Thursday, August 14, 2008

The arsenal next door

It may be the most hotly disputed collection of 27 words in American civic life: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The Second Amendment, strictly interpreted, is pretty clear; uncounted volumes have been written about what it means in today’s world. But no one can dispute, when it comes to gun ownership, that today citizens live in closer proximity and lead more complex and stressful lives than our forefathers ever could have imagined. We wrestle with how to balance cherished individual rights to privacy and gun ownership with the public’s right to safety and security in their own homes—without feeling threatened by those guns.

When keeping and bearing becomes stockpiling and threatening, something has to give.
Last week, just two doors down from my family home, official intervention was requested by an anonymous neighbor to determine the health and welfare of an elderly neighbor suffering the debilitating effects of end-stage Parkinson’s disease.
He had displayed several documented incidents of increasingly bizarre behavior and made threats to the safety of others; when officials arrived on the scene, they discovered his shockingly dangerous weapons cache and the potential vulnerability of the nearby citizenry. It sent shock waves through the quiet neighborhood that thankfully wasn’t blown up in the process.
Two hundred guns and rifles, 800 pounds of ammunition, hand grenades, fixed bayonets, swords, bows and arrows, loose gunpowder—all stacked and stored throughout the small wooden bungalow and in the garage shared by common walls with the unwitting neighbors next door and directly behind the house.
Neighbors—accustomed to respectfully accommodating his idiosyncratic behavior—finally realized that what was once just a bit odd and tolerable shifted quickly into irrational and frightening.
None of the neighbors who live in closest proximity had any idea about the existence of any firearms when the authorities were summoned.
Since the discovery of the weaponry, they have shared their potentially chilling “what-if” stories: What if the guy next door had set off the potentially explosive loose gunpowder when he was recently welding the stained-glass lamp in the garage with common walls, a surprise gift for his pregnant wife and baby daughter.
What if the surf dudes on the other side had placed a candle a little too close to the ammunition cache, or the high school teacher, mother of a college student who lives behind the house had set her barbecue in just the wrong place; what about the safety of the little kids across the street, the infant twins just down the block, the four-year-old and his parents who just moved into the neighborhood. The growing awareness of the tinderbox in which the neighbors have been living has taken its emotional toll.
Yet the neighbors remain compassionate; concerned that their elderly neighbor be allowed to live out his final days in a peaceful and dignified manner, with 24-hour care he so clearly needs, provided by qualified professionals who can keep him safe and comfortable.
They have no doubt that if he were fully aware he would not want to be perceived as a threat to his neighbors. But the haunting question remains: What if he perceived the neighbors as a threat to him?
What if a Frisbee had sailed unexpectedly into his backyard, a car backfiring had been misinterpreted as a threat, a frisky pet strayed unexpectedly onto his property, or a neighbor’s too-loud music annoyed him? The potential for tragedy is all too obvious.
With all due respect to those who will quote the Second Amendment as gospel, I suggest if the gun-hoarding neighbor had truly been just a collector — as has been reported in the electronic media and asserted in the blogosphere — he would have stored the items with the respect they’re due: responsibly, carefully, properly in locked gun cases, gun safes or gun cabinets—not strewn haphazardly throughout the house, stuffed in the mattress, in dresser drawers and on pallets in the garage. His failure — and likely inability — to secure his collection of Arms for his own Militia put more than the immediate neighborhood at risk; had gang members or others with criminal intent happened upon the scene, the violence this community is already experiencing may have accelerated immediately from stabbing to shooting in the blink of an eye.
As of this writing, no determination has been made about the return of his enormous cache of mostly legal (!) weapons; the D.A. hasn’t decided whether or not to press charges. No one in this neighborhood cares about criminal prosecution; everyone just wants a return to a feeling of safety and peace of mind once again — and the arsenal kept out of the hands of a man clearly unable to take proper care of himself or his collection of weapons.
The afflicted neighbor has not returned to his home; in his physical and mental condition, he may not. But privacy rules preclude informing the neighbors of what will happen next, leading to many anxious moments and sleepless nights on Salsipuedes. Neighbors can only wonder how long their luck will hold, hoping that that this sad situation will not explode into a tragic event.

Cheri Rae’s column appears every Thursday in the Daily Sound. She’s happy to hear from you via e-mail at


Anonymous said...

This is a sad situation. My heart goes out to the family of this man. I hope you are able to get him some help. I am sure this is a stressful and tragic event for your family.

RKV said...

Every time you drive a car you haul the equivalent of three sticks of dynamite around the town at high speeds. The fact that you don't know this doesn't change the reality of the physics involved. As sad as I am to hear about this gentleman, no one was hurt were they? Sounds to me like the system worked. Stop the scare stories and use your brain.

Anonymous said...

>>"“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Second Amendment, strictly interpreted, is pretty clear."

Right, but the problem is that both sides of the debate see it as clearly supporting their side.

GreenGiant said...

RKV has it right. You don't have a right to not 'feel threatened'. Feelings are not protected by common sense or our Constitution.

I have a Right to defend my life - with the most reasonable means available. A firearm.

An automobile in the hands of the common driver is far more dangerous to you than the guns in the home or in the holster of a neighbor. In normal everyday use, that automobile can kill you. Walking down the sidewalk is the equivalent of standing next to the targets at a shooting range. Your life depends on the aim of every driver of every car that passes by!

Are you crying out for 'common sense' laws to take the cars off the streets so you won't have to 'feel threatened' by them? Have you thought it through?

There are no laws that prevent someone from attempting to do harm in disregard of the law. There are only laws that prevent the law-abiding among us from properly defending ourselves when such a real threat arises.

Please, for my safety, don't make laws that give the aggressor the advantage!

raisingawareness said...

I have a "common-sense" solution: give me the guns.