TTAG reader Ing writes:
I was standing among a crowd of a couple hundred people in Friendship Square, showing my teenage daughter how to shield her candle from the evening breeze, when my wife tapped me on the shoulder.
“Did you see that guy in the straw hat?”
“Huh?” I hadn’t noticed anything. My daughter had spent much of the day sobbing in her bedroom, and I was trying to be extra attentive.
It had been all over the news this morning: some homicidal maniac had busted into a drag show at a trendy nightclub and murdered 50 gay and transgendered people. Blocked the exits, fired a rifle into the panicked crowd, and laughed as he slaughtered them. Called 911 himself to taunt the police and publicly pledge allegiance to the Islamic terrorists of Daesh while he was at it. Glory to Allah. Death to gays.
My daughter is a sensitive soul, so this kind of tragedy would have wounded her regardless—but she came out as a lesbian a few months ago. She was already worried about people not accepting her. And now this happens. Now she’s absolutely terrified.
I’ve been told that my natural response to events like this is too blunt to soothe a teenage girl’s wounded soul—something about how logic and reasoning and “somebody in there should have shot that guy” are inappropriate in times of stress (sigh…women…), so I was trying to just be present in the moment and give emotional support. (Was it working? I don’t know.)
“He’s been pacing around the edges of the crowd for a couple minutes now,” my wife continued. “He’s acting really weird.”
Then I finally saw him. A tall, slender man wearing an odd straw hat. He was on the other side of the square, shouting incomprehensibly at one of the women who had organized the candlelight vigil. Even from across the crowd I could see that he was quivering with rage. He towered over the much smaller woman, the extended middle finger of one hand practically touching her nose, the other hand clenched into a fist.
I recognized the woman—she sported the same androgynous haircut and wardrobe as always. She and her wife run a local hobby/gaming/costume shop. I took the kids to her store for Pokémon league on a weekly basis for years. I bought the Savage Worlds rulebook on her recommendation. Their costume shop is Halloween Central every October. It outfits the local cosplayers. And all the queens at the annual Tabikat Club drag show.
A freezing pulse of adrenaline shot through my system. This guy was going to explode any second, and I was too far away to stop it. But I couldn’t stand there doing nothing. Maybe I could get over there before it went too far. I handed my candle to my wife and made my way through the crowd.
The guy took off when I was about halfway across the square. It was a relief, because I hadn’t been sure what I was going to do when I got there. And then a cause for alarm. Where was he? I scanned the crowd; he wasn’t in it. There was only one way he could have gone out of view so quickly: he must have slipped around the corner of the restaurant that bounded one side of the plaza and gone down Main Street.
I hustled to get an angle that would let me see down the sidewalk, and after a moment of scanning I found him. He was getting into a blue compact four-door sedan a little less than half a block away. The straw hat made him fairly easy to spot.
I strode forward, figuring I might get close enough to get his license plate number before he drove away. Then I remembered an article I’d read a few weeks ago, about a man who had done exactly that when trying to help a convenience-store clerk who had been assaulted by an agitated customer and wound up having to shoot when the rage-nozzle clocked his presence and attacked him.
That slowed me down and made me start taking stock of my surroundings. The sidewalk was empty in front of me. Half the parking spots sat vacant. A typical sleepy summer evening in a small college town.
I saw, for the first time, that there was a police officer discreetly stationed near the entrance to the restaurant. She stood a few feet to my left, staring intently at the straw-hat man, gloved hands poised above her duty belt. The Glock on her hip looked ridiculously large on her tiny frame.
It was a relief to see her. If she didn’t think it was necessary to close up and get his license plate, then I surely didn’t have to worry about it either. I could stand back and let a professional decide what to do about this guy.
But then I thought about why she might be hanging back. What if she was staying close to cover because she knew the guy was dangerous? She definitely wasn’t relaxed. What if Straw Hat Guy came right back out of his car with a weapon? And here I was, just standing out there in the middle of the sidewalk. Shit. My hand went to my side—at least I think it did, because I was thinking about the concealed gun I always carry and suddenly realizing that I might actually have to draw and fire it.
Then the car backed out of its parallel parking space and revved along the street, right past me. I stood rooted to the spot as the driver laid on the horn, drowning out the speaker at the vigil. When the horn’s blast receded, the speaker quipped, “I’m going to interpret that as a sign of support.” She got a good laugh.
I didn’t laugh. I admired her chutzpah, but I couldn’t get rid of the thought that the angry guy in the straw hat might come back. He obviously had some severe rage and hatred. I knew homophobia like this was out there, but hadn’t ever seen it in person. I couldn’t help seeing my daughter as his next target.
Intellectually, I knew why the nightclub massacre had hit her so hard. Now I felt it.
I couldn’t stay still and join in the rest of the vigil. No hand-holding or singing activist lullabies for me. I constantly scanned the crowd, assessing the mood and looking for disturbances. I joined my wife and daughter for only a minute or two before returning to the perimeter and watching who came and went.
I spoke with the police officer (but only briefly; didn’t want to distract her from her job). She said the straw-hat guy was well known to the police. He reveled in disruptive behavior and was perpetually angry, but had never done anything violent. She was sure he wouldn’t come back and cause any more trouble.
Well, yeah…the FBI was sure that homicidal Daeshbag in Florida was harmless, too. Until he wasn’t.
Was our local nutjob planning to get violent on that day? Probably not. Odds are he had neither the means nor the desire to be anything more than an obnoxious asshole. On the other hand, it’s possible that getting close attention from a very large man and a police officer changed his plans. There’s no way to know.
Personally, I think our hippie-infested college town might have dodged a bullet on Sunday. I’m pretty sure this guy is going to end up in the news for murdering someone, or at least trying to. Multiple someones, probably. I hope we keep dodging the possibility, but I’m not counting on it. Rage like that doesn’t just go away peacefully.
And what if he had come out of his car shooting?
I would have tried to stop him. Of course I would have. It’s my right as an American to try, and my sacred duty as a parent. Would I have succeeded? I don’t know. Those of us who practice preparedness (even at my minimal level) know that you can do everything right in a gunfight and die anyway, and you can live despite making mistakes.
We were pretty much at rifle range, and I only had a pistol. A good one—my 9mm Springfield XDm compact with full-size magazine and 21 rounds of Speer Gold Dot JHP on tap—but still not ideal at 50+ yards. And I’m not that great of a shot. Passable, but I don’t know if I could put rounds on a moving target at that range. Especially under stress.
Maybe all I could have done was draw his fire and hope it slowed him down. If all I can be is a speed bump, then so be it…if it keeps my family alive. But I don’t HAVE to just be a target. As an armed American, I have a fighting chance to do a hell of a lot more than that.
The people in that nightclub in Florida—a gun-free zone by state law—had absolutely none. No chance at all.
I don’t want my daughter ever to be stuck in that kind of situation. No one should ever have to die like that, disarmed by laws that make them helpless against those who hate them.
I want my daughter to be able to defend herself. And she’s willing to do it. Unlike so many in the gay community, she’s no hoplophobe. She’s a kind-hearted, thoughtful kid who knows that evil is out there and it’s armed—and she’s made a conscious decision not to be a victim.
She carries a Cold Steel tanto point neck knife everywhere she goes, and I’m pretty sure she will shank a bitch if she has to. I taught her how to shoot, and she’s a natural with a rifle. The girl absolutely loves blowing up milk jugs with my lever-action .30-30. When she’s old enough to get her concealed-carry permit, I plan to help her exercise her Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
I know my Ron Swanson-like libertarian rants ruffle her social-justice sensibilities to the point where she thinks I’m partially insane (she may be right, but that’s another story). Point is, I’ll fight like hell to make sure she gets to exercise ALL of her civil rights. Even if it means brutally and repeatedly pointing out that her favorite politicians aren’t really on her side if they want to take away her right to own and carry effective tools of self-defense.
I hope she appreciates it…if not now, maybe later. Heck, maybe I can get her to help me revive our area’s long-defunct chapter of the Pink Pistols. That’s a social justice cause I could get behind. And it would be a great excuse (not that I really need one) to talk guns to everyone, all the time. And get out to the shooting range. Let’s not forget that.