Continued from last post

For a long time after my teenage years, I did not fire a gun, but as an adult I dealt with guns and saw some of their effects all too frequently. I was a public defender in New York City during what many might call the bad old days. New York City had stricter gun laws than most places which made it illegal, except in a few special circumstances, to carry or even own a handgun. I represented taxi cab drivers and bodega clerks charged with illegally possessing a handgun. I represented teenagers whose need for a gun might seem less obvious but, when I asked why they had a gun, gave the same reply as the others: “For protection.” (I recently met a woman in rural Mountainhome, PA., who carried a gun in her purse “for protection.” I found this a curious answer. For almost all of the last fifty years, I have lived in what are called “high crime neighborhoods,” and the spouse, the daughter, and I have all been the victim of crimes. I, for example, have been robbed at knifepoint twice, and the spouse has been robbed, too. I have been assaulted on the subway, and so has the daughter. I never have thought that if had been carrying a gun, I would have been “protected” from these crimes. Thus, by the time I saw the knife in the robber’s hand, it would have been too late to retrieve a gun from my pocket. If I started to try to pull out a gun, would the robber have run away? Maybe. If I had tried to pull out a gun, would I have got stabbed. Maybe.)

I also represented and saw in court many charged with the use of guns in the commission of other crimes—robberies, rapes, assaults, murder.  I heard the heart-wrenching testimony of a young woman forced to disrobe at gunpoint; the grandmother commanded to yield her purse and did so when the robber opened his coat and displayed a gun in his waistband; the child who described the argument between his parents and testified that the mother reached into a kitchen drawer, pulled out a gun, and shot his father; a father, weeping uncontrollably, testifying about identifying, at the morgue, his son, who had been killed by a gunshot after a brief midsummer argument on a Brooklyn stoop.

Like you, I had seen many acts of gun violence portrayed on the screen, many of them chilling and gut-wrenching, but this was real life, and I began to think more about the various survivors of gun violence, something that was then seldom depicted in popular culture. PTSD was just coming into the common parlance (ask me about defending Vietnam veterans), but surely those I had seen no doubt had a long-lasting effects from what guns had helped put them through. I thought about this a lot when representing a young man who, at gunpoint, had committed a degrading sexual assault on a woman and an assault on her boyfriend. My client had never been in trouble before. He had been a good high school student and a track star who had gained a scholarship to an Illinois college. He had taken care of a CEO’s children, and that executive was willing to go to bat for him. The crime was disturbing, and so was the client’s reaction to it. When discussing it, he showed no remorse, but he also showed no other emotion. His affect was completely flat. It was as if he had drifted into another world. “How would you feel if this had happened to your mother? Your sister?” In a monotone: “I guess I would not like that.”  I kept probing and found that his father had left the family when the client was three or four. A bit later he had a stepfather, and a very good one. The stepfather attended the school performances and helped with homework. He took the boy to church. He introduced him to track and attended the meets. It was a close family until the boy was twelve and the birth father broke into the home and shot the stepfather in front of the boy, who was found, blood-soaked and hugging the stepfather’s body. Learning this, I could only wonder if an act of gun violence had begot later gun violence.

These experiences made me anti-gun.


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