Shortly after publishing my third book, I met a private detective who came to a reading at Kate’s Mystery Books outside Boston. The detective told me her practice is a lot like V I’s: she did homicide investigations for clients who were being railroaded by a judicial process that liked to pick on the first convenient African-American they encountered. She said she didn’t expect fiction and reality to march in lock-step, but there was one thing she thought I should change. In my early books, V I always had her Smith & Wesson with her. Kate’s detective told me that was a mistake.
Kate’s detective said that she herself owned a handgun, had a permit, was a pretty good shot, but she almost never carried a weapon, even though she routinely found herself in some of Boston’s crummiest neighborhoods and projects.
The reason? She said you unconsciously escalate conflict when you are carrying a weapon. It’s as if your unconscious mind is itching to pull the trigger. When she left her weapon at home, she said she found more creative ways to resolve problems.
I think of that advice often, and never more so than in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Whether a skinny kid in a hoodie really posed a threat to a big man in an SUV is something we may never know. But we can be pretty sure that if George Zimmerman hadn’t been carrying a gun, he would have stayed in his SUV. Maybe the police would have come, maybe they would have roughed up a kid for wandering around a gated community while black, but Trayvon would still be alive.
Armies and governments follow the same psychology. Hard as I petitioned and prayed for peace in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq, I knew that once George Bush had deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers and millions of weapons to the Persian Gulf, his trigger finger was itching so painfully that nothing would keep him from shooting first.
If George had kept his personnel and weapons at home and let the UN inspectors do their job, we would not have 4400 dead American service men and women, 31000 with terrible injuries, 110000 Iraqi civilians killed and many millions left homeless. We would have the $3 trillion we’ve spent on this war to use for schools, roads, and maybe even health care.
Right now, I think it’s a pretty hopeless battle to gain a modicum of control over weapons of destruction, mass or otherwise, in the United States. Every time you take off your clothes in the airport, remember that the NRA has battled relentlessly not just to allow George Zimmerman a conceal carry permit, but to make sure anyone on a terrorism watch list gets a free pass on owning and carrying a weapon. The Patriot Act puts more controls on looking at what we read than on what we shoot.
Perhaps we will read more such uplifting stories in the future.
And state legislatures believe the only controls that should be legislated are on women’s vaginas. Cry, my beloved country.