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

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

December 3rd, 2013 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

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.