With guns, no second chances | HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com
© July 12, 2008
Did he really just take a swing at me?
It was 30 years ago, spring 1978, and I was leaving the indoor basketball courts at the University of Maryland in suburban D.C. A guy from the other team - which had lost when I'd sunk the winning hoop - approached me as I was leaving the gym.
"You undercut me!" he shouted. "Let's go!" he added, challenging me to a fight.
Good thing it was 1978, and not 2008. Otherwise, my opponent might have had a gun.
That's one of the overwhelming differences between an earlier generation and today's. Before, taunts, threats and fistfights were the worst thing young men faced when they had beefs on the court, on the street, in a club. Nowadays, though, you never know who's packing a gun - or if they're looking to use it.
Confrontations three decades ago never seemed to amount to much. Sore jaws, puffy eyes or wounded feelings were the limit. Not death.
Back then, you could cool off. You still can today, too, but you might be in a holding cell, facing a murder charge and the grieving, revenge-seeking relatives of your victim.
It was the reality of gun violence - and its results - that drew hundreds of people to South Norfolk on Thursday night. Called by top Chesapeake city officials, the meeting at Bethany Baptist Church sought solutions to the current problems of guns, drugs and gangs.
The meeting occurred after two shooting deaths on the same day last week in Chesapeake, within a few miles of each other. At 2:30 a.m. July 1, Lonnie Andrews Jr., 18, was killed near the home where he grew up. Around 1 p.m., Dontrell Whitehurst, 26, was killed.
The killing of Andrews has received more attention because of his age and promising future. Popular with classmates, the recent Oscar Smith High School graduate was headed to Virginia State University on a football scholarship. A 17-year-old male, an Oscar Smith student, has been charged in Andrews' slaying.
Here's where I make all the gun rights people crazy: Despite the few details that have emerged about the case, there's every reason to think that - minus the gun - Lonnie Andrews would be alive today.
("But guns don't kill people; people kill people!" Yeah, but in most cases, the people have guns.)
Chesapeake police have said little so far about the case. They acknowledge that some type of altercation preceded Andrews' death, but it's unclear who it was between, what it was about, and whether that was the motive for the shooting. Andrews had been at a dance at Janelle's Center for the Youth about a half hour before he was shot. Police declined to comment on the gun used in the killing, or whether it had been recovered.
("Criminals won't obey the law, and everybody else will be sitting ducks without their own guns!" activists say. But was the 17-year-old suspect a "criminal" before this incident? Did easy access to a gun lead to a series of events that had only one outcome?)
I don't blame it all on the guns. If we valued life, if we loved each other, if we had proper guidance in the home, we wouldn't so easily end the lives of others. So many social ills are catalysts for violence. But the presence of guns, especially easy-to-tote handguns, makes the situation infinitely worse.
Thirty years ago, walking off a basketball court, I got punched in the face. Thankfully, he didn't have a gun. Thankfully, I didn't have one, either.
Roger Chesley is associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot's editorial page. Reach him at (757) 446-2329 or at roger. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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