Who Shouldn't Own a Gun?

Fear was starting to ruin my life.

Posted Feb 22, 2018

You know what kind of people shouldn't be allowed to have a gun? People like me. Let others dwell on law and the intricacies of the Second Amendment; what I can tell you is that the only time in my life I ever wanted a gun, it was for the worst possible reason.

It's a good thing I didn't have access to one. Even friends and family who are gun owners and gun-rights advocates agree: Some people need to be kept away from firearms.

In the early 1980s, I lived on New York's Lower East Side. I loved my squat yellow-brick apartment building and liked the edgy, noisy neighborhood. But then a man and a woman who were illegally subletting moved into the apartment next door and changed my life overnight.

They were probably in their late 30s, blond, blue-eyed, square-jawed and leather-wearing. They were broken-bottle scary. They were violent toward each other and intimidating toward the other tenants, many of whom were elderly, all of whom were cowed. When they found out I reported their window-smashing fights and night-long screaming matches both to the landlord and to the police, they banged on the old plaster wall between our apartment and screamed they were going to "get me."

I wasn't sure what "getting me" meant, but to my 27-year-old self it sounded as if they meant business.

I was in graduate school, working part-time as a fundraiser and teaching two classes. The calmest I felt was during my 40-minute commute to Queens College on the Sixth Avenue local, which, for those of you not familiar with the New York subway system, is not usually known for providing a quiet, spa-like atmosphere. Coming home, I'd worry as I walked down the dimly lit hallway that always smelled of cabbage because I was afraid the people next door would make good on their threat, whatever that was.

Fear was starting to ruin my life.

What could I do? These were the days before cellphones recorded incidents of misery and violence and home movies were used primarily to record children's birthday parties. I'd completed paperwork and exerted due diligence. The landlord wanted them.

But as much as I did but legislation (of which I'd always approved) made it difficult to evict even problematic tenants. Officers at my local precinct explained that without proof of something direr than my report of menace, all they could do was be within distance of my corded landline emergency call.

So I asked a man I trusted, a tough guy who lived in New York his entire life, for his advice. I thought I needed to protect myself. Should I carry mace? Should I get a switchblade? Should I, I whispered, just go get myself a gun?

Directly into the face of my earnest trepidation, he laughed. "You kidding me? All those things would be used against you in 30 seconds. Less than 30 seconds." Then he got serious. "Never carry more than you can use."

He wasn't the kind of guy to quote Seneca, but he was basically saying what the Roman philosopher had warned almost 2,000 years ago: "Sometimes in seeking to escape our fate, we leap to meet it."

If I'd gotten a gun in an attempt to make myself feel safer, what I'd actually have done would've been to place myself in far greater danger.

Even properly trained, I could no more shoot somebody during an attack than I could flap my arms and fly to the moon. A knife would have been even more ridiculous, given that the whole of my knowledge of switchblades came from heavily choreographed scenes in "West Side Story." Look: I could barely aim Raid effectively at roaches in my tiny kitchen; the chances of my being able to wield pepper-spray, let alone a Glock, in a crisis were not good.

A few months later, somebody else called and finally cops came to the door of the door of my angry and violent neighbors. Because of somebody else's report, they walked away in handcuffs.

The arresting officers, who were armed, didn't touch their weapons. They were professionals.

What I worry about gun ownership is this: amateurs—like me—who want to keep themselves safe will, in fact, make our country a much, much more dangerous place.