by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Maybe they had an argument. I don’t really care. All I know is a man was driving a Ford Bronco on the Lodge Freeway last week and a Cadillac pulled alongside him with several passengers inside and next thing you know, someone in the Cadillac was firing bullets. Three of those bullets hit the driver of the truck. He veered off the highway and began to die.

An hour later, there was one less person in our city.

Tell me again about how gun control is a stupid idea. Tell me again how all it will do is take guns away from innocent people who want to protect themselves. Tell me again how guns don’t kill people, people do.

Alan Johnson, the dead man, was killed by a gun. Sure, a person fired it — in a day and age when all we see are guns, everything we watch has guns, every story we hear involves guns. Alan Johnson is not the first man to have an argument with someone. But not so long ago, people settled arguments by yelling louder, or ignoring one another, or, if they were crude, taking a swing.

Nowadays they pull up alongside your car and open fire.

Bang, bang. Take that, jerk.

This is hardly an isolated tale. People in Los Angeles can tell you how their highways have turned into shooting ranges. Cut someone off, they pop you with a bullet. In Detroit, just a few months ago, a guy didn’t like his Rally’s hamburger, so he threw it back through the pickup window. The female worker threw a drink at him. He drove off, came back with a gun and shot her.

Bang, bang. Take that, jerk.

We live in an age of hair-trigger tempers — and that is no place for hair-trigger weapons. Yet guns, guns, they seem to be everywhere, even places we once considered perfectly safe, like a busy highway during rush hour. What if the bullets meant for Alan Johnson had sprayed into a passing car instead? The gun used, police say, was an AK47 assault rifle, one of the weapons specifically banned in the last year’s crime bill.

This is the same measure opponents said was a waste of time, an unfair burden, the one they are trying to get repealed.

Tell me again. Frontier justice

Am I the only one bothered by this? That you can’t honk your horn on the highway anymore without wondering whether the driver is some maniac you just pushed over the edge, and now he’s coming after you, rolling down his window and taking aim?

Are we not moving back to the days of frontier justice, the Wild Wild West, where getting upset over a card game was reason enough to kill a man? Think about it. In June, a Detroit firefighter was shot while putting out a blaze. Nobody knew why. Someone just shot him. In January, gunmen rode past a house in southwest Detroit, allegedly angry at a young man who lived there, and sprayed the place with bullets. One of them hit a visiting relative, a 16-year-old boy, and killed him.

He had been sleeping on the couch.

Just a few weeks ago, friends and family were sobbing for a young man who was killed for his Jeep. It wasn’t enough that they took the vehicle. They had to shoot him, dump him, let his body rot while they rode around town.

Where does this stop? Because there is no bottom, folks, there is no lowest level at which things don’t get any worse. It keeps getting worse as long as we allow it. Who’s to say we don’t go back to the Old West? We lived that way once. What makes us so different now?

Well. One thing that might is legislation. Stop allowing guns to be as easy to buy as cigarettes. Yes, I know the problem begins at home. And until parents teach their children to respect life, to be shamed by violence — and until we stop glorifying TV shows that bring us “real life crime drama” and music that brags about killing cops — until that happens, we will never stomp the killing gene in our society.

But you have to start somewhere.

Memories linger

Ten years ago, when I first arrived in this town, I went to a Southfield dry cleaners to pick up a jacket. I saw no one in the store except a customer at the counter. He had his back turned to me. I asked whether anyone was working and he turned around and pointed a gun at my face. He was robbing the place. He told me to get in the closet, or he’d shoot me dead, right there.

I survived that, but for weeks I saw the gun in my sleep. I thought there could be no worse horror, to enter an innocent situation and be looking down the barrel of a gun. Now I realize I was wrong. The worst horror is to look down the barrel just before it fires.

Alan Johnson died that way, and I don’t care what might have precipitated it. We cannot live where disputes are solved by bullets. And until we take the guns away, we will make no dent in this. We just keep arguing, until another window rolls down.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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