By Dr David Laing Dawson
Some years ago I was awakened after midnight by the screech of tires and the unmistakable sound of a car smashing into a lamppost two stories beneath our bedroom window. I crawled out of bed and looked out the window down to the sidewalk. A car was curled against a lamppost, its doors open, steam rising from its hood, and two men were fighting on the sidewalk.
My first thought was that they probably deserve one another, whatever the story behind this event, and that I should go back to bed. But then it was clear that one man was down and the other was kicking him mercilessly.
I asked my wife to call 911, pulled on a pair of pants, grabbed the only weapon in the apartment and headed for the front door. That weapon was a hockey stick.
The building is on a hill with the front door opening on ground level one story above and around the corner from the men.
I rounded the corner and approached the men who were downhill and fifty feet away. They saw me coming, stopped fighting, and got to their feet.
(This allowed me to tell the story later as one of the thugs saying to the other, “Good God, it’s an old Canadian Geezer with a hockey stick. Run for it.”)
But their easy surrender may have been induced by the Police car they could see coming over the hill behind me.
I’m sure when I grabbed the hockey stick I thought of it as a symbol of authority and not a weapon I would actually use. Something to hold in my hands. There was no gun in our house and there never will be.
But I am writing this because the presence of a gun might have turned this farce into a tragedy.
And the absence of guns might have turned two local tragedies into farces, into stories of human folly and stupidity rather than tragedy. One event occurred recently with a boy from the Six Nations Reserve being killed by a shotgun blast while he attempted to steal an old truck. The other was a few years back and involved another boy from the same reserve being killed by a bullet from a handgun. In that story the boy (probably a little inebriated) was banging on the door of an isolated farm house seeking help for his car that wouldn’t start after he and his companion had pulled into the driveway to urinate in the bushes.
Much has been written about these events, the court cases that ensued, the verdict of innocence in the latest, the verdict of guilty in the earlier case, but later overturned. And of course much has been written about the possible racism that played a part in the tragic events in the first place, and then in the court cases that followed.
Perhaps racism played a role in these tragedies. But perhaps not. In both cases it is dark; the owners of the houses are awakened in the middle of the night. They find themselves confronting, in the recent case, a shadowy figure trying to steal his truck, in the older case, a (possibly inebriated) young man pounding on his door after midnight.
Had these home owners been armed with nothing but a hockey stick the story would have been a farce, worth telling to grandchildren around the fire pit; and perhaps the boy killed more recently would have decided there are better careers than grand theft auto, and the boy in the older case was already attending college, but, as young men are apt to do, had consumed some alcohol while parked with a friend at the Starlight Theater in an unreliable automobile.
The difference here, between farce and tragedy, was, as is so often the case, gun ownership.
All other factors, as usual, are questionable, of some interest, consuming of legal time, journalism. But without the presence of guns these two incidents could have ended as my story did.
It is the gun that turns folly and farce into tragedy.