Violence has visited us recently: A man roamed our neighborhood with a gun, killing innocent people at random, and not far away an elderly woman was killed by a pack of dogs released, perhaps intentionally, by their owner. This reminds me of the times when these things almost happened to us. Until recently, I lived in the gun culture of Texas, where I assumed everyone I knew had a gun--often more than one.
In a city like Dallas, it seems like every woman has a pistol tucked away in her glove compartment. I knew one woman who got her purse from the National Rifle Association. It has a compartment in the bottom of it that you could slip a small pistol into, and the idea was that you wouldn't have to remove the gun in order to shoot it: You'd just point the purse at the bad guy, then reach in the gun slot and pull the trigger. The resulting blast would destroy the purse, of course (as well as the bad guy), but if that happened, the NRA said it would replace the purse for free.
I remember one time in San Antonio when we stopped outside a local post office. We left the car unlocked, and when we came back out, there was a strange woman sitting in the passenger seat. She wouldn't answer any of our questions--just stared straight ahead--so Whitley decided to look in her purse, which was on the seat beside her, for some I.D. But as soon as he touched it, she began screaming, which caused several men to run out of the post office with drawn guns. Whitley raised his hands, to show he wasn't armed, and the men helped persuade the woman that she was in the wrong car.
One time we were in the downtown area, where a lot of gangs hung out, and we heard gunshots. We actually heard bullets whiz around us. We never did figure out what was going on, but we quickly got back in our car and got out of there.
My favorite gun story has to do with a dog. When it would get hot in the summertime, we would take long walks after sundown. I was surprised to find that lots of other people were "ghosting" around the streets then, too--often walking their dogs.
Dogs in our little Texas town were either supposed to be on a leash or in a fenced-in yard. One of my favorite fences had a "window" cut into it at just the right height for the household dog to peer out. He wasn't very big and his yaps weren't very scary--just funny.
But there WERE scary dogs around. One evening we walked past an UNfenced-in yard and a barking dog rushed out at us. It had been intentionally let out on us by its owner, who stood on the porch watching the fun. I was afraid it was going to attack us, but thank goodness it stopped at the edge of its yard, although it didn't stop barking and threatening us. Later, I saw it running up and down the street, and were told by a neighbor that this lady was letting it out for the purpose of causing it to attack people.
A few weeks later, we found ourselves walking past the same yard again. I said to Whitley, "Oh no, this is where that dog nearly attacked us." The lady in the house next door, who was working in her yard, overheard us. "Don't worry," she sad, "I shot it."
I wondered if she had just cavalierly shot the dog one day because she was tired of its menacing ways, or if she shot it when it leaped out at someone walking by. I thought about whether the dog owner complained about this to either the shooter or to the authorities, but I doubt that either one of them paid much attention to him, if he did. Whatever else happened, the dog owner moved away shortly thereafter.
In Los Angeles, where I live now, I'm sure some of the people around me own guns (whether they're supposed to or not), but this is not a gun culture. The biggest fear I have while talking a walk here is being hit with what I call a "palmbardier"--a giant palm frond blown down by the annual Santa Ana winds. If a lot of people have guns, you can't be sure that they're all people who will use them wisely (there are gangs here too), but if a mad, drooling dog ran out of its yard at me, I might wish I was back in the Texas gun culture again.
Of course, gun culture or not, not everybody here can be relied on to handle their guns responsibly. The Santa Monica College shootings were barely a mile away…