A MAN I KNEW, Michael Halberstam, came home and found a burglar and was shot to death. He was 48 years old, a physician and a writer. On the way to his funeral, a woman mentioned that her mother had also been shot to death. I had another friend whose younger brother also died that way, and so did a bartender I knew a bit. He got hot one night in an argument and died before my eyes with a little hole in his chest.
The house across the street was held up at gunpoint and so was a store around the corner. The other day, a man got killed in a bank when he tried to shoot it out with a crook, and some years back my wife and some colleagues were robbed at gunpoint and threatened with rape.
My presidents die of gunshots and my politicians are killed by guns and guns take the lives of cultural heroes like John Lennon. A deranged man kills Allard Lowenstein with a gun and guns put both George Wallace and Larry Flynt in wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. Whenever I cover famous politicians, I think always of guns.
I see guns all the time on the street. Sometimes I just imagine them in bulges under the coats of frightening-looking people. Sometimes I actually see them. No matter. I imagine them everywhere. I imagine them in glove compartments of cars driven by guys who have just cut me off, and in the pockets of men who have just spit in front of me on the street, and in the pants of kids who want to push me off the sidewalk.
I imagine guns in the hands of whatever it was that made the stairs creak in the night, and I consider the possibility that the stranger standing on the porch has a gun. When I go into the bank, I think about it being robbed. I study the other customers and think about cross-fires.
Am I alone in this? Am I the only one who fears guns, who thinks about them, who considers that they might figure in the consequences of yelling at some guy in another car, or reminding some punk that it ain't polite to spit on the sidewalk? Am I the only one who knows so many people who have been threatened by guns, who have died by guns?
Am I alone in thinking that this is crazy? I live in the capital of the United States of America and I bet I think more about guns than any cowboy in the Old West. I have lived in other cities and it is no different, and it is no different in rural areas, either. People kill each other with guns in rural areas, too. Anywhere there are guns, people kill each other with them. Last year, 13,040 Americans were killed by guns. It's like war. We're at war with ourselves.
It would be nice to have a truce. It would be nice to turn in all the guns, to sell them no more and make lots fewer of them -- make them just for the police. A handgun serves no other purpose than to kill. That's all it does, all it ever does. A rifle can be used to hunt and a knife can cut meat, but a handgun is for killing people. It does nothing else, but it does what it does very well indeed.
I know gun control is not the total answer -- not the complete answer. I have been told that guns don't kill people and that people kill people, but Robert Kennedy was not killed by a bow and arrow and George Wallace was not knifed from 25 feet away and Son of Sam could not put a knife through a closed car window and kill young women in New York.
No man can hold a knife on a group or hold up a bank by saying he has a knife in a bag, and no one can reach into a glove compartment and throw a knife at me in my car because he does not like my looks.
I know that even with gun control some criminals would continue to have guns. But maybe not the one who held a gun on my wife and her friends, and maybe not the one who robbed the house across the street, and maybe not the one who killed the bank customer the other day. Maybe there would have been no gun for the person who shot Allard Lowenstein and the guy who murdered Mike Halberstam, and maybe someone could have said no -- no, you cannot have a gun -- to the guy who killed John Lennon.
I know gun control is an imperfect solution. But I know, too, that the only reason to have a gun is to kill, and if gun control just rids this world of one gun, there might just be one less killing. Maybe a doctor could continue to cure or a bartender mix drinks or a mother see her grandchildren or John Lennon write another song.