published Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Don't shoot! A gun can't substitute for common sense

Enough already. How many stories must we read about senseless gun deaths?

How many children walking home from the store, how many college girls seeking help after a car accident, how many 72-year-old Alzheimer's patients thinking they've finally found their way home? How many more have to die because scared people substitute a gun for rational thinking?

This is America, and America is not so scary a place that you need to haul your gun out and fire every time you see a hoodie, or hear a noise in your yard or on your porch. And the old idiom "shoot first and ask questions later" is just that: an idiom.

For heaven's sake; two recent shooting victims -- Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old college student seeking help after a car accident in Dearborn Heights outside Detroit on Nov. 2, and Ronald Westbrook, the wandering Chickamauga, Ga., 72-year-old Alzheimer's victim who had found his way to a house with a lighted porch -- knocked on a door or rang a doorbell at homes where they hoped to find help. Moments later, they were both shot.

Seriously, how many prowlers just walk up and ring a doorbell or knock?

What is wrong with us? What is this fascination with guns? What is this fearfulness about?

In four decades of surveys, researchers say American trust is at a new low: Only a third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way when the General Social Survey began in 1972, according to the Chicago-based National Data Program for the Social Sciences, which conducts the annual surveys.

One expert questioned for a recent Associated Press story on the growing distrust attributes it to less socializing and more isolationism. Writer Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone," says Americans have abandoned their bowling leagues and Elks lodges to stay home and watch television.

Perhaps that is especially true if much of the TV is Fox news programming, which often sensationalizes such stories as "knock out" crime games -- something many social experts and police say is simply urban myth. Certainly high-action -- read here brutal -- television "entertainment" feeds on fear-mongering, as do televised ads for gun-makers and gun stores. One depicts a mom with two kids who conveniently has a loaded long gun leaning on a door jamb when a masked man kicks in her front door in broad daylight, according to the ad script. In reality, children are more at risk from a loaded gun in the house.

Back to the man with Alzheimer's: Mr. Westbrook was a 33-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a decorated Vietnam War soldier. He also was a past commander of the Tennessee Air National Guard's 241st EIS Squadron at Lovell Field. The lifelong Georgia resident, 1959 graduate of Rossville High School and retired TVA engineer also loved playing the trumpet.

But Alzheimer's' robbed him of memory, and when he rang a doorbell in the middle of the night last week just before Thanksgiving, he and his dogs had been wandering to find home for at least four hours.

He was three miles away when he saw lights on the porch at 188 Cottage Crest Court and rang the bell, then jiggled the door knob.

Yes, that would startle a resident at 3:54 a.m. And the shooter's fiancee dialed 911.

But in the nine to 10 minutes it took for deputies to arrive, the man with the gun apparently bested his fear and surprise enough to go outside into the yard. With gun in hand, he apparently didn't feel afraid anymore -- at least until just before he fired four times, striking the elderly man once.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said the resident "gave several what he described as verbal commands." (That's also what the lady does in the TV gun ad, by the way.)

But Alzheimer's victims often don't comprehend speech, and even more often, they can't verbalize normally.

"[Westbrook] continued walking toward him [the man with the gun] after he told him to stop," Wilson said. No charges have been filed.

This case is outrageously sad, as is the Michigan case (where charges have been filed).

Both could have been prevented without putting a finger on a trigger. Trust may not be something we can rebuild anytime soon, but at the very least, we must stop substituting guns for the courage to use common sense.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
nucanuck said...

The gun lobby has won. Guns are becoming ubiquitous and soon almost everyone will have one. That means people with anger problems, people with mental problems, deeply ignorant people, deviants, stressed out people, jealous people...they are all going to have guns and shootings of all kinds will happen often enough that we will become numb to the news of another shooting death. This is the America that is happening before our very more gun at a time.

When you lose a family member or a good friend, remember back to when you fought so hard to protect your right to carry. Then ask yourself if you ever thought through what the unintended consequences might be.

Happy Hunting!

December 3, 2013 at 12:31 a.m.
moon4kat said...

The NRA and other gun lobbyists have created a paranoid class of people who are afraid of their own shadows. This was done to sell guns and make profits for the manufacturers. The first reaction of the paranoiacs with a gun is to shoot anything that unsettles them in the slightest. And, sometimes it seems they are just looking for an excuse to fire bullets at someone.
It's tragic that some people don't have enough common sense to consider and act on non-lethal alternatives. Nearly every day it seems we hear about more senseless shootings of innocents. Many gun owners are a fatal threat to decent society, and the NRA does nothing to curb this horrific trend.
And, in all of these cases, the victim is dead and never gets to tell his side of the encounter.

December 3, 2013 at 8:01 a.m.
TirnaNOG said...

The NRA and other gun lobbyists have created a paranoid class of people who are afraid of their own shadows

And don't fail to leave out local law enforcement around the country in many cities. Many helped to create, encourage and even inspire the George Zimmermans at those local neighborhood group meetings where they were in attendance. They helped to encourage and spread suspicion, fear, mistrust, paranoia and even hatred which led to division and hostility in many communities. Some of'em were even congratulating and applauding GZ for standing his ground; cuz, afterall, Trayvon Martin was nothing but a "thug" after all, who got suspended from school (which really ain't at all hard to do these days), smoked marijuana (which lots of young people have done, even some of them in their own youth, and even in their adulthood) and posted pics of himself on his facebook page some found offensive. But it was the medicated, boozing and violent GZ with a violent history long before he crossed paths with TM that got all the praise and was suppose to be the poster boy for the NRA, gun rights nuts, the SYG law and even some local law enforcement around the country. This is what taken your neighborhood back was suppose to be all about.

SYG is a most evil, wicked, barbaric, uncivilized and hideous law. These present Oops and screw-up and collateral damage are only dry runs for their real intentions. You'd have to travel back into darker periods in American history to understand how similar laws were changed, created, manipulated or totally done away with to allow such tragedies to take place with impunity. Like in that darker period, future generations will be left to deal with the shame, blame, and cleaning up the do do present generations are creating; long after we're all dead and gone. Give a 100 years or so.

footnote Addressing only the SYG law without including the Castle Doctrine law in many states will not help correct the mess. The wordings in the SYG and Castle Doctrine and other laws like them now on the books in a lot of states have become so interchangeable that wordings in those laws are eerily similar to the SYG law and the present rules written in them will still apply even if the SYG law is ruled totally unconstitutional. So someone needs to alert the people who are horrified by the tragic results of SYG law and advise them to take a closer look at the other laws, including long standing Castle Doc laws, that have been tweaked and created to compliment or even include SYG.

December 3, 2013 at 8:50 a.m.
AgentX said...

It amazes me the amount of ignorance people show in their comments. Do any of you even know what "stand your ground" means? I don't think you do. Education is the key here. Education on gun ownership and handling, education on proper storage of firearms. Even education on the law. I carry a gun, and yes I have a permit. Guess what? I don't agree with the fact that they haven't filed charges against the guy that shot the elderly man with alzheimers. I don't think that "stand your ground" can apply in that case. He PURSUED the threat? That's not how it works.
Anyway, educate yourselves a little:

39-11-611 Self Defense

(2) Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, if:

  (A) The person has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;

  (B) The danger creating the belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time; and

  (C) The belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds.

And: (c) Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury within a residence, business, dwelling or vehicle is presumed to have held a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury to self, family, a member of the household or a person visiting as an invited guest, when that force is used against another person, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence, business, dwelling or vehicle, and the person using defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

Yes, I agree that GZ was innocent. He acted in self defense AFTER he was physically assaulted. The death was unfortunate, and (I believe) unintended.

December 3, 2013 at 7:44 p.m.
nucanuck said...


I wasn't talking about "stand your ground" or self defense. Nor do I disagree that most gun owners are responsible people, but let us assume that, say, 30% of adults would not be good gun owners. The US could potentially have tens of millions of legally armed people who are accidents waiting to happen. And the US population is in the process of acquiring arms for all.

I know the rest of that story and I bet you do too.

December 3, 2013 at 8:27 p.m.
facyspacy said...

Oh, like 30% of people owning a car.... Or 30% having access to a boat. Or 30% having a knife. Or how about all the rapes that happen daily, you got 30% of people who have Johnsons that don't know how to use them. Blah blah blah. More people die every yr from texting and driving than domestic guns. Let's throw it all together. New law. No one is allowed to have a car, boat, gun, phone, lard, johnson, tv, or knife. We will call it Barrycare. Merry Christmas

December 3, 2013 at 8:46 p.m.
nucanuck said...


To compare cars, boats, or even knives to the destructive potential of a handgun in the possession of marginal owners is juvenile at best. Clearly you don't get it. Maybe in a few more years you will begin to understand. Let's hope so.

December 3, 2013 at 10:37 p.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Put down your gun and trust the government that promised 'If you like your health insurance you can keep it. Period.' ?

The government that 'passes' laws (by bribes) so we can find out what's in them, and what bureaucrats are going to write into them? That can't build a website in three years? That ignores its own laws, its own deadlines, and its own Constitution?

Put down your gun and trust the government that takes nine minutes to respond to a 9-1-1 call? (Not blaming the heroes who need nine minutes, but can the one on the spot wait that long?)

Put down your gun and trust the government whose air-conditioned groupies and lawyers in suits second-guess the people who call 9-1-1, the government whose 'justice' system often seems to be government of, by, and for the lawyers instead of seeking truth and doing justice for the people? Can George Zimmerman trust the government that persecuted/prosecuted him for doing what a black man being beaten that way by a white man would rightly have done?

You may live in such a leap of faith, but I'm a Christian. There are limits to my credibility. Jesus is the truth; big government is fantasy. Trust a government that promises more than it is paying for?

Shrink the government so it can do less damage, offer fewer bribes, and offer less concealment to crooks.

December 3, 2013 at 10:53 p.m.
storioni said...

Andrew: I'm sure Jesus would have been an exemplary gun owner. Unfortunately, Ronald Westbrook didn't knock on his door that night. Our well-armed vigilante culture will only ensure a perpetual roll call of the "accidentally" killed. Your analysis of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman encounter is also skewed: Trayvon Martin, unarmed, was defending himself from a man who was stalking him with a gun. What's so hard to understand about that? Please, God, someone will, eventually, prohibit GZ from ever owning another weapon.

December 4, 2013 at 8:59 a.m.
jjmez said...

But Andy, don't you trust in some invisible sky daddy? Are you tell us you don't fully trust dude to come to your rescue?

The SYG is very deceptive. It affords an individual act on his or her own perceived fears, legitimate or not. That could be anything from someone accidently bumping into them, crossing their law or simply looking their way: Remember an America where people could be accused, arrested, convicted of eyeball rape? That's the period in history this law is a throwback to. Real, imagine or just plain on filled with hatred; anyone can just make up a reason to shoot someone after the fact.

December 4, 2013 at 9:01 a.m.
facyspacy said...

Nucant, saw a toon on facebook that said something along these lines.... People are worried about violence so they carry a gun, it's like carrying a fire hydrant to protect myself from fires.

I have car insurance bc of a car accident (unlikely) I have life insurance bc i may die early (highly unlikely) I keep tissues in my car in case i spill something (never has happened) I carry my two friends, Mr Smith and Mr Wesson in case i have to use it (been robbed 3 times, once at gun point)

Cry all you want about gun control. More people died in alcohol related deaths last year than guns. And way more than accidental or mass shootings. So why arent you trying to ban cars and alcohol?

When you back away from the computer waiting to sign up for Obamacare, pull your head out of your politics, and come up with a "real" reason to ban guns

December 4, 2013 at 3:16 p.m.
nucanuck said...


You are talking about TODAY'S statistics on gun violence and I am talking about gun violence in the America that will be when ALL are armed. That's the trend you are now following.

I already solved the problem. I moved to a city the size of Chattanooga where guns and gun violence almost don't exist. It is a more advanced civilization because the people here come together and do what is best for all. The happiness factor is high, the fear factor is low. Can you say that about Chattanooga?

December 5, 2013 at 12:42 a.m.
GameOn said...

More people have died by the hands of Planned Parenthood employees than the hands of NRA members.

December 5, 2013 at 8:44 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Who's talking about NRA members? I'm talking about some time in the future when almost EVERYBODY has a hand gun. The trend in gun ownership is rising rapidly. The logical extension of that is a world of near universal ownership. That trend automatically leads to a corresponding increase in shooting events...and a society with ever more fear of violence.

A fear driven society is not a healthy society. There is no possible way that guns make Americans (or anyone else) better people. I admit that the NRA has won and the gun onslaught will continue. I'm just puzzled why so many people think that is healthy for the country.

December 5, 2013 at 9:07 a.m.
AgentX said...

I am all for gun ownership... by educated people. I also think that education is key to a safer society. Honestly, I find it too easy for people to obtain a firearm that don't have a clue about how to safely handle it (my wife could go and buy a handgun right now, and she couldn't tell you which was a slide release, safety, or mag release). I think the government should start a training program, for a minimal fee to each student, in which you learn basic safety and gun handling techniques (your basic hunter safety course comes to mind). I'm sure some will say that a requirement like that impinges on their rights. I don't think it does. Heck, give out a "coupon" for a discount on a handgun lock-box or residential security container for your new firearm.
There is much that can be done in the way of education, while still allowing people the freedom to own firearms. Unfortunately, politics gets in the way, and it's always one extreme or the other.

December 5, 2013 at 11:39 a.m.
nucanuck said...


May we assume that you are opposed to gun ownership for uneducated people? Certainly education is important, but many of the tragedies that we read about are perpetrated by educated unbalanced people, or educated angry people, or educated jealous people.

Certainly education is helpful in all things, but gun ownership is a bigger issue than just that.

December 5, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.
AgentX said...

I'm referring to education as it relates to firearms - ownership, safety, storage, etc. Not education as in schooling. I apologize for any confusion. Reading over my post, I should have clarified it more. I educate myself on firearms. I also try to educate myself on the laws that relate to firearms. Unfortunately, those that are probably breaking the law by merely possessing a firearm, probably don't care about when and where you can't legally carry one.

December 5, 2013 at 1:42 p.m.
nucanuck said...

Firearms, like climate change, are coming on strong and neither will make life more pleasant.

December 5, 2013 at 1:57 p.m.
schizka said...

Re: *AgentX said... I'm referring to education as it relates to firearms - ownership, safety, storage, etc"

That makes no sense whatsoever. How would education as it relates to firearms, ownership, safety, storage, etc. would have helped in the recent local shootings and the national mass shootings? In all those tragic cases the people wanted to shoot someone. Perhaps even ANYONE. And most all either got their guns legally or could have if they wanted to. Then you have these legalized gun owners salivating at the mouth in the anticipation of going on a human hunting spree. You do know don't you, that Americans use to hunt down, shoot and kill fellow Americans pretty much in the same manner as they do deer, quail, bears, geese, etc.

December 5, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.
AgentX said...

Schizka, You are correct. A criminal determined to commit a crime will do so. However, there have been many accidental shootings that could possibly have been prevented had the owner of the firearm been more responsible. I think that comes with knowledge, training, education on the matter, etc.
I think if we start locking up our guns, there will be fewer kids taking daddy's gun to school, fewer criminals committing crimes with guns they've stolen. It's not a perfect fix, but it's a start.

December 6, 2013 at 10:01 a.m.
nucanuck said...


I think that by recommending locking up guns, you are acknowledging that guns are a societal negative, which, of course, they are.

December 6, 2013 at 12:40 p.m.
schizka said...

AgentX, we're not talking only about criminals here. We're talking about those law-abiding and responsible sometimes well-trained gun owners. No amount of training or education will reduce human error or carelessness. Even cops, who received regular training in gun safety, can become careless.

2012: "Retired Chicago cop accidentally shoot and kills his own son, after mistaking him for a burglar."

March 2013: 4-year old son of Michigan Sheriff's Deputy accidentally shoots and kill himself.

February 2013: Trial of ex-Orlando cop set to begin in shooting death of his 22 year old son.

July 2012/Perry NY: "NY police officer accidentally shoots and kill his own son he mistook for an intruder."

March 2012: "7 year old sister dies after brother shoots her with police father's loaded gun left in car."

These are highly trained individuals, who receive updated weapon's safety training on a regular basis. Yet even they can become careless, reckless and paranoid.

The problem is, no matter how much training is involved, overtime people become careless, forgetful, reckless and relaxed to the point they begin to treat their guns like they treat their car keys. Leaving them around unattended for anyone to get their hands on, even small children.

December 6, 2013 at 4:42 p.m.
please login to post a comment

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »


Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.