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Spring 2003
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NEW BOOK:
The Voodoo That They Did So Well: The Wizards Who Invented the New York Stage
by Stefan Kanfer
The Voodoo That They Did So Well: The Wizards Who Invented the New York Stage.
 
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Gun Crazy
Stefan Kanfer
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There are gun nuts—and gun nuts.

One type of gun nut has become all too familiar: the folks who claim the right to own and operate automatic rifles, Uzis, Thompson submachine guns—anything with firepower, no matter how overstated. In their lucid moments, they admit that it might be unsporting to bring down a jackrabbit with bullets designed for a rogue elephant. But, they argue, if the right to own an anti-tank weapon is denied them today, who knows? Tomorrow the government may take away their .22s and make it impossible to have a friendly round of target shooting with the kids.

But there’s another kind of gun nut too—the anti-gun extremist. The latest instance of anti-gun lunacy calls to mind the federal agent played by Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. During a confrontation, the innocent Harrison Ford appeals to his federal pursuer: “I didn’t kill my wife!” Returns Jones: “I don’t care.”

Consider a high-profile controversy in Brooklyn. Last December, Ronald Dixon, 27, spotted an intruder in his house. The man had broken in and was heading for the room of Dixon’s toddler son. Dixon grabbed his 9mm pistol and fired off two shots. Eventually, the police arrived, did a little computer work, and unearthed some revealing facts. The injured felon was one Ivan Thompson, 40. He had a violent rap sheet 14 pages long. Dixon, by contrast, was an upright citizen who held down two computer jobs in order to support his family. He had obtained the pistol quite legally when he lived in Florida. Granted, he had been in New York for a while and had not done the paperwork for gun registration—an unforgivable lapse in the view of Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes.

Hynes has decided that the shooter must serve time for his crime. Not a great deal of time—after all, the district attorney isn’t a monster. He merely wants to make an example of Dixon, imprisoning him on Rikers Island with other hard-core criminals for four weekends. Never mind that the gentleman in question works weekends and cannot meet his mortgage without doing so. In Hynes’s pitiless code, laws against illegal gun possession must be imposed “equally and consistently” in a borough plagued by hundreds of shootings a year. It seems to matter little to the D.A. that most of those shootings involve outlaws killing or maiming their victims, rather than the other way around. With logic worthy of Lewis Carroll, Hynes observed: “We’re not disputing that Mr. Dixon had a right to shoot the person who broke into his house. But he had no right to have that gun.”

Apparently, upon spotting the intruder, Dixon should have a) confronted Thompson and threatened to call the malefactor’s mother; b) tiptoed to the phone and dialed the cops, who would later fingerprint the man who had murdered the child and perhaps others; or c) called Hynes. Afterward, the victim’s funeral might have served as a terrific photo op for the D.A. With the videocams trained on him, he could lament society’s violence.

Alas, Hynes’s idea of rigid enforcement can only lead to more crime. For proof, look across the pond at the sorry example of Britain. Once upon a country, England was so safe that the police didn’t carry pistols. Now it is awash in violent crime. In England, the rates of assault, robbery, and burglary are way higher than those in America—last year, there were more than 50 crimes per 100 people.

The reason for the crime surge: lax policing and a foolish national crime policy in which it sometimes seems that the only people prosecuted are those trying to protect themselves—perhaps because the resort to self-defense sends such an embarrassing message about the government’s failure to carry out its Number One duty: maintaining civil order.

A few cases in point: Two men attacked a British executive on the subway. To save his life, he unsheathed the ornamental sword in his walking stick and stabbed one of the assailants, thwarting the mugging. The executive was tried and convicted for carrying an offensive weapon.

When two burglars broke in to the home of a Briton, he grabbed a toy gun and wielded it so convincingly that the criminals surrendered as he called the police. When the bobbies arrived, they arrested the homeowner for using his bogus gun to threaten and intimidate.

A Norfolk farmer, repeatedly robbed in the past, heard a window shattering in his rundown dwelling. The surrounding village, like some 70 percent of rural English communities, had no police presence. So he took matters into his own hands, emptying a shotgun in the intruders’ direction. He was convicted on three counts: killing one burglar, wounding the other, and owning an unregistered shotgun. The judge sentenced him to life in prison. The surviving burglar went to prison briefly.

This British surrender on crime, similar to the slack crime-fighting policies of pre–Rudy Giuliani New York City, has not yet returned to our shores. But it remains a clear and present danger—as we can see when district attorneys like Charles Hynes go after self-defenders with the zeal they should reserve for real evildoers.

 

 


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