The Critical Mass

The boys in the junk store

The bravery of the citizens who rushed to the aid of their fellow citizens maimed by the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday, and the bravery of the police and assorted authorities and military personnel who brought the two suspects to justice on Friday, bookended the shameful cowardice of the U.S. Senate, which declined this week to act on a necessary piece of legislation: background checks on anyone who wants to own a gun in this country. Those two stories are intrinsically related. And a lot of people just don’t get it.

I had the day off on Friday, spending the day running a few errands, when I popped into an interesting-looking  junk store up in Charlotte, on Lake Avenue. The one with FLEA MARKET in big red letters in the windows. A woman I recognized from the bus ride home from work was there. I haven’t seen her for weeks, and she explained she’d been laid off from her job of 13 years. She introduced me to the store’s owner, who was evidently a friend. She left, and I started poking around. I found an interesting old vinyl jazz album that I considered buying.

The owner’s buddy was milling around the store as well, and they started discussing the Marathon manhunt. Suspect No. 1 was dead after an early morning shootout, Suspect No. 2 was still at large.

“We gotta stop letting these young Muslim kids into the country,” the owner was saying. “Those kids come here, they get scholarships, which we pay for, and then they turn around and murder us. We need to replace the torch that the Statue of Liberty is holding with a baseball bat.”

I thought about saying something. But emotions are running high, I guess that’s a understandable reaction for some people. I started looking at another piece of junk.

Then the owner’s buddy piped up. “Obumhole isn’t making it easy for us,” he said. “He wants to take away our guns.”

I looked at the guy, giving him my most withering stare. He didn’t look at me. What should I say? Did these guys understand the contradiction in these beliefs? I could explain it to them, perhaps. Yes, the suspects – who came to this country as political refugees – committed a vile series of crimes. But thousands of immigrants are welcomed to this country each year, and they become productive citizens. The suspects were apparently Islamic with sympathies for the Chechen insurgents of the Russian Federation. As killers, they are an anomaly among our Islamic citizens.

And what of the murderers of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.? Film goers in Aurora, Colo.? Citizens who go to hear their Congresswoman speak in Tucson, Ariz.? No, responsible gun owners shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a few. Our well-armed spree killers are an anomaly, say those who hide behind the uncertain language of the Second Amendment.

Well, you can’t have it both ways.

The horror of the Boston Marathon bombing demonstrates the impracticality of The National Rifle Association’s insistence that the answer to gun violence in this country is to fill our schools with armed guards. “School Resource Officers,” that’s what the pro-gun folks euphemistically call them, like they’re librarians or career counselors. What will we do for all of the other mass targets presented by society? Do we line all 26.2 miles of the Boston marathon route with armed guards? Do we assign armed guards to our movie theaters? To our supermarket parking lots on a sunny Saturday morning?

All of this ran through my head in a half-second, as I debated whether to share it with the boys in the junk store. In the next half-second, I thought about a simple, “Fuck you.” Instead, I abruptly turned and walked back to the front of the store, where the owner was leaning on his glass counter filled with junk. Now I thought about saying, “You’ll never see me in here again.” But I just saved my breath and walked out the door.