Monday, June 20, 2011

Darwin in Gatorland

When I first moved to Tampa, Florida years ago, I bicycled to Lettuce Lake Park to get a first-hand look at the local flora and fauna. They had a nice swimming hole there with a stone seawall and a sandy little beach. The water was tea-stained, but clear and still. It looked like an excellent place to take a dip except for the signs posted all around that said 'No Swimming – Alligators'. The signs were pretty much superfluous as the swimming hole was occupied by a very visible and very large alligator. By large, I mean 12 to 14 feet in length and many hundreds of pounds, most of which were teeth.
There were two pre-teen boys standing on the edge of the seawall. They were throwing marshmallows into the water to attract the gator over to where they were standing. When the gator glided over to snarf up a few of the floating candies, they poked him in the face with a stick. The gator didn't offer any protest, but I looked into his big reptilian eye, and it looked to me like he was considering his options and measuring distances.
I didn't know about the Darwin Awards at the time, but I have since decided that both those kids have probably made it onto the list by now. They may even have done it together. Stupidity loves company. They could have gotten a miraculous infusion of basic sense in the intervening years, but I doubt it. This is Florida after all.
It's a good thing to learn from your mistakes, but, if you put yourself into situations where even minor errors can prove fatal, learning from them is moot. As a consequence death can really get your attention, but once you've suffered the consequence you no longer need to know what it taught you.
I was reminded of all this by a story in the St. Lucie News Tribune last week. The headline, 'It's wise not to leave guns in your car', seemed so obvious that I passed over it at first. It didn't seem much like news. Then I began to think about why the editor thought it necessary to include this bit of wisdom in the paper. Surely this was something that gun owners already knew, something about which they shouldn't have to be reminded. I for one don't want to think that gun owners who don't know this are running around with...well, guns.
not in our courtrooms, thank you very much.
I searched for the on-line version of this story so I could post the link here. When I found it, I also found quite a few comments, which didn't surprise me, but most of them were in support of, or at least excused, people leaving their guns in their cars, which surprised me no end. I began to suspect that my two alligator pokers were indeed still living and had moved to St. Lucie County.
The gist of the story was that local police have reported that 48 guns have been stolen from 40 vehicles since 2009. They also reported that most of these thefts were from unlocked, unsecured vehicles. This last bit seems particularly alarming to me. People leave guns in their cars, and fail to lock them up. Sometimes they leave more than one gun in their car. Apparently, I thought, gun owners do need the occasional reminder about the rudimentary aspects of securing their property. Imagine how surprised I was then to discover, when I read the on-line comments, that this is not, in fact, a security lapse on the part of the gun owners. Oh no, it is rather a natural consequence of draconian gun laws.
Oh, yes. You see, even though getting a permit to carry a firearm in Florida is pretty easy, there are places where guns are not allowed. Courthouses and police stations are such places. There are more, but you can appreciate that the Florida legislators, in an attempt, however muddled, to keep the wheels from coming off the criminal justice system, thought it would be a good idea to prohibit firearms in places where officers of the court might otherwise be intimidated by gun toting whack jobs from meting out actual justice. Well you would be wrong in that appreciation because the wielding of weaponry by private citizens is, it seems, an essential component of the dispensing of justice here in the Sunshine State. Besides, you never know when an angry alligator might show up for an unscheduled sidebar, and need to be taught a lesson in proper courtroom procedure and decorum.
You see, the citizens commenting on the story thought, almost to a man, that gun owners were forced by these unreasonable and probably unconstitutional provisions of the law to leave their guns in their cars. They didn't do it because they were lazy or stupid. They did it because the government had given them no choice in the matter. It was the government's fault, and, by God, the government officials have no business making gun owners feel responsible for something that clearly they would not do if they had a choice.
If gun owners were able to strap on their pieces and walk wherever they chose, you know, a well armed militia being essential to the safeguarding of our freedom, then you would not have firearms being stolen out of unsecured cars by criminals who probably should have been shot before they had the wherewithal to shoot back.
Now I actually like guns. I'm a pretty fair shot with a rifle, and I'm fascinated with handguns. I don't own any guns for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is there are many more interesting things on which I'd prefer to spend what little money I have. But the fact is I understand the desire to own a gun, and I don't really have an argument against it. What I do take exception to, however, is the singular disdain for logic exhibited by the gun owners around here—at least the ones who've had their guns stolen and the yahoos who are defending them in response to a fairly sensible and straightforward newspaper article.
For years the NRA has been telling us 'Guns don't kill people; people kill people.” This has become a sort of mantra for gun owners everywhere. It is one of the fundamental underpinnings of gun lobby philosophy, notwithstanding that it seems a lot to me like saying “Teeth don't kill people; alligators kill people”. It may be true, but if an alligator didn't have teeth, he'd be hard pressed to get his pound of flesh for getting poked in the eye. And yet those who choose to own and bear arms, ostensibly at least for the protection of their person and property, apparently expect their guns, when left alone in unsecured cars, to be able to take care of themselves. It defies logic. Here's a new platitude I have come up with for them to chew on:
When law-abiding citizens leave their guns in unsecured vehicles, sooner or later only criminals will own guns. Well, them and your occasional fat, angry alligator.


  1. Just when I thought stupidity couldn't get scarier you ended with armed alligators. Terror level beige! I really liked this one.

  2. There's a great book about this very topic by Erik Larson (of "Devil in the White City"), called Lethal Passage. It traces a gun used in a school shooting back to where it was made and purchased, how it got to be on the market, and the laws and regulations which allowed it to get into the hands of a kid.

    Great post!

  3. This was really thought-provoking! My husband is a police officer, though he has never patrolled. He works on the crime lab side of things, I guess you could say. So, we obviously have guns in our house and in the car, when he's with us. I try not to think about whether or not he has his gun on him or if it is locked in the glove compartment or what. We will be having a conversation about this tomorrow!

  4. Let me know how that works out, Kelly. If he does leave a gun in the car, he's got to be a little conflicted about the official police take on this practice - at least here in South Florida. I imagine there are instances where doing that is the most logical course, but surely one would double check the security of the car before just walking off. My real issue, however, is with the obvious gun rights activists who immediately made the whole thing the government's fault. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

  5. Great lesson and makes you think for sure. Please tell me the boys got eaten.

  6. i don't have a gun, but if i did, i certainly wouldn't leave it in my unlocked car. i would totally tape it to my thigh or something. much safer that way. or wait...

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Comments are always welcome. Tell me what you like and what you don't. Information, encouragement, criticism--I don't care. A day where I don't learn something new is a day lost to me.