The Gunshine State

“The distance from the audience to the event is a factor in news judgement. What happens in your own town is more important to you than an occurrence in another town. If your own Boy Scout troop changed its cap style, that would be more newsworthy in your own town then elsewhere.”

--JOURNALISM pg. 7 of the Boy scouts of American Merit Badge Series.

When I left Miami, guns left me too.

My beloved shotgun remains in North Carolina where a friend shoots it, on occasion, at tree stumps.

My pistol remains in New York State –but, by no means, by my side. I live in New York City now. Guns are criminal items. I seem to recall a friend whose Brooklyn apartment caught fire while she was in it. She escaped, frazzled and sans cats. When firemen discovered the charred remains of several handguns in the wreckage of charred furniture and felines, she was doomed. The guns weren’t doing anything in her apartment. As far as I know, they hadn’t done anything in their past aside from sit in a bag some rich kid drug dealer had left there.

But they were there. And that was enough to put her in jail.

Guns are terrifying things in New York. During my Special Patrolman training (I am an Urban Park Ranger) our NYPD instructor told us never to touch guns, for any reason. “If you find a firearm,” we were warned during out pepper spray training seminar, “put a trashcan on top of it and wait for the police to arrive.”

Though I have been issued a baton, handcuffs and the powers of arrest, the notion of giving myself—or any Urban Park Ranger— a gun strikes a chord of lunacy. No psychological profile is necessary to become an officer in the Urban Parks Service. Furthermore, some thirty percent of my graduating class (there is a Park Ranger academy) had been arrested at some point or another.

Beyond our general lack of mental balance, the notion of carrying a gun in our job seems outright ridiculous. The worst crime I ever witnessed in Central Park was a drunken disorderly pissing on a tree in plain sight. I yelled at him until he left. Though I never patted him down, I was able to conclude from his lack of functional pants, that he was not carrying a firearm.

To our credit, no one in the Urban Parks Service has used his or her baton –beyond one nutjob who beat a suspect in cuffs; he no longer works with us.

I’m letting all of this be known simply to let you know that guns are bad here. For most people, they are not things you own or think about owning. You may fear them. You may even fetishize them. But not own them. Never. Are you crazy?

I recall having dinner with friends (a non-profit organizer and an art handler) who spent the better part of an evening talking about what a slimeball one of their cousin’s had brought to a family reunion. The poor bastard had mentioned, while sledding in the Berkshires, that his father had given him a gun that had been in the family for generations.

The cousin had later confronted them, in tears. “Please,” she pleaded. “He’s not that bad.” But they could not be convinced. Nobody decent owns a gun.

I forget how different things are once you pass a certain latitude.

On a recent road trip, the signs began cropping up once we hit North Carolina. It was a certain brand of bumper sticker which would become increasingly prevalent as we continued south. “I’ll take my freedom, money and guns,” it read. “And you can keep the change.”

Whatever else you may think about the Obama administration, he as provided a healthy shot-in-the-arm to the gun industry. People are buying up guns with a frenzied gusto, believing, in earnest, that he will surely outlaw them. On several Asheville area print ads, tag lines urged potential customers to “buy ‘em before they’re outlawed.”

As we continued South, through Georgia, gun shops began appearing along the roadside with a bizarre frequency. They were advertised on billboards along I-75 urging drivers to turn off at upcoming exits –as though they provided an essential service: bathrooms, food, a place to sleep. And guns.

Once in Miami, guns began to pop up in all kinds of social situations. While drinking beer in the very suburban living room of an old homebrewing pal, I suddenly found myself sitting before a small arsenal. Handing me a glass of Heffeweizen, he struggled, tensely with the magazine release on a Ruger bolt-action .22 that he had purchased for his son. “I wanna take him out to shoot some jugs of water,” he said. “I want him to know what they can do.”

No situation seemed inappropriate for guns to make their appearance.

My girlfriend’s father, in the midsts of a breakfast table discussion about his misgivings about taking anti-depressants brought out his pistols (a .357 revolver and a Ruger .380). He too struggled with the magazine release –though he stored both of his weapons fully loaded.

Despite his recent battles with significant psychiatric problems, he is currently on a waiting list to renew his concealed weapon permit.

His son, my girlfriends’s brother, likewise lamented the difficulties in procuring a concealed weapons permit. Despite having his hours cut back at work and encountering difficulties in making ends meet at home, he described plans for buying a handgun, in addition to spending hundreds of dollars on requisite classes, FBI fingerprinting and background checks.

The most alarming case of Florida’s gun mania came from a young attorney. I’ll call him Larry Espositio and tell you that, after becoming a licensed lawyer, he decided to just hang out in Miami and teach sailing to children.

He exhibited a jerky, nervous energy when he spoke and sometimes made jokes that involved screaming at you.

Esposito had grown up in an academic family in Coral Gables. Even in Miami, this demographic is typically hard sold on guns and the wisdom in owning them. Nevertheless, when Larry’s grandmother died he spent nearly a thousand dollars of his inheritance on firearms. They were a good investment –he reasoned. If, one day, he came to his senses, he could count on selling them back for (at least) 80% of his original investment. I didn’t want to tell him that something you lose %20 of your money on cannot, in any real way, be considered an investment. He now owned four guns, a fact he was never comfortable discussing in front of anyone.

“Not in public,” he would whisper, when I prodded him to discuss his gun love in a bar.

Weeks earlier, while driving in Miami, an incensed driver had rammed into his vehicle, pushing him off the road. Esposito kept a handgun in a Crown Royal bag under the driver’s seat. “It fucked me up,” he said. “If he had tried to kill me, I would have shot him and then run into a closet, balled up into the fetal position and cried about it.”

Luckily the driver drove on and Esposito’s gun remained under his seat. Besides, that guy coulda had a gun.

If this piece goes online, I can already predict the response. A phalynx of comment dropping morons will unleash a volley of peudo-patriotic nonsense.

I am vexing as an entity, because I like guns in the sense that they are fun items for me to play with. From a policy perspective, however, anyone with half a brain could tell you that they are an incorrigible scourge.

People are very stupid. Every year, busloads of them chop their fingers off unclogging lawnmowers, get their genitals caught in vacuum cleaners and crash heavy machines into one another every second of the day.

Miniature cannons are not a good idea for these creatures—everyone agrees with that.

A lot of people, however, believe they are a good idea for “me.”

And, who knows, they just might be.
Every time I go down this road, someone hauls out the quote “an armed society is a polite society.” They believe that, rather than limiting guns, we should be making them readily available to all.

More guns=less crime + more freedom.

Get ‘em into the national parks to cut down on all those picnic basket snatchings. Put some in the employee parking lot and people will stop stealing shit out of the minifridge in the break room. Pack a gun into every purse in Miami and date rape will go the way of the Do-Do.

Hell, if every airline barf bag on September 11th had contained a loaded .357, those planes never would have crashed into the world trade center.

We’ll see.

As Florida’s CCW continues to be honored in more places and more people come to want them, this theory will be put to the true test –though I doubt it will yield positive results.

While all the fearmongering is good for the gun business, I wouldn’t believe the hype. The gun industry has won the war, for now. While it seems unlikely to me that Florida and other libertarian states will be able to have their CCW’s honored in New York City any time soon, Obama hasn’t seemed to want to do anything about the assault weapon-toting protesters showing up to his town hall meetings.

The barbarians have lined up at the gates.

Don’t worry Florida. You’ll get there.

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