I no longer look forward to going to the movies. It took a while to figure out that this change had occurred not right after the shooting in that movie theater in July in Aurora, Colo., but after a congressman, Texas’ Louie Gohmert, declared that if people could carry guns into theaters, by golly, somebody could have taken out James Holmes, the shooter.
Holmes was wearing full body armor. What was going to take him out? A drone lowered from the ceiling?
As the holidays slid into the New Year, I put my anxiety aside and saw Lincoln. After I bought my $7 popcorn, I took a seat — right by the exit. A helpful message appeared on the screen. If I saw anybody suspicious in the dark, I was supposed to tell an employee, one of those weary teenagers who take tickets, sweep the sticky floors between viewings and chase 11-year-olds out of R-rated movies. And yes, I was supposed to know my exit. I was certainly ahead of the game on that.
A Tampa friend is wearing one of those rubber band bracelets that carry a message. His reads: Bullet Free Sky. Astonishingly poetic, this is the name of a campaign to stop people from shooting into the air just because they feel like it. Last New Year’s Eve, a 9mm bullet struck the skull of a 13-year-old Ruskin boy, Diego Duran. This New Year’s Eve, a large-caliber bullet hit the wrist of 67-year-old Laurie Eberhard as she watched fireworks on the St. Petersburg waterfront.
Who knew? Death by stray gunfire is not just the scourge of neighborhoods where gangs and dope pushers roam. Now you can risk death because somebody you don’t know has a gun and is happy.
Nobody disputes this number: There is about one gun for every person in America. We are the best-armed nation on earth. According to The Washington Post, only Mexico, infested with narco-terrorists who would traumatize even Quentin Tarantino, has a higher gun-murder rate than the United States among the developed nations.
According to The New Yorker, in 1970, one in every two American households contained a gun. In 2010, it was one in three. In 1980, one in three people owned a gun. Now it is one in five.
I’m going to bring up a phrase that you don’t hear much these days. Not Second Amendment rights, but another battle cry, reverse discrimination, the phrase used by those who oppose opening up doors for the people who, until recently, were denied a seat at the table where money, power and opportunity are divvied up.
I don’t own a gun. I am in the majority in this nation, and I feel discriminated against because I have to concede my rights to a minority that oppresses me in the name of exercising its rights.
I cannot go comfortably to the mall, parking lot, church, hair salon — it is hard to keep these mass shooting scenes nicely lined up in memory — because somebody who is sure the world is out to get him can arm himself and then go out and prove his point. Even the last refuge of our peace and tranquility, the national parks, are no longer either; you can pack heat, and I have to sit next to you on the tour bus.
I have to get accustomed to the fact that I know people who have lost family members to domestic gun violence. Those stories, when one partner murders the other, and maybe another relative or a neighbor before doing the world a favor by dispatching himself, never linger in the papers.
I have to listen patiently while serious-sounding individuals discuss the need to “harden” schools, as though they’re missile sites, this is 1959, and the Russians are coming.
I have to live in the paranoid little world populated with conspiracy theories of how the government is about to throw us into indoctrination camps, and if we lose our guns, a black man in the White House will enslave us because it’s payback time.
I didn’t vote for this. Tell me, NRA: Where do your rights end and mine begin?
Where is it in the U.S. Constitution that you have the right to make me afraid?
Mary Jo Melone, former columnist with the Tampa Bay Times, is a writer in Tampa.