Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hidden Tragedy of Concealed Weapons

Conceal (verb) 1. to hide; withdraw or remove from observation; cover or keep from sight 2. to keep secret             
--American Heritage Dictionary

For the past month, America’s been caught up in a most tragic story: the shooting death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin in Sanford Florida on February 26th, at the hand of and with a gun fired by George Zimmerman.  Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, fired his 9 millimeter handgun point blank at the unarmed Martin, who then died, lying on the rain soaked grass of The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a suburban gated housing complex.  

Was Martin gunned down simply because he was a stranger, a hoodie wearing black teenager returning home from the store after an errand to buy Skittles and ice tea?  Was Zimmerman really threatened by the young man, in imminent danger, and therefore justified in defending himself with a loaded firearm under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law?  Those questions may never be answered. But Martin is dead, a young life snuffed out long before its potential could be realized.  And Zimmerman is a free man, while a heartbroken and angry community cries for the truth and justice.

Lost in the debate is one fact I still don’t understand.  What is a civilian, a 28 year old auditor for a financial services company, a community college student, doing carrying a concealed weapon?  Packing heat, his gun tucked away, hidden in a holster, jammed in the waistband of his pants, concealed?  Zimmerman isn’t alone in the Sunshine State in carrying a concealed weapon.  According to a recent New York Times story, “There are 900,000 [Florida] residents licensed to carry [concealed weapons] in the state amid a population of 19 million people, with officials reporting 58,000 applications and renewals last month.” 

So nearly one out of every nineteen folks in the land of Mickey Mouse and orange trees feels a need, for some reason, to strap on a gun.  To carry a loaded handgun, a Glock or a 357 magnum or a pistol and then, I suppose, keep it at the ready just in case there’s a threat to one’s life or liberty.  Floridians aren’t alone in this proclivity to be armed.  Heck even here in Massachusetts, 257,000 of our fellow citizens have class A firearm licenses, which permit them to carry a concealed and loaded weapon.  Only one state, Illinois, and the District of Columbia, ban outright concealed weapon permits for civilians. But that may soon change. 

Again from The New York Times: “Under a bill sponsored by Senator Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, you could take your Florida permit and your Florida loaded handgun and travel anyplace in the country, including the states where the police investigate every permit application, and say yes to relatively few. ‘If this law existed today, George Zimmerman could carry a loaded hidden handgun in Times Square,’ said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.”

Or maybe carry a weapon on to the Boston Common too, right? Or pack a pistol at Target where you shop  with your kids.  Cumberland Farms, when you go out to pick up a quart of milk and loaf of bread: is the person behind you in line armed for bear? How about at the playground or beach?  And what about church?  As a pastor, under this proposed law, am I going to have to ask folks to leave their guns in the car so we can all worship in safety the Prince of Peace?   

Am I the only one who is made very nervous by the truth that millions of my fellow citizens already carry around hidden and loaded weapons in public? Who’s the next Trayvon Martin to die at the hands of a “threatened” citizen with an itchy trigger finger?  I admit it.  I’m not a gun guy, not even close.  Fired one only once and that was in the woods at a target and its power kind of freaked me out. I don’t hunt but I respect the rights of those who do use their guns for sport and game.  I'd never do it myself but I understand and support the right of folks to keep a gun in the house for protection. And of course it makes sense to have police carry guns: that’s their job. They’re trained in when to use, and not use, a weapon.

But civilian cowboys and cowgirls wearing a firearm in public?  Nope.  I just do not think I want my CPA neighbor or a PTA Mom or my gas station attendant sitting on top of concealed firepower that, with one split second pull of a trigger, and can blow a hole in a person’s chest and kill another human being in an instant. 

Go ahead. Call me a latte drinking, Volvo driving, socialist loving, NRA baiting, peacenik, a “LIBERAL”, if you want.  I’m guilty. For in the final determination, guns, especially concealed guns, scare me even more than the crimes and criminals they supposedly deter.  In my view the right to bear arms is trumped by the right to life. No contest.   

What would have happened on the night of February 26th if George Zimmerman had not had a gun, had instead listened to the local police who in a 911 call specifically directed him not to pursue Trayvon Martin? Martin most likely would still be alive, have another day to call his girlfriend or play a video game or baby sit for his young cousins.

But Trayvon is gone now, forever.  That can’t be ever concealed or hidden, no matter how hard we might try to wish this awful truth away.                  

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