The Wrong Side of the Gun

It has happened to me too many times, which is to say that it’s happened to me twice. I have jumped on the hood of an oncoming car, been threatened by a group of drunk rednecks embroiled in a romance rift, cleaned public restrooms which were defiled beyond description, sat under the disappointed glare of my father and across the table from IRS Inquisitors. None of these circumstances compares to the discomfiture I felt on the wrong side of a gun. No other place I’d rather not be.

I was only fifteen the first time. I grew up in a small town with little crime. It was the kind of place where people only locked their cars on accident and their houses hardly ever. I was walking home late at night with no sense of apprehension or concern. A car started up on the road across the field that ran parallel to mine. I watched as it made its way to the perpendicular street, drove up the hill to my road, turned right, and headed toward me. What, me worry? We lived in a safe place full of friendly people who were more apt to offer me a ride home than run me over. I didn’t slow my pace or change my course. The car, however, headed directly toward me and stopped as it pulled alongside.

Did I mention that our town was full of friendly people? I happened to be one of those people. Not only was I friendly, I also had the benefit of being young and naïve. The driver was a long hair, but I was partial to hippies so he didn’t bother me. His girlfriend looked nice enough. I bent down to the passenger side window to find out what they needed. That was when the driver stretched his arm across the back of the seat behind his girlfriend’s head and pointed his pistol at me. “Give me your money,” he said. For better or worse, I’m generally a logical person prone to truthful answers. Unfortunately, the robber found my truthful response of “I don’t have any money” less than believable. “Give me your money, [insert alliterative curse]!” His girlfriend looked more scared than I felt.

For a split second, I considered falling backward off the road as it sat on a short rise that marked the end of the field it ran beside. I would be out of his line of sight with a good chance of making my escape. I didn’t consider this option because I was particularly bold but because I was partially disbelieving. The revolver had to be a fake, I reasoned, a toy gun the hippie was using to make a fast score. Thankfully, an olfactory miracle saved me from my folly. Despite the wind at my back, I was still able to smell the oil of the gun in my face. I became a believer and tossed my wallet through the window. My assailant gunned the engine and roared away. I walked for about a minute after that then considered what he might do when he found that my wallet really was devoid of cash as I had said. I sprinted the next half mile home. My brother wouldn’t believe I was mugged until I called our mom at work. She gave me no rest until I called the police. They never caught the perpetrator nor recovered my property.

The second time was worse. I was nineteen working as a low-level manager in a fast food restaurant in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond isn’t huge; but compared to where I came from, it was Big Town. It is the kind of place where people lock their cars on purpose and deadbolt their doors even when they are home. Anyone offering you a ride is suspect. I was working the morning shift prepping the salad bar with ice in between taking orders and making breakfast croissants. Bucket full of ice, I headed out to the dining room just as one of my customers stormed past the serving line. I’ve dealt with my share of angry customers, but this took the cake. What on earth could I have gotten so wrong with her order that would cause her to cross the barrier line between customer and food server with a look that said she was ready to throttle me? I continued forward to intercept her, feeling certain that my chances were good against a lady in her sixties. That’s when she dropped the bomb.

“He’s got a gun,” she said as she passed me and went straight back to the kitchen. I looked up and sure enough, there he was shooing my customers to the kitchen with threatening waves of his nickel plated .357 magnum revolver. I should have been more alert. Had I noticed him before my customer told me that we were being robbed, I could have warned the crew in the kitchen to beat feet out the back door. But it was too late. He had us in his sights and though there were maybe fifteen of us and he had only six shots, none of us wanted to be his target. Coworkers and customers were herded into a bunch in the small kitchen. Only two of us were in managerial ties. He trained the gun on me. I absolutely hate being on the wrong side of a gun.

“Open the safe, [insert derogatory comment regarding inappropriate family relations]!” I had him. For better or worse, I’ve been blessed with a sense of humor that loves to express itself under pressure. Hands raised over my head, face before the open bore of his threat, I donned a slight smile and said, “I don’t have the combination.” Checkmate, Robber Man! My victory was short lived. “I do,” chimed in Jeremy, the assistant manager. I wanted to shoot him.

Robber Man ordered us into the walk-in freezer and refrigerator. I won the freezer lottery along with several of the customers and a couple of my coworkers. A lady holding her three-year-old daughter started chanting, “He’s going to kill us, he’s going to kill us, oh God, he’s going to kill us.” Fortunately, I already had a relationship with the Almighty through the auspices of His Son Jesus Christ and I felt assured by Him that we weren’t going to die that day. “Ma’am, he’s not going to kill us,” I told her. This seemed to allay her fears momentarily. But then she started chanting, “I’m going to be sick, I think I’m going to throw up.” This was serious. I got within inches of her face and made sure we had strong eye contact. “Ma’am, you are not going to throw up.” Her eyes went wide and she was trembling from fear and the cold. “You know why you aren’t going to throw up?” I asked her. No, her headshake said. “You aren’t going to throw up because this is my walk-in and if you throw up in it, I’ll have to clean it up. So you are not going to throw up.” I wasn’t a highly compassionate young man. Regardless, she managed to keep her croissant breakfast down. God bless her!

We turned the freezer fan off and my coworker and I began stacking the boxes of frozen roast beef in front of the door. I was confident we weren’t going to be killed, but there was no reason not to take precautions. Frozen roast beef makes for an awesome barricade. That didn’t stop us from jumping when the door was pulled open. “You can come out now,” Jeremy said to the wall of boxes in front of him, “he’s gone.”

Jeremy had his own tale of terror to tell. Our safe had two compartments. As a crew leader, I didn’t have the combination for either door. Assistant managers had the combination for the top safe. As the daily cash receipts mounted up, they would bundle the money with a report and put it through the slot in the back of the top safe to drop it down into the bottom one. Only our general manager had the combination to the bottom safe and she wasn’t working that morning. After the robber had put us all in cold storage, he directed Jeremy to open the safe. Jeremy complied, opening the top safe and giving the gunman all the cash. The robber then asked him to open the bottom safe. Jeremy was stuck. After volunteering his possession of the combination, he was forced to confess, “I don’t have it.” A tense moment transpired while the thief weighed his options. Thankfully, he settled for the top safe cash and the minimal amount in the registers and didn’t add murder to his crimes.

The police apprehended him and his wheelman within the hour. They brought him back to the store for an on-the-spot, single-perp line up. “Is this the man?” they asked me. Right build and race, I told them, but he had covered his face with a bandana while holding us up. All I had seen were his eyes and the gun.

That is exactly what I told the prosecutor on the day of the trial. He interviewed me for about a minute in the hallway outside of the courtroom. The case would be in front of the judge shortly. He thanked me and asked me stay close until the bailiff called me in. Then he and an attractive young lady engaged in a very cordial and lively discussion. “I am going to say this and so.” “Good, then I will respond with thus and such.” “Fantastic, then I can move for a whatchamacallit.” “I won’t object and we can be done with this one in less than half an hour.” It donned on me then that she was the public defender. They were both overworked young professionals in a taxed judicial system doing what they could to make their day smoother. For a country bumpkin like me, it was a real eye opener.

I can’t remember what sentence was handed down after the prosecutor secured his conviction. The main bone of contention from the defense was the impromptu, single-perp line up at the scene of the crime. The police had presented us with only one man to identify, no wonder several of us said he was the robber. In spite of her argument, the decision went against her appointed client. His gun and bandana certainly matched the description, as did the amount of cash found in the car.

In the weeks following the event, what surprised me most in recollection was my calmness in the encounter. I remember being glad the restaurant remained closed as the police worked the crime scene since it gave me time to have breakfast. It wasn’t until several months later that the true impact of the event started coming to light. I was in a convenience store happily looking for a snack when I found myself suddenly anxious and very uptight. I scanned the store and eyed the exit and wondered why I was on the verge of a panic attack. That is when I fully noticed him.

A worker had just come on shift and walked behind the counter without his store smock on. My peripheral vision had caught the action and my limbic system pushed the fright-and-flight hyperdrive button. I paid for my purchase and went to my car where I sat shaken, waiting for my body to metabolize the sudden influx of adrenaline. I was shocked by the realization of just how deeply the robbery had affected me.

One might think being victimized by armed robbers would make me a strong advocate for gun control. But the only gun control I advocate is a firm and steady grip on the firearm to improve aim. Having said this, the reader could be excused for believing me to be a Second Amendment proponent for personal self-defense. But self-defense is not the primary reason I own firearms. I enjoy hunting, but harvesting wild game isn’t the reason for my arsenal. I own guns because I am a student of history with a deep respect for our Founding Fathers who had a healthy distrust of human nature when vested with governmental authority.

As much as I dislike being robbed at gunpoint, the thought of living under the authority of elected officials who are on the wrong side of the gun disturbs me more. I remember the stories of Don Antonio’s father being pulled out his house in front of a Guardia Civil firing squad for making jokes about Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator. I remember him showing us the walls pockmarked by bullets where priests had been lined up and shot by the regime; lambs led to slaughter, losers of the Spanish Civil War. I think of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot and shake my head sadly at all those who believe it couldn’t happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Our Founders held no such delusions.

As I write this, there are five front runners in the 2016 Presidential Election race: Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump. I have studied each of their positions on the Second Amendment. Were I a single-issue voter (which I am not), following is how I would rank my choices from best to worst.

No.1 – Ted Cruz
Cruz would be my top pick of the pack for a politician that would work to uphold our right to keep and bear arms. Of the five, he is the one whose communication and actions on the subject indicate that he gets the true purpose and meaning of the Second Amendment.

”The Second Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”[1]

Senator Cruz understands that the Founders enshrined in our Constitution the right of the people to keep and bear arms as a bulwark against the State’s abuse of the monopoly on violence. It is intended as a hedge against tyranny. The first purpose of an armed citizenry is to protect our liberties from threats domestic. Secondarily, being familiar with and in possession of firearms makes the citizenry more prepared to defend its liberties against foreign enemies. Target practice and hunting are meaningless without these two securities being in place. And in a nation where the citizenry is denied the right to defend its liberties from all governments, both foreign and domestic, the notion of using a firearm for self-defense is nothing more than an invitation to be prosecuted for such action by the state.

No. 2 – Marco Rubio
Rubio comes in second not for any lack of support for Second Amendment rights but because I could find no clear statement from him that compares to Senator Cruz’s crystal expression of the Founder’s intent in the Second Amendment. Aside from that, his focus on violence being the real problem while defending our right to keep and bear arms is commendable. An example of this can be seen in his delivery of the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in February of 2013.

“We were all heart broken by the recent [school shooting] tragedy in Connecticut. We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconstitutionally undermining the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it.”[2]

When pressed about this during a CNN interview a couple of months later, Senator Rubio had this to say:

“My position on guns is pretty clear. I believe law-abiding people have a fundamental constitutional right to bear arms…I’m troubled this debate is about guns. It should be about violence. Violence is the problem, guns are what they’re using. We are missing a golden opportunity to have an open, honest and serious conversation about these horrific violent acts, because everyone’s focused on passing these laws that have proven ineffective.”[3]

As much as I like his answer and his efforts to correctly characterize the problem, the following policy statement from his web site is what put him in second place in my book:

“New gun laws will do nothing to deter criminals from obtaining firearms; they will simply be ignored by those who wish to do harm. Meanwhile, new restrictions will infringe on the rights of good, law-abiding Americans who wish to have a gun for hunting, sport, or, most important, the protection of their families.”[4]

Whenever a politician – right or left – puts hunting first in a list of gun rights, my radar goes up. I begin to fear that they don’t truly understand the Second Amendment; or, worse yet, they do but opted to pander to those who don’t anyway. At least he qualified the order of his list by claiming the protection of our families as the most important reason to have a gun. But it is couched in the context of deterring criminals. I assert that the Founders believed it was most important to deter tyrants. I happen to agree with them.

No. 3 – Bernie Sanders
Those who know me may be surprised that I place Bernie Sanders above the darling of the Reality Show Right, but I mean it. He would be my third pick in the current field in spite of statements like the following:

“This is what I do believe. I come from a state that has virtually no gun control. And yet, at political peril, I voted for an instant background check, which I want to see strengthened and expanded. I voted to ban certain types of assault weapons, which are designed only to kill people.”[5]

All due respect to Senator Sanders, but as a man who has harvested his fair share of game using firearms I can attest to the fact that my dove hunting shotgun is perfectly capable of killing a man. I am also fairly certain that given the opportunity, I could take a deer down with an AR-15; particularly if I had a magazine that held more than ten rounds of ammunition. So exactly, pray tell, is an “assault weapon” which is designed only to kill people? Personally, I wouldn’t own a firearm that was incapable of taking human life. Every tyrant I’ve ever studied or read about is human. They are the reason why I own guns.

So why do I place Senator Sanders third? Because with Bernie, you know what you’re buying. I dare say that of all the presidential candidates, he is the least ambiguous regarding his beliefs or positions. Besides, if he got elected I would expect there to be an upswing in gun sales and a true galvanization on the right.

No. 4 – Hillary Clinton
Clinton scores below Sanders because her gun control solution is to attack capitalism and free trade. The following is one of her positions statements from her web site:

“Hillary believes the gun industry must be held accountable for violence perpetrated with their guns. Hillary will lead the charge to repeal the so-called ‘Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,’ a dangerous law that prevents victims of gun violence from holding negligent manufacturers and dealers accountable for violence perpetrated with their guns.”[6]

The web site lists this as one of the ways Clinton plans to prioritize community safety over gun lobby profits.[7] A true socialist elite with a law degree, her solution to the nation’s violence problem is to criminalize manufactures and expose them to fiscal confiscation through the courts. Sanders at least had the sense to defend the manufactures by voting against such measures. It makes me think he understand at least a little bit about how commerce should work.

Last – Donald Trump
Trump is the loser when it comes to politicians whose positions on the Second Amendment I could trust. I use the term “politician” when it comes to the Donald loosely as I don’t consider him to be one. Many may consider this to be a good thing. Not me. Like it or not, the office of the President of the United States is a political office which requires political experience. That would make the Donald worse than an apprentice. He is simply not qualified for the post.

Note the following from the Reality Show Right darling that the likes of Shawn Hannity and Rush Limbaugh seem intent on fawning over as the potential savior of conservatism:

“I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”[8]

The statement comes from his book The America We Deserve published in 2000. It is essentially his initial résumé for the office he currently seeks. Generally oppose gun control? I don’t want a president that “generally” opposes gun control. Tell me clearly if you’ll fight for my right to keep them or if you intend to erode my liberty in some way. Support the ban on assault weapons? I refer you to my comments above regarding Senator Sanders.

In a display of his need to play to crowd and his savvy celebrity brand marketing, the following policy statement can be found on his campaign web site:

“Gun and magazine bans are a total failure. That’s been proven every time it’s been tried. Opponents of gun rights try to come up with scary sounding phrases like ‘assault weapons’, ‘military-style weapons’ and ‘high capacity magazines’ to confuse people…The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own.”[9]

Which Donald are we to believe, the supposedly serious and concerned citizen who took counsel with a group of White House experienced domestic and foreign policy advisers to write his book in 2000 or the crass and sophomoric midway carnival man of the 2016 Presidential campaign? Therein lies my dilemma. Not only do I not know where he truly stands, should he get elected I fear conservatives will fall asleep and the Donald will rob us all blind.

An armed America is a strong America. Vote your conscience and stock up on ammo just in case.

[1] Ted Cruz, “What the Times Doesn’t Get about the Second Amendment,” National Review (2015), accessed February 7, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417149/second-amendment-history-lesson-times-ted-cruz.
[2] http://www.ontheissues.org/2016/Marco_Rubio_Gun_Control.htm, accessed February 7, 2016.
[3] Ibid.
[4] https://marcorubio.com/policy-for-you/marco-rubio-gun-owners-second-amendment/, accessed February 7, 2016.
[5]http://www.ontheissues.org/2016/Bernie_Sanders_Gun_Control.htm, accessed February 7, 2016.
[6]https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/gun-violence-prevention/, accessed February 7, 2016.
[7] Ibid.
[8]http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Donald_Trump_Gun_Control.htm, accessed February 7, 2016.
[9]https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/second-amendment-rights, accessed February 7, 2016.

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