Long ago, in a less complicated time, my family lived in a quiet neighborhood. The homes were close together in that old neighborhood. This was not suburbia. The lots of the Harris Addition were fifty feet wide and one hundred and fifty feet deep. The depth was measured from the street to the alley. Our lot was bigger, considered a lot and a half. When humans live in close quarters they require some rules to maintain order. The State writes the rules. Sometimes the State, in a representative government, is careful not to impose too many rules lest we lose our independent freedom – our liberty so to speak. The fine line of liberty, freedom, and safety sometimes collide.
We lived in a more care free world. My children rode their bicycles around the neighborhood. They were young – at the of which I speak my children were eleven, nine, and six. Our alley was paved so the children often played and rode their bicycles there.
One summer a grave danger came to live in our quiet, shady, and safe neighborhood. Danger came in the form of a ninety pound vicious doberman pincher. My immediate neighbor had found the dog of his dreams – a dog that was masculine, manly, tough, and unforgiving. The dog had no bias, he hated everyone and everything. The neighbor taught the dog to be mean. He once said, “I always wanted a mean dog”. We can speculate forever on what that meant, on what he intended, on what was wrong with his mentality – the fact is that a powerful and viscous dog was contained by a mere forty two inch chain link fence. I saw that fence was the 0nly barrier to the safety of my children.
Other neighbors with children called the local Government. They called the police. They called the Animal Shelter. They called their city council representatives. Nothing could be done. The forty two inch fence met the standard of animal enclosure. The neighbors began restricting the movement of their children. The children could not ride their bicycles in the alley. A child on a bicycle would provoke horrendous outbursts by the dog. The fence along the alley was bowed and bent from the dog striking out at any passing child.
Our kitchen sink was beneath a window looking out over the yard. My wife stood at the sink, her work station back in those days, and watched over her children. I walked into the kitchen one Saturday afternoon and heard the viscous dog bark – my wife jumped at the sound – terrified. As I stepped beside her she said, almost to herself, “I wish those neighbors would not leave their dog in the backyard when they go out of town”.
“Out of town?” I asked, “What do you mean?”
“They went to visit her family out of town. They put food and water out and left the dog in the yard. They will return tomorrow.”
I felt as if the local government had failed us. They had failed to protect my children. They failed to protect the sanity of my wife. It was time to take the law into my own hands. I said to my wife, “I am going to kill the dog”.
She was aghast. The idea of killing the dog had not crossed her innocent mind. She loved dogs, she loved all animals, she was one of those people who would take in stray cats, nurturing them until she could find a proper home. My children grew up with that sense of nurturing and I am grateful.
However, extreme danger lurked in our quiet neighborhood. I felt compelled to protect my children. My plan was simple. I would approach the chain link fence with caution, while the dog was looking the other way. I dumped about a pint of dog food just over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. I called the dog, who came barreling across the fifty foot lot with the intensity of a Sherman Tank. I ran around the house, went inside, grabbed by twenty-two caliber rifle and went upstairs. I waked to my bedroom window overlooking the neighbor’s yard. As hoped, the dog was eating the dog food, head bowed, a perfect target. I opened the window as far as possible, took out the screen, stood on a chair, aimed the rifle at the dog’s forehead, and fired.
The barrel of the gun was inside the house and the house served as something of a silencer. There was no discernible noise in the neighborhood. The bullet hit the dog in the center of his head, just above the eyes. Dead before he hit the ground. The dog lay still in the yard; he looked like he was taking an afternoon nap. Perfect.
I waited until dark. I climbed the fence, lifted the ninety pounds over the fence and dropped him in my yard. I drug the carcass to my truck, put him in the back, drove to an isolated spot along the Missouri River, and the dog went to sleep with the fishes – as they say in the mafia. When I returned home I used my garden hose to wash away the dog food and blood. I opened the back gate to the neighbor’s yard so when they returned they would think the dog had merely run 0ff.
I accomplished what the State failed to do. I was proactive in the protection of my children. This story has been told a few times. Some people are abhorred at my action. Some are abhorred at the neighbor for having a viscous dog in neighborhood of children. Some are abhorred at the city council, the police, and the animal shelter for not taking action. Some called for more government regulation of dogs. Some said no, we have too many government regulations. The reader can judge for themselves whether they agree with my actions – or not.
Fast forward thirty years to the 21st Century. The arguments continue. What is the role of government in protecting the citizens. Any regulation passed necessarily restricts something. We have breed specific dog control laws in many municipalities and home owner associations. If a dog poops then the owner has to pick it up. Some freedom, some liberty, some right to pursue happiness is restricted with any government regulation. No matter how thin you pour the batter the pancake always has two sides.
The most strict gun control might have denied me the ownership of my 22 rifle. I would have had to meet the dog square in the face with a ball bat and a Buck Skinning Knife. It would have been touch and go. Certainty could not be guaranteed. (My masculine self imagines a hard fought victory with both gladiators bloodied in the honor of a fair fight).
A similar imagination, in the hands of the Aurora, Colorado, movie shooter, provoked an ungodly scene of terror. The shooter in Aurora was a mean and viscous dog, trained by an interpretation of life filtered through a mental illness. The failure of government regulations fostered an opportunity for a mass murder. Had I walked into that theater with my semi-automatic 22 rifle I could have reasonable fired all fifteen shots in the magazine before the patrons would have jumped me and beat me to death with their pissed off popcorn fueled energy. Fifteen shots in a crowed movie theater with a 22 rifle could have inflicted some serious damage – some people would have surely died. Others would have been injured. The actual shooter killed 12 people and wounded another 59.
Less violent but seriously debilitating was the financial crisis of the Great Recession. The result of unrestricted capitalism, mixed with some greed fueled corruption, devastated the life savings of the middle class. We cannot count the suicides and other horrors directly related to the financial collapse of the American economy. We cannot measure damage caused by the festering frustration of economic despair. Once again we have seen devastation as a result of government inaction.
Life is not simple. People living in harmony in an increasingly urban world is not simple.
So I pose the question: What can we do when we perceive the government as failing to protect us?
The Aurora shooter took the law into his own hands – he punished what he saw as a judgmental society with unfair demands. (I just made that up – it is as reasonable as other causes prescribed by media pundits). Your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault – that man killed 12 and wounded 59.
I am an advocate of gun regulations. In the same manner that we now regulate dog breeds we must regulate gun breeds. We have proven many times that we cannot regulate mean-spirited, hateful, obnoxious, unhappy, or mentally ill people – but we can limit their ability to strike out at innocent others.
The NRA and gun advocates say we should arm everyone. If the movie theater audience had been armed then they could have defended themselves from the insanity of the shooter. I try to imagine a gun fight in a crowded movie theater and the outcome in my imagination is much worse that what actually happened. The more sane solution would be to prevent the shooter from having access to those weapons of individual destruction.
What about our children? When I say ‘our children’ I am referring to the children of our tribe, our family, our neighborhood, our community, our State, and our Country. My children were not protected from viscous dogs. I felt compelled to take the law into my own hands. What happens when children are bullied at school? Make it personal – what if your child is bullied at school? You go to the school, you talk rationally with school administrators, they tell you they have done all that can be done. What is your option? What choices do you have? Anger clouds judgement. Frustration mounts. There is no greater cause than the protection of your child – that single determination is as old as life itself. To what lengths will you go? What are you prepared to do to protect your child? The solution is better laws, more power for the school administration – or is it? Do you want to give the school administration more power – power that might one day be pointed in your direction? Would the NRA suggest that we arm our children – you know the old saying: “God created man and Samuel Colt made them equal”. To what length can we reasonable expect a parent to go to protect their child?
What if the child abuse in not physical? What if the child abuse is mere berating and belittling? What if the abuse is a shame based system of punishment administered by school administrators? What if the school uses humiliation as a negative motivator? What if your child is the subject of the humiliation? Actually, there are regulations in place to protect the children – but someone has to stand up and identify the school administrator and identify specific abuse.
What happens when the institution is a higher priority than the individual. We might think of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State – ultimately the institution was condemned for not protecting children – but it was too late – several children have already suffered life changing abuse.
What happens when the institution is called marriage? A single mother marries a man. The man abuses her child. In the interest of protecting the institution of marriage, deemed an institution of the highest order by conservatives, the mother sacrifices the child.
We have corralled the wacko dogs – can we not better protect our citizens by corralling the wacko guns? Can we corral the abusive institution? Can we corral the abusive Step Father? There are regulations in place – but I submit that they are effective as the dog laws were thirty years ago when I killed a dog in defense of my children.
So I pose the question again: What can we do when we perceive the government as failing to protect us?
A more comprehensive look at the passion of gun owners and pit bulls has been addressed in other posts.