Four decades ago, a gunman accosted my mother, who was on her way home after attending the 6 a.m. Mass at St. Lucy's in Spanish Harlem. When he demanded all her money, she looked him in the eye and said, "What would your mother think of you doing this?" The gunman turned around and fled, saying nothing.
These days, she likely would have been shot dead. Even as the latest school shootings fade from the public's consciousness, the battle against guns wages forth on all cylinders. But while guns have always been a part of the American landscape, it's the criminal element that has absolutely no respect for innocent life that is a relatively recent phenomenon.
After the Amish school slayings in Lancaster, Pa., numerous posters to Internet forums recalled their childhood days in rural parts of the country when they would go hunting before school and leave their rifles in the principal's office for the day. It wasn't long ago that there were no school shootings. I once wrote a column defending the NRA, noting that the 1963 film "Flipper" had a scene showing the young star reaching for his rifle that was hung on the wall in his living room as he went to investigate strange noises. I don't recall any outcry over what was then a natural American response to danger.
Like many native New Yorkers, I have an aversion to lethal weapons. At one time, I too wondered why there wasn't some kind of national gun control law in place. Living in a dangerous neighborhood where criminals plied their trade using handmade zip guns was largely responsible for this paranoia. The Second Amendment somehow was not applicable to my life in New York City. Getting guns out of the hands of criminals seemed the logical thing, and anyone who could not recognize this need must be an extremist, I thought.
That perspective changed once I moved to Miami, where my husband grew up. I learned that guns seemed to prevent more crimes, because law-abiding citizens could protect their homes, property, and lives from the criminal element. My mother-in-law bought her shotgun at Kmart. She and her family lived near the Everglades, where snakes and alligators are unfriendly neighbors. My uncle-in-law owned a gas station in a rough neighborhood, and had been beaten severely by robbers. He started carrying a .45 wherever he went, and was never beaten or robbed again.
There are many remote areas of the country that do not have adequate law enforcement personnel, and citizens are required to defend themselves. Yet a former congressman, Major Owens, tried to pass a resolution dissolving the Second Amendment. Gun control advocates like Rosie O'Donnell, who by the way makes sure her bodyguards are armed, said on a recent "View" telecast that the right to bear arms "is not really a right."
Well, let's just clarify that, Rosie. The Second Amendment reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." What many control advocates forget is that comma after the word state. They would like us to think that it refers only to a militia. The comma makes it very clear that it is the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
It certainly was the right of Margaret Johnson to bear arms in September, when a mugger tried to rob the wheelchair-bound Harlem resident. She drew the pistol she was carrying and shot him in his elbow. Ms. Johnson, who has a gun carry permit, was on her way to a shooting range when she was attacked. Statistics from the National Safety Council show that firearms are used more than 80 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives.
How often do we have to read about an estranged wife or girlfriend getting gunned down by her ex? Enacting more gun laws hasn't protected women in this city. Maybe instead of going after the gun manufacturers, our mayor should be trying to enact legislation to toughen stalker laws and to increase the penalties for those who violate orders of protection. How about offering self-defense classes or gun permits and firearms training to battered women before they become death statistics?
My daughter-in-law has been stalked by an ex-boyfriend. He kidnapped and assaulted her and violated more than 20 orders of protection. He served a minimum sentence of a few years, and as soon as he was released came back to issue more death threats. How likely would this be if he knew she had a loaded weapon and knew how to use it?
New York doesn't need more victims or ineffective gun control. We need more Margaret Johnsons.