I didn't grow up in a neighborhood where gunshots were a thing--and I know I am incredibly lucky for that. That's why when I pulled up to the corner of Atlantic and Fourth by the Barclay's Center yesterday at a couple of minutes after 2pm, the sound of gunfire was pretty startling, and it's not something I can easily shake.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop-pop-pop! Pop!
I knew what it was right away.
A car or motorcycle backfires once. Construction noises are mechanical and repetitive. Fireworks go off with a kind of chaotic randomness that you only get when timing is dictated by the burning of a fuse.
These pops had intent, and moreover, desperation. You hear it in the cadence. Those three quick squeezes in broad daylight on what is perhaps the busiest intersection in Brooklyn can only come from someone who has long stopped caring about the moments after their actions.
I was glad to be on my bike because I was out of there immediately. Whereas my first instinct in many instances might be to help--I was one of the first on the scene when I paddled out in a kayak to the helicopter and plane crash over the Hudson quite a few summers ago now--guns change the game. Guns are to be run from--unless you're in unfortunate enough proximity to be closer to grabbing it than you are to getting away.
I got away and called 911, and flagged down some MTA police on Hansen Place as well.
This post isn't intended to say we need gun control.
It's to say that if you have any logical thoughts in your head, a desperate person with a gun presents a relatively simple choice for society:
If you don't believe that babies are born pure evil out of the womb, then you have to concede that either the problem is the gun or the desperate person. This is a person consumed with so much fear, hate, frustration, etc., that they believe that ultimately, the risk of throwing their whole life away is worth pulling the trigger. If you pull a trigger, chances are you're going to get caught or killed.
So if you don't mind the guns, then what are you doing to address the person?
At one point, this person went down a path that conceivably could have been avoided with some help. We know that--and we know the root causes. Maybe they had an unaddressed mental illness. Maybe they grew up in a family decimated by unfair criminal justice policies and lacking in positive role models. Maybe they lacked economic opportunity, and turned to crime out of financial desperation--that they saw that the upside of theft or drugs calculated out to be higher than a life on welfare or in homelessness.
Sure, not everyone who deals with this winds up in a life of crime. That doesn't make the people who do purely to blame. Not everyone who eats spoiled food gets sick--but you don't blame the sick people for not having iron stomachs, you blame the restaurant. You don't just enact policies to penalize restaurants either--you give them little hand washing signs for the bathroom, you inspect food along the supply chain. You figure out the root causes and work on preventing them no matter how far up they go.
We know, factually, that all of these things contribute to crime--so if you want to prevent this from happening again and again, and you're not going to blame the gun, then you've got to enact policies that have way more empathy for people than the system currently does.
You have to decide, as a society, that we're not going to let anyone get to the point where they think the solution to any issue they have is to start shooting in broad daylight in a busy intersection. You'll decide that you'll teach kids anger management, communication, and give them skills that make them productive in society, not forgotten by it. You're going to fix the issues that create havoc and desperation in people's lives--like getting bankrupted by a health issue or having an unstable housing issue. You'll treat addiction for what it is--a disease--rather than a crime.
That's what I can't reconcile about most of the gun rights defenders. Their policies seem to align with not providing any services or social safety nets to people. It's like, "We know your world sucks and is full of pitfalls that other people don't run into, but still, we're not only not going to do anything to help you, but we're not going to do much to curtail the guns that exacerbate these issues."
At this point, it doesn't seem worth arguing about whether guns should be a meaningful part of people's lives--but I hope we can all agree that desperation should not be. Throwing people in jail and losing the key doesn't solve for the desperation component, but we know what does.
So if you don't have a policy of gun control, I look forward to hearing about your support to increase funding for education, housing, physical and mental healthcare, and worker protections.