Our national conversation over who can or should own guns has turned up in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre on June 12 and the July 7 assassination of five police officers in Dallas (which came in the swift aftermath of two killings of black males by police officers, first in Louisiana, then in Minnesota).
I can tell you without hesitation about one man who definitely shouldn’t have owned a gun. His name was George.
George was a bricklayer, and he was an excellent one – when he was sober.
George worked for my father, a general contractor, and perhaps to teach me humility rather than a trade, my father gave me the chore, when I was quite young, of mixing mortar and hauling bricks for George to lay in unmatched symmetry. For me, it was boring, backbreaking grunt work.
I don’t know why my father employed George. Maybe it was because he was compassionate (no other white contractor was going to employ George); or maybe it was because George was sublime at his craft (again, when he was sober). Or maybe it was because George worked cheap.
George often didn’t show up on Monday mornings, and that would throw the start of the work week into a scramble.
Things reached a point that George couldn’t drive. I don’t remember why – maybe his truck was beyond repair, or maybe his license was revoked.
But I had just turned 16 and could drive, so – in addition to the grunt work – it was now my task to arise earlier in the mornings and go pick up George, throw his tools into Daddy’s truck bed, and drive him to the job site.
One Monday when I did that, George was reeling, but maybe not as much as on most Mondays. When he got into the truck, he had a grease-stained brown paper bag. That wasn’t unusual, since we often ate slimy, canned sausage and soda crackers for lunch.
George shoved the paper bag under the bench seat. I didn’t think anything about it. I drove maybe one mile until we passed a filling station, and George yelled for me to pull over. I did.
“That’s (so-and-so). He owes me.” George reached under the seat, grabbed the brown paper bag and pulled out a pistol. George was out of the truck with a nimbleness I didn’t expect and rolling down a sidewalk that wasn’t awake yet, except for that filling station.
I scrambled out of the truck and ran to the sidewalk, screaming his name. As I narrowed the distance, I slowed my pace and raised my voice.
“George, don’t do it.” I said it over and over. I sprinkled in words such as, “They’ll lock you up forever.” (George and jail were well-acquainted.)
George was waving the pistol, aiming at nothing and at everything, but I was aware his finger was on the trigger. When we were close enough that I could smell the stink of last night’s moonshine, I said, “Give me the gun.”
George lowered the pistol. I grasped the barrel with my right hand, keeping it pointed toward the sidewalk. With my left hand, I coaxed the gun out of his grasp. Oddly, I hadn’t felt scared until then. Adrenalin is a finicky master.
I told George to get in the truck, and I took him back to what passed for his home.
I drove to the job site and told my father only that George wouldn’t be working that day. It was a Monday, after all, so my father didn’t ask for details.
Later in the week, George, sober, paused from laying bricks, locked eyes, and quietly thanked me for saving him from a grave mistake.
I went off to college, but I remember times while at my parents’ house during school breaks, the phone would ring in the in the middle of the night, and Daddy would drive off to get George out of jail.
Well after graduation, well into my career at a keyboard, far removed from brick and mortar, I happened upon George at a construction site. His eyes were clear, not bloodshot. His speech wasn’t slurred.
Daddy told me George had finally kicked the booze.
That’s a true story, both bizarre and, in its way, sweet. But it’s not a solution to our gun problem in America. I could tell that story to every Second Amendment fanatic I know and expect consensus that George – a gifted, black drunk – shouldn’t have owned a “Saturday night special.” But if I advocated that no civilian, especially one who’s been on a terrorist watch list, should own a military assault rifle, I’d find myself in an argument, that, frankly, I am tired of.
We are killing each other at a pace that challenges our complete attention.
I have made this point before: I own two guns. I don’t worry that anyone is going to take them away. I will pass them on to my son, who isn’t a felon, isn’t on a terrorist watch list, isn’t hot-tempered, and who is versed in weapons safety.
With just an iota of common sense, we could make less commonplace tragedies like Orlando and Dallas – and Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernadino, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Boston… So why can’t we get there?
should we care? Sure, the stock market took an initial hit after the vote because Wall Street usually reacts negatively to change.
Everything will be all right. The nations and the economies that are the overlords of you and me are too interdependent to screw things up for all of us in the long run. Granted, “Brexit” will be big drama, a long, messy divorce. Britain’s prime minister didn’t want to deal with it, so he up and quit.
I’m quitting, too. Quitting the way I have shaved all of my life.
After months of online ad interruptions, I decided to join a “shave club.” I won’t be hooking up with fellow shavers. I’ll just be getting razor blades in my mailbox every couple of months, at a price that appears to be a lot less than what I now pay at a discount store.
The reason it took so long for me to join a shave club is that I am suspicious of so-called deals and bargains. But I did a little research, read the fine print, opted out of the extras, and will be shaving at less cost by the time you read this.
My only remaining concern is that, in a “welcome” email after I signed up, the shave club tried to reassure me with these words: “We know shaving can be complicated.”
No. Nuclear physics is complicated. Soren Kierkegaard is complicated. Women are com-plicated. Shaving is simple. And now it costs less.
- Bryant Steele has won awards for business reporting, feature writing and opinion columns, and is based in Rome.
*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.