The most hardcore of opponents to any kind of gun control legislation will tell you that guns are meant to protect people from bad guys with guns. They’ll try to convince you that a mother living in a suburban neighborhood absolutely needs an assault rifle in her home because there could be a marauding hoard trying to break in. (In Donal Trump’s world, that marauding hoard would be made up of all Mexicans, all trying to rape the woman in question.) Some of them will show up at department stores with assault rifles because… Well, just because.
The statistics are very clear that having a gun in your household increases the risk of you being shot. The reasons for this are many, and they’re not meant to be some sort of scare tactic to make you think twice about having a gun. Your risk increases because of the simple fact that you have a gun. No gun in the house means the risk is as close to zero as it can get. (It’s not zero because there are no absolutes.) In some cases, you have a gun because you live in a bad neighborhood. In that case, your risk is elevated because of your environment as a whole, not only because of the gun. In other cases, any instance of mental health problems may make you more prone to use the gun against you or others.
One thing is for sure, though: The gun is not going to stand up and shoot you on its own.
The problem with guns and violence is very complex. There are mental health issues, problems with conflict resolution, cultural norms, and lack of impulse control. (These are not all mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive, by the way.) One example that brought these things into a sharp and depressing focus is what happened to Tammy Meyers in Las Vegas back in February. Here is the report from NBC news:
“The police account provides the most details yet into a complicated and conflicting case that initially appeared to be a random road rage incident that rattled residents of Las Vegas.
The events of that night began as Meyers and her 15-year-old daughter were returning home from a driving lesson — that’s when a silver car pulled up beside them and the daughter reached over and honked the horn, police said.
Suddenly, the car cut in front of them and then “spun sideways” to block their path. The driver, described as 6 feet tall, exited his car and told her, “I’m gonna’ come back for you and your daughter,” according to the warrant.”
So a mom is driving her teenage daughter and someone cuts them off and threatens them. Does the mom call the police and make a report? Does she run home and lock herself and her daughter in there and call the police and make a report?
No. She does something that boggles my mind:
“Her mother was able to speed around the car and they returned home, where the daughter was told to wake up her 22-year-old brother, Brandon.
Brandon Meyers grabbed his 9mm Beretta and went outside and told his mom to come inside and call the police — but she refused, and told him to come with her, or she’d go by herself.”
And now, the 22-year-old son, an adult, has to make a decision. Does he call the police and make a report? Does he hold mom back and try to talk some sense to her, not allowing her to go out there and confront someone who has just threatened her? Or does he say “screw it” and heads out to hunt down the road rager?
Again, my mind cannot comprehend:
“Brandon and his mother went looking for the car, and eventually found a car she thought was involved in the earlier incident, which led to a chase. According to Brandon Meyers, the cars stopped on a nearby street and the front seat passenger of the silver car began shooting at their vehicle.
The mother and son sped away and returned to their house, which sits on a cul-de-sac, the warrant says. Brandon Meyers said that’s when the silver car appeared, and the front seat passenger again shot at them.”
Decision time again. Do they back off, not knowing what kind of firepower the other guy has, or does Brandon start firing back? Well, all the decisions up to this moment have been the wrong ones, so “screw it”, let’s have a firefight:
“Brandon Meyers said he shot back, firing three times. The other car backed out of the cul-de-sac, leaving Tammy Meyers lying on the ground bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head.”
So we have lack of impulse control on the part of the mother and the road rager. Then we have a lack of good judgment from Brandon Meyers. And we tie it all in a knot with gun culture.
So what about the guy that shot at them? Here’s his version of events:
“Nowsch told his friends that the incident was sparked after he was sitting in a park near the school parking lot and saw the green car, which he thought was following him. That’s when he called another friend in a silver Audi sedan to pick him up. According to the friends, Nowsch said there was an exchange between the two cars, and the green car followed them.
Nowsch told the friends he thought he saw a gun being waved from the window of that car, so he “put a clip in his gun and started shooting at the green car,” according to the warrant.
When he met with friends early the next morning after the incident, he appeared happy and coherent, they said. He told them that he “got those kids, they were after me, and I got them.” Nowsch said he opened fire on someone running from the car they’d followed, and he was sure he hit someone, according to the warrant.”
That’s right. Nowsch was not the driver who cut off Tammy and her daughter initially in the incident that made Tammy go grab her son and his gun. Nowsch was apparently suffering from what I can only guess was some sort of paranoid delusion:
“Nowsch allegedly opened fire on Meyers and her son, Brandon, 22, outside of their home, and struck Tammy Meyers in the head. Brandon Meyers returned fire, but no one was hit, authorities have said.
“Everywhere I went that car was there. It was there. I just had threats earlier that morning on my phone,” Nowsch said.”
So Nowsch had been seeing “a green car” all over the place, thinking people who were after him were in it. By a sad coincidence, Tammy Meyers and her son Brandon were in a green car. By another sad coincidence, Nowsch’s friend had a silver car that looked like the one that cut-off Tammy and her daughter. And the saddest coincidence of it all? Both sides had guns.
It didn’t help that Erich Nowsch was high on marijuana as well.
Look, I’m not saying that things would have turned out better if one side or another didn’t have a gun. It was too late by the time the two sides started shooting at each other. The initial mistake was probably Tammy in going to grab Brandon and his gun and heading out for some street justice. You can even make the case that the initial mistake was whoever was driving that silver car that cut-off Tammy and her daughter… Or her daughter for honking the horn.
What matters at this point is that this is very much not the only case in the United States (and the world, but you don’t care about the world, do you?) where gun culture, lack of impulse control, and very possibly mental health issues came to a head. I haven’t found in any articles how either side acquired the gun, but I’m almost willing to bet that it was legally since neither side is being charged with illegal possession of a firearm. And I’m betting that this was not the first time that Erich Nowsch was violent, especially after he’s been charged with a violent incident involving a knife and a child that happened while he was being sought by police over the shooting.
Advocates for gun control seem, for the most part, to want to focus on keeping guns away from all people or some people. That’s all fine and good as long as the reasons for blocking access to firearms passes constitutional muster. Advocates for gun rights don’t want their lovely machines of death to be touched at all by anyone for any reason. The worst of the worst refuse to acknowledge that, like other constitutional rights, there are times when some people should not be allowed to bear arms. Both sides scream past each other and never seem to come to an agreement on what to do. Whether it is by ego or just plain ignorance, neither side wants to “lose.”
Imagine that… Two sides refusing to back down and be reasonable. What could possibly go wrong? What good can possibly come from that?
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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