February 22, 2016

In my dream, it's always daylight. I'm somewhere vague and normal, an unfamiliar place that I visit often.

At some point, I react to something undefined, and turn just before someone shoots me for no apparent reason. I never see their face. I never see the gun. I never get to the end of things. I just wake up, usually by sitting bolt upright.

Its recurrence is probably some kind of attempt to resolve the destruction of my family in my adolescence after my father's father was murdered by a man on a spree who had managed to get hold of an off-duty security guard's gun, killing four people over the span of one Memorial Day weekend.

One day he was there; two days later he was found decomposing in a trunk in downtown Los Angeles.

There was no explanation.

To this day, no one can confirm for me that the killer they say killed him actually did, because there was no trial on the charge of my grandfather's murder. Police patted me on the back when I investigated it as an adult and told me to go home, the files were destroyed, evidence gone, and not to worry because yes, for sure it was That Guy they said it was.

"He'll die in prison," they assured me. "He'll never get out." All true, because he had been sentenced to die, and had his sentence commuted when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated capital punishment before reviving it again.

The killer is probably dead now. If not, he'd be in his 80s, I believe. But he's probably dead. Not that it really matters much, because he was always faceless even after I found his picture in the LA Times after his arrest. It wasn't as if I expected an explanation from him or anything that would fix things.

My nightmares always return after news like the Kalamazoo shootings. I have trouble reconciling details about the killer like these from the New York Times where they tell us, "Neighbors described him as quiet and polite, though he caught their attention when he occasionally shot a gun out the back door of the house he shared with his wife and two children."

Oh, that. He was a "responsible gun owner" with a wife and kids and a house and a job. Mild-mannered guy, except when he was shooting his gun out of the back door. Then, maybe not so much.

And you start to think this could be any one of my neighbors.

The Times article tells us that the neighbors were a bit twitchy about him, too.

Sally Pardo, a retired nurse who lived across the street from him and his family, said she and her husband had always thought of Mr. Dalton as a “nice guy” who worked on cars in his spare time. But he used guns in a troubling manner and sometimes sounded a little paranoid, she said.

“He periodically shot his gun out the back door,” Ms. Pardo said. “He would shoot randomly into the air.”

But he was a law-abiding citizen, was he not? Wasn't it his right to shoot guns into his back yard if he felt like it? Isn't that better than shooting someone randomly on the street?

For no apparent reason beyond some serious break with reality, that's what he did. Just started shooting people on the street. Because he could. And because he had a Supreme Court-bestowed right to take that semi-automatic handgun he had for self-protection and destroy a few families with it.

I know what that feels like. I know all too well what that feels like. And I hate that we live in a time where people think they're exercising their right to stand as judge and jury over the lives of others with no real reason beyond their own selfish need to inflict as much bloody damage on strangers as they think has been inflicted upon them.

We seem powerless to do anything about it.

So the nightmares continue, until we find some way to either help people learn self-control or change our culture from one where everyone thinks they need to own a damned gun to be "safe."

There is no safe. There never is. There is only today, and if you escape today and don't get shot, then you have tomorrow. Otherwise today is it. But guns don't make us safe. They make us suspicious, and filled with hubris about how we can keep ourselves safe by shooting projectiles into the bodies of people we encounter at car dealerships, Cracker Barrels, the movies, school, and church. The list goes on and on.

They can make more guns, but we're not safer. Every day, we're more at risk, because the odds are one of those guns will be in the hands of an unstable malcontent who has no compunction about aiming at you and pulling the trigger.

This is not liberty. It's tyranny.

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