It’s not the ones who take firearms seriously, it’s the others
Just so we’re clear, I do not have a problem with responsible, legal gun owners who take firearms stewardship with deadly seriousness.
I do not have a problem with most firearms owners who’ve served in the U.S. military or in law enforcement. I do not have a problem with those who treat gun ownership with the gravity it deserves. As I’ve stated elsewhere ad nauseum, guns are tools designed to quickly and efficiently kill. It’s time everyone treats them with the respect they deserve — not just those who choose to do so. Freedom doesn’t mean free-for-all.
No, the people I have a problem with are the gun owners who view firearms as a God-given right with few responsibilities. I have a problem with firearms owners who are lazy and sloppy. I have a problem with allowing morons to own guns.
There are two big disconnects between me and many Second Amendment enthusiasts — I consider myself a 2A supporter, not an enthusiast.
The first point is granting assumed competency to people who wish to operate a tool designed for the sole purpose of killing.
How about demonstrated competency instead?
Regardless of our political leanings, we all have a vested interest in making sure those who operate dangerous, potentially lethal equipment in public are qualified to do so.
Most of us are in agreement that a person who has never operated a construction crane should not be permitted to hoist heavy loads over public streets without having skills and training in commercial crane operation. Most of us agree that it’s probably a bad idea for someone who’s never handled explosives to set up demolition charges to raze a building. I’m pretty sure we can even agree that someone who’s never driven a car should not get behind the wheel for a quick run to the liquor store.
Common tools like these are usually quite useful but can be lethal if misused. The public has a compelling interest in making sure people who publicly operate potentially lethal tools can demonstrate competency, maturity, stability and accountability. This is fundamental common sense.
Why, then, does a tool designed for the express purpose of killing have low (and sometimes no, depending on jurisdiction) such reasonable constraints? Why are those who pack in public not required to demonstrate competency, maturity, stability and accountability?
I find the irony especially disturbing when I see that so many recent mass shooters met the textbook definition of law-abiding, legal gun owners — a.k.a. good-guys-with-guns — right up until they killed a bunch of people. I believe robust national training standards coupled with sensible background checks and psychological evaluations could’ve prevented many of these.
Doesn’t it make much more sense to determine a gun user’s suitability beforehand as opposed to wringing our hands over dead kids later, lamenting yet another disturbed shooter who “fell through the cracks?”
The second philosophical disagreement I have with 2A enthusiasts involves another sweeping assumption. Anecdotally, when I speak to 2A supporters, I am assured that virtually all firearms owners take gun ownership very seriously. Yes, I will agree that many do. But not most, not even close.
I would wager somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of U.S. firearms owners would not meet the sensible safety and qualifications standards we would enact if firearms had just been invented and were utterly apolitical — in other words, the standards a sane society with no political agendas would enforce.
Allow me to present several examples of people who have no business owning firearms but who, nonetheless, consider(ed) themselves good-guys-with-guns, here to save the day. There is some dark humor in the narratives that follow but the topic looming behind the stories is deadly serious.
The moron with a gun
Consider the saga of very hungry security guard, Officer Nathan A. Scates.*
Tipsy from a couple Long Island iced teas downed at McMinnville’s classiest imbibery, Officer Scates exits the “Hobana” on Aug. 24, 2018 and moseys on up Third Street in downtown McMinnville, Oregon. As Officer Scates steps spritely, he spies a lonely but appealing tater tot on a seemingly abandoned plate atop a McMenamins sidewalk table. Can’t let that tot go to waste! he thinks hungrily.
After furtively snagging the solitary tot and stuffing it into his mouth, Officer Scates discovers the plate from which he removed the food was not abandoned, after all. Involuntarily gulping when he realizes his guilt, Officer Scates accidentally swallows the intact tot, which lodges firmly in his throat. The tot’s rightful owner takes umbrage with the theft, alerting her companions to Officer Scates’ brazen and ill-mannered act. Offended, the small group begins to follow the fleeing Officer Scates up Third Street, their displeasure evident in their words.
Mute and panicking, unable to explain this awful misunderstanding because a whole tater tot is stuck between his tonsils and his uvula, Officer Scates gestures frantically with his hands, facing the angry trio and trying to wave off their apparent hostility. “It was only a tater tot,” he wants to say but all that emerges from his mouth are muffled wheezes and bits of slobbery potato.
The mob advances, their unkind words terrifying the hapless security officer. I know! he thinks. I’ll show them my gun so they see I’m really a good guy! By the time Officer Scates’ trembling hand unfastens his holster and removes his legally concealed Smith & Wesson, the tenor of the rioters’ words has darkened. Officer Scates thinks he hears horrible terms but it’s difficult to tell between his tot-blocked wheezes. He thinks he hears mean-spirited names like ‘moron,’ ‘a-hole’ and maybe even ‘white trash.’
As the advancing throng cries for blood, Officer Scates’ heart pounds. I’m a good guy, a security guard! I’m practically a cop!
Emboldened by his racing thoughts (and possibly the infusion of potato starch), Officer Scates decides to act. This is my chance to save the day! he thinks. I’ll be a hero! He can see the headlines now: Security guard takes down rioters in wine country. Hand shaking and throat wheezing, Officer Scates fires his weapon multiple times into the ground. He doesn’t realize or care that he fires into concrete. He’s too busy stopping rampaging lawbreakers.
It’s too bad an armed security guard like Former Security Officer Scates received no meaningful training prior to strapping on and stepping out. It’s too bad that Scates’ utter unsuitability to wear any kind of badge and carry a sidearm remained undetected by people who should’ve cared — it’s not like Scates made any effort to hide his nature. (At the time of the McMinnville incident, Scates was under indictment for verbal and physical assaults / hate-crimes against a Latina woman and a Muslim family. He has since been convicted of those crimes.)
As a result of his actions, Former Officer Scates is now serving a prison sentence. Scates’ victims — injured by flying shrapnel when he fired into the sidewalk — have recovered.
Because of our laughably low standards, Scates was a legal firearms owner with a concealed handgun license (CHL) — Scates met the textbook definition of “good-guy-with-a-gun.” But he didn’t even pretend to possess characteristics like competency, maturity, stability or accountability.
Enraged, impulsive and armed
Another legal firearms owner who absolutely considered himself a good-guy-with-a-gun (and probably still would, only he’s not allowed to have guns anymore) proved that, no, he’s actually an immature-guy-with-an-anger-control-problem-and-a-gun.
Part of me wants to feel a little bad for this respected business owner because what if he was just having a lousy day? But then I remind myself that gun sins can be deal-breakers — sometimes you don’t get multiple chances to prove you have the maturity to bear arms. Besides, when you arm yourself with a handgun and threaten two uniformed deputies trying to do their job, you kind of deserve what you get because that’s just stupid.
According to law enforcement reports, on July 25, 2018, armed with a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, Newberg Ford managing partner John Kerekanich threatened to shoot a pair of Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) deputies who wanted to administer a field sobriety test to Kerekanich’s wife, Meri.
When WCSO received reports of a drunken woman who had been driving erratically, then parked in the driveway of a stranger for a long period before crashing into a ditch and ultimately fleeing home at dangerous speeds, deputies identified the driver as Meri Kerekanich. Clearly intoxicated when deputies tried to arrest her at home, Meri Kerekanich resisted, then screamed for her husband who appeared with the handgun and threatened deputies.
John Kerekanich — the high-profile owner of the Ford dealership in Newberg, Oregon, whose face is all over its advertising — then initiated a four-hour armed standoff with law enforcement, necessitating the intervention of the Washington County Tactical Negotiations Team to secure the Kerekaniches’ eventual surrender. The couple denies John Kerekanich threatened deputies.
To his credit, John Kerekanich did demonstrate accountability when he pled guilty and forfeited his firearms. Although he was sentenced to probation, he was assessed a very substantial fine. And I’m pretty sure the publicity didn’t help his business — Kerekanich’s face was immediately removed from all Newberg Ford advertising.
A lawful firearms owner, John Kerekanich met the textbook definition of “good-guy-with-a-gun.” While he did ultimately demonstrate accountability, characteristics like competency, maturity and stability were nowhere to be found. I wonder if Kerekanich knows many Black men have lost their lives for far lesser offenses.
Trained by TV shows
When you get a CHL but all your training comes from watching “NCIS” or old “Rockford Files” reruns, you get our next example.
On January 21, 2018, an accident occurred on the 405 freeway crossing the Fremont Bridge in Portland, Oregon. According to the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), a pickup truck crashed into a barrier, hitting several cars before attempting to flee.
Here’s where our Lone Ranger steps in to save the day. What does he do? He whips out his sidearm and fires multiple shots at the pickup, in an attempt to shoot out its tires.
I can’t believe I even typed that. He wanted to shoot out the tires.
Really? Does anyone think maybe we should revisit gun safety training?
The PPB eventually took the driver of the pickup into custody. Travis S. Taylor was booked for DUII and lodged in the Multnomah County Jail.
The shooter cooperated with the PPB investigation but the shooter’s identity was not disclosed.
People like Former Security Officer Nathan Scates, business owner John Kerekanich and the mystery tire shooter of the Fremont Bridge worry me. These are the people who should not possess firearms without extensive training, if even then.
I keep saying it: guns are tools designed to quickly and efficiently kill. It’s time everyone treats them with the respect they deserve — not just those who choose to do so. Freedom cannot be a free-for-all.
I know guns aren’t going away and I wouldn’t suggest that anyway. But it seems all sane Americans should have an interest in making sure those who bear arms do so responsibly.
Criminal record? No gun. Impulsivity and self-control issues? No gun. Anger control problems? No gun. Low I.Q.? Lack of maturity? No gun. Mental health issues? No gun.
It’s long past time we give guns the respect they deserve. In my opinion, the best way we could do this is by enacting national training standards paired with sensible background checks and reasonable psychological evaluations.
As things stand, we’re well on our way to becoming a society where much of the population is armed but few have meaningful training. We’ve been here before — we called it the Wild West, where immediate justice was more important than accurate justice and life could be shockingly cheap.
It staggers my mind that many of us apparently believe it’s a good thing to reestablish a form of free-for-all frontier justice.
*EDITORIAL NOTE: Yes, I embellished some details on the saga of Nathan Scates because it was too good an opportunity to pass up. All salient details are accurate and verifiable. But I had a little fun with the tater tot.
Photocomposite root photo© 2022 Maxim Potkin via Unsplash