Tuesday, April 03, 2012

No need to heat the pool

Yesterday, I was having a pretty blah, if not outright crummy, day. So late in the afternoon I decided to go swimming. I didn’t realize what a risk I was taking.

A coed group of teenagers was hanging out at the pool, horsing around and daring each other to take a dip in the unoccupied, chilly water. As I do to get it over with, I took off my shirt and slipped right in. One of the guys waded in, but on my suggestion plunged in the rest of the way. He then took several jaunts across the pool before asking me if I could swim (and if I could, if I wanted to race). I said no, because I can’t. Then several of his friends got in the water, either voluntarily or because they got thrown in. Pretty typical stuff around these pool parts.

Until one of the boys pulled out a goddamn handgun.

Few things in life draw my eyes into intense hyper-focus and make every brain cell tingle. A lethal-looking spider is one. A snake is another. A pistol tops the list. While it’s entirely possible that the piece this kid packed was a BB gun, it sure looked like a Glock, and either is sufficient to scare the shit out of me.

Firearms don’t belong anywhere I go. I frequent parks, swimming pools, bike paths, stadiums, public hot spots and other places where crossfire should exist only in action fantasies. So when I see a firearm anywhere I am, I’m instantly concerned. At the very least, I hope the carrier is licensed, trained and (most importantly) doesn’t wield the weapon with all the grace of a novice emo chainsaw juggler.

No such luck, natch. This boy’s way of proving the gun wasn’t loaded was by pulling the trigger numerous times, usually while pointing it point-blank at his friends. He laughed hysterically and they barely flinched. Halfway across the pool, however, I was doing my impression of a painting with eyes that follow you across the room. The boy passed on the gun to one of his tougher-looking buddies, who held it in his lap with the barrel thoughtfully pointed directly at me. At one point, we made eye contact, which seemed to annoy him. At no point were any of them hostile toward me, but their loose handling of the piece scared me more than if they were.

I quickly, yet casually, made my way out of the pool and dried off with the towel I’d placed right next to where the gun now sat, facing the gun the whole time. I threw on my shirt, grabbed my sandals and (barefoot) strode the hell out. I then went up to my apartment and reported it to management, who sent a courtesy officer out to address the situation. I was actually afraid to leave my apartment for a while afterward, at one point walking right back inside when I saw one of the guys lingering on my floor. When I finally went out to grab dinner two hours later, my hands were still shaking.

For many people, the right to bear arms is the very textbook definition of freedom. Oftentimes, anyone who expresses concern about the proliferation of guns gets static for being a gun-grabber, or for allegedly being scared or ignorant of them. Sometimes all it takes to get a pro-gun person in a lather is to suggest any kind of check on guns, anywhere or against anyone. Many of them would hear my story and say I should pack at the pool too, like any exemplary sovereign citizen.

But when incidents like this happen, I’m not thinking of how deadly weapons in irresponsible hands are the essence of America — I’m thinking how crummy it would be if somebody died from it. What a way to go, huh? And what a way to be.

I’ll stick with the First Amendment, thanks.

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