Before drug gangs and the Crack Wars, nobody used guns or even knives where I grew up. I lived in a knuckle-up neighborhood where kids slapboxed on the regular. We weren't afraid to go anywhere, day or night. But that wasn't because there was no danger at all, but because we had a good sense of how much danger is danger.

Today we live in an era of zero tolerance for roughhousing and martial skill. At least it seems so to me. And so it is with great skepticism that I consider any law that makes people feel that it's more OK to use a gun. This is not an argument for or against gun control, it's about people control, and I'm not sure the average person is in enough control to understand and recognize the subtleties of danger.

As I read, for this piece, my slapboxing essay, I realized that I could apply that subtle kind of logic to other dimensions of danger as well. There was a great scene in the recent movie 'Sahara' in which the hero, sidekick and femme drive up to a pass. The hero immediately reconizes the signs of ambush and gets everybody to drop their weapons and move slowly. The femme, a doctor, is completely perplexed by the situation. She's the one who squeezed the trigger and then threw away her AK-47 like it was infected with Ebola. She's the one who now lives under the new rules of Standing Ground. But she needs more than a law, a permit, a gun and some training. She, and a whole lot of Americans need Rules of Engagement.

Lots of black men like me have The Voice. Not everybody can say 'motherfucker' and make people shiver. You know it. Sam Jackson has it. Avery Brooks has it big time and he doesn't even have to shout. I understand that some people are never going to get it but should they go straight to guns?

The Rules of Engagement should assist people in saying what they need to say when danger comes their way. Anybody who watches cop shows has a passing familiarity with how people are urged with The Voice to drop their weapons and move slowly. Ordinary folks should be able to understand some verbal judo which is close to legally binding. Remember 'I warn you, my hands are registered as lethal weapons'? How about 'I am in fear for my life and if you take one step closer, I can shoot'. Well, that's what one would expect from a Standing Ground training. But there's a great deal more street smarts that can be drilled in.

Perhaps today's self-defense classes in the strip mall karate studio is perfectly adequate for providing a layer of graded sensibilities about danger. I further hope that there are sensible roughnecks out there like me who can lend a hand when it goes palm to palm. But I'll tell you what, when bullets start flying, I'm out. There's the problem. A citizen who is ready to shoot a gun abdicates the possibility of assistance from others who might be within screaming distance. Who knows how often that's going to be, but there's a lot of distance between pulling the trigger and finding an alternative - and I wonder if it's not also a matter of character.

That's right I'm going there. Bernard Goetz is a wimp, and I don't like laws that give wimps courage. What we need is a little less anger management and a lot more fear management. Nevertheless this entails some public spiritedness that perhaps we are not quite ready to give. But if this law and the rhetoric and ideas behind it are heading in a direction that puts personal safety above public safety, I'm not sure I like that at all.

Posted by mbowen at May 9, 2005 04:36 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


That's right I'm going there. Bernard Goetz is a wimp, and I don't like laws that give wimps courage.

They sure as hell beat laws that give thugs courage, and that's the alternative. If New York had had a reasonable, non-discretionary concealed carry law (as only a handful of states did at the time, but most do today), the thugs who accosted Goetz would not have assumed he was easy prey, and may have left him alone, thereby avoiding the entire incident. Instead, they attacked him because they saw a crime of opportunity. They didn't know he was packing, so they "profiled" him and assumed he was a soft target, just like all the other pencil-necked geeks they'd been preying on for years, many of whom looked, dressed, and acted exactly like Goetz. Those guys are the real wimps in this game, not Goetz. Colin Ferguson's victims should have been so lucky as to have a "wimp" like Goetz aboard their train.

Posted by: Xrlq at May 9, 2005 06:37 PM

Cobb seems to be implying that in 1984, Goetz was supposed to be smart enough to know that skinny (white) guys shouldnt ride the subway.

I am sure it was dangerous riding the subway back then no matter what your color, but that doesnt justify the crime or an ability to respond to it.

BTW, here is a concise summary of the Goetz case. Note that one of the guys he shot later raped a 19 year old.


Posted by: brad at May 9, 2005 07:22 PM

You act like Goetz was the one who cleaned up the subways and not cops and better policy, which is my whole point. It's cops who know how to handle danger that make cities safe, and it is their knowledge, not their weapons that make the difference. There are no shortcuts.

People have the right to make life and death decisions, but some people are better than others and guns are no substitute for skills.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 9, 2005 07:30 PM

It's not an either-or. Cops can't be everywhere all the time.

Posted by: Xrlq at May 9, 2005 08:00 PM

Well, here's some full disclosure. I've been the innocent bystander on more than one occasion. In the first situation, I know if I would have had a gun, I would have killed a kid. I wrote about it here. In the second situation, I had my kid in my minivan when I was a witness at a gas station holdup and the proprietor ran out shooting after the bandit with an old piece of crap revolver. He hit plastic on the gas pump and it shattered all over my van.

But I've also been the guy to break up fights that could have gotten ugly and face down thugs, both without heat.

More often than not, if I figure I'm going to be out where there's danger, I pack a blade. But it could be pepper spray which is probably smarter when I think about it. Anyway, I'll bring out the episode from the archives from some context.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 9, 2005 09:08 PM