More guns than sense

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
3:34
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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guns
Matthew Wood/Getty Images News
Javaris Crittenton's murder arrest re-opens a conversation about guns.

Guns.

I know! You're mad already! Just open the topic and people start yelling about this or that -- mostly about the government regulating guns too much or not enough. Hard feelings all around, and an important topic, but also one where we have been hearing the same arguments from both sides our entire lives. Hard to know what we can say today to change any of that.

So let me be very clear: That's not what I'm writing about today. It's not about the government. To the extent I have feelings about regulating guns, those feelings are all over the place and primarily well outside my area of expertise.

This is not that. In no way am I writing in an effort to influence public policy.

It is, however, an effort to influence personal policy.

I accept that there are times and places on this planet when it's rational to be armed. If armed people harass you routinely, well, the whole "protect yourself" line of reasoning might make sense. If you're trying to overthrow a Libyan dictator, that's going to require some force. And on and on. Sometimes, I guess, guns are part of leveling the playing field.

But what if you have a chance to lead a perfectly happy, unarmed life, surrounded by others who are similarly unarmed? If you're not scared, facing long odds, or under the threat of violence? That can be really happy and productive for you. That's what most people do, and the ones who don't ... well a lot of them dream of it, and they are right to, because life is better that way.

Very hard to find someone who has both served in war and prefers it to peace. So if you are lucky enough to be able to choose peace, I say go for it.

If it seems like I'm implying any of this is simple, I'm not. Who the hell knows who needs guns and who doesn't? Unarmed people can easily become victims, armed people can shoot themselves just cleaning the damned thing. Every position can look stupid. Every position can have horrendous results.

But I do know that I heard a story last night about a friend's neighbor. A high-schooler was harassed and humiliated by a group of other kids. Bad stuff, right?

But not as bad as what followed, which was that kid's dad has recently resolved to use a Colt .45 to teach those bullies a lesson.

I still haven't heard how it was resolved.

The instant that gun becomes part of the story, the risks change like crazy. A lesson taught with words or fists can do damage, but only so much. This Colt .45 thing, it can turn into the Hatfields and the McCoys -- decades of feuding with big body counts -- if you're unlucky. One of those kids being taught the lesson to "stay away from my son" might instead learn "to be powerful, get a gun."

Without a gun, that's a really bad, humiliating day for one kid. Maybe it's a big ol' fistfight. Maybe somebody even goes to the hospital.

With guns, that same humiliation turns into the potential for almost infinite violence. And one kid humiliated at school, it's not worth that. Bad trade.

The Associated Press reports the following about Javaris Crittenton:
A former NBA player who is accused of shooting an Atlanta woman to death appeared to be retaliating for being robbed of $55,000 worth of jewelry, police said.

Javaris Crittenton, who was suspended from the NBA along with his ex-teammate Gilbert Arenas for having guns in a locker room, was arrested late Monday at a Southern California airport. He has been charged with murder in the Aug. 19 shooting death of Jullian Jones outside her house in Atlanta, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

Who knows if that's what really happened -- Crittenton's lawyer says he wasn't even in the car from which the shots were fired, and will be proven innocent. But if the version of events the police are suggesting here was real, than this simple robbery last spring led to a murder. Nobody has suggested Jones was the intended target, but she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and guns are both deadly and easy to shoot inaccurately.

Not to mention, the robbery is said to have been a case of two armed teenagers robbing two grown men. Without guns, how likely would that first event have been?

And as for the idea of avenging a $55,000 robbery, how's that going to work? I'd be surprised if Crittenton spends less than $55,000 on lawyers trying to clear his name in this gun crime.

In a world of fists, or even knives, it's hard to imagine any way that something stupid and replaceable like a nice necklace and watch could have ever ended something irreplaceable like Jullian Jones.

Which is not a broad condemnation of guns (they just liberated Libya!) but instead a note that, if you can live without guns becoming part of your arguments, well that's maybe not the toughest thing or the coolest thing, but it probably is the smartest thing.

Geoffrey Canada is one of the smartest people in the world on this topic, and basically a superstar of fixing America's schools and cities. He grew up in a neighborhood where his safety was constantly in jeopardy, and he fought regularly, even with knives or broken bottles. He lived by a brutal code of honor in the streets. After moving to a neighborhood with a gang of kids he had to pass through to get almost anywhere, he bought a gun. He writes about it in his book "Fist Stick Knife Gun: A personal history of violence in America."
When I look back on the power the gun had over my personality and my judgment I am amazed. It didn't happen all at once; the change was subtle. At first I continued to avoid the gang of teenagers. I crossed the street or turned down another block when I saw them. But slowly, as I carried the gun with me day after day, my attitude began to change. I began to think, "Why should I have to walk an extra block? Why should I feel that I have to cross the street or look down when I pass those kids?" By the end of two weeks I had convinced myself that all of the habits I had cultivated to avoid conflict were unnecessarily conciliatory. ...

I began to do the opposite. I would choose to go to the grocery store on the side of the street where the gang was gathered. I would walk through them head up, eyes challenging, hand in my coat pocket, finger on the trigger. I was prepared to shoot to kill to defend myself.

Despite the tremendous benefits of owning it, Canada eventually decides to throw the gun, wrapped in newspaper, into the dump.
I knew if I continued to carry the gun in the Bronx it would simply be a matter of time before I was forced to use it. My behavior would become more and more reckless each day. Carrying the gun had been like becoming a super hero. Suddenly I'd had power, real power. It had been intoxicating. I thought long and hard that year about carrying the gun. In the end my Christian upbringing proved to be stronger than my fear of the gang or my need for a sense of control over my environment. In the end I realized I didn't want to kill anyone.

Giving up the gun was, no doubt, a very tough short-term decision for Canada. But what it cost him in stature on that block ... not being a murderer has allowed him to become one of the most powerful people in all of New York, albeit with a different kind of power.

Henry Abbott | email

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