The following letter was written by an acquaintance of mine. I reminded him of an old saying: When getting into an argument with a newspaper, remember you seldom win with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

Matthew Marista
McLean, Virginia
June 22, 2009

Bob Herbert
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

Dear Mr. Herbert:

I am writing this letter even though I acknowledge up front the futility of doing so. Your Op-Ed piece, “A Threat We Can’t Ignore,” has probably generated an avalanche of invective from those sportsmen whose lips move while they read.

For those who have not read your column of June 20, it takes to task the “gun crazies” and “wackos” (your terminology) who believe that President Obama is out to take their guns away. The piece also charges the National Rifle Association (NRA) with taking positions that could be construed as “over-the-top” (your phrase). One such position is the assertion that President Barack Obama plans to confiscate guns from perfectly legitimate firearms owners.

This very day an internet news release from the NRA claims Obama “has surrounded himself in the White House with a virtual ‘who’s who’ of the gun ban movement.” The release, under the authorship of NRA Executive Director Chris W. Cox, urges gun owners to send a powerful message – in the form of a cash contribution to the NRA – indicating they are prepared to do battle with the anti-gun extremists as never before.

I have accessed the NRA web site and read many of the comments posted there. True, many have misspelled words and grammatical errors you won’t find in the Associated Press Style Book. The uncensored comments often use language not suitable before youngsters. But many of these writers are quite literally salt-of-the–earth citizens, and this is how they communicate in their barber shops or on the front steps of their government center or church after services on Sunday.

Let’s see for just a moment if there isn’t some common ground that could persuade you and your readers that a case can be made for gun ownership, if only for self-preservation purposes. We both live in crime capitals of this nation. Like you, I tentatively pick up my morning paper and find that it’s not unusual to see multiple murders on page one. On the inside pages are killings of lesser stature, because they are not close by.

At citizens meetings the police tell us it’s not worth dying over the contents of your billfold. Therefore, hand it over to the assailant quickly and without comment. Then prepare to be shot, have your throat cut, or stand helplessly while your wife or daughter is brutalized. Item: a business executive in Bethesda, Maryland was confronted by a thug one evening in a parking garage. The victim handed over his billfold, as demanded. The next morning his body was discovered. He had been shot through the temple at close range.

A Washington, D.C. policeman interviewed on local TV said it was considered a resourceful idea to always have at least a hundred dollars in your billfold at all times. It seems that streets thugs become uncontrollably angry if they go through a holdup routine, only to find that you have no more than a few dollars on your person. The perpetrator’s anger often manifests itself in a fusillade of bullets.

The rationale suggested to the victim here seems to be, if you’re going to die, you might as well try to take the sonofabitch with you. Thus, the reason more and more Americans are arming themselves with legally concealed weapons – or at least some sort of defense such as pepper spray – although that too is outlawed in many jurisdictions.

A popular myth is that one should leave the “Charles Bronson heroics” to the police. But the function of the police is not to stand around and protect you 24/7. It is to arrive after a crime has occurred, and try to determine who did what to whom.

Ever attend a meeting of the school board that began at 7pm, only to have it adjourn well after ten? And what was a full parking lot with lots of people around is now deserted and quite spooky three hours later. And the fear is not just of being robbed of your devalued dollars – the fear is that after you hand over the money you might just get stomped to death because it amuses the street thugs to do so. Or if not stomped to death, how about being set on fire? Or having an appendage lopped off with a machete? All of these atrocities and more have been chronicled in recent news reports.

Which shall it be – an evening at home watching TV – or a trip to the theater in the heart of the city, and that l-o-n-g walk to the parking garage after the performance, hoping upon hope you can make it to the car, scramble in as fast as you can, lock the doors, and get the hell headed toward the suburbs?

That’s becoming the choice in more and more cities in America. Pity the poor foreign visitor who wanders into downtown no man’s land without a clue. It’s not unlike the episodes on cable TV in which unsuspecting vacationers in Australia decide to swim in an estuary populated by crocodiles.

Yes, the NRA is soliciting contributions to ensure that gun ownership and other Second Amendment rights are preserved. Call it scare tactics if you will. But if you really want to be frightened and alarmed, read the headlines in the metro section of any U.S. newspaper or on the evening TV news. Google key words such as “shot, stabbed, accosted, robbed, or assaulted,” and you will have a full evening of horrific reading.

Mr. Herbert, those who have permits to carry a concealed weapon have undergone background checks, inquiries, investigations, and scrutiny that no street tough would ever submit to. Your assault on gun ownership may be well-intentioned from your perspective, but you must remember, when assembling a firing squad, don’t have its members form a circle.

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