Residents were right to be upset by news that two people were arrested last month in The Port after pulling a gun out of a backpack with the apparent intent of taking an argument to the next, violent level. That’s also true because the loaded weapons involved were illegal. It’s especially true because the “people” were a couple of kids – one 18 years old and one only 15. 

The 15-year-old was carrying a Glock 43X 9 mm pistol with one round in the chamber and 10 rounds in the magazine, police said.

The 18-year-old had a semi-automatic GSG-16 – what police called a long rifle pistol – with one round in the chamber and 18 rounds in the magazine.

But some Facebook commenters were upset by something else about the story. Those commenters, some of whom seem to be from the area and others from far away, were triggered not by a couple of kids running around with illegal guns but by the headline’s reference to “heavy-duty” weaponry. It may appall people who aren’t gun enthusiasts that a couple of kids pulled out an unlicensed semi-automatic weapon near Newtowne Court to inflict more violence on the community. These men had a different take: “Uh, you do realize this is a .22?” Don Mei Jr. asked. “It’s not heavy-duty … In fact, it fires the lightest-duty cartridge regularly in commercial use.”

There have been a dozen gunfire incidents this year, nine of them in The Port, and they follow many others. Under the best of circumstances they cause people to awake and live in fear, try to repair scarred buildings and seek insurance payouts for bullet-riddled cars. In the worst of circumstances, these incidents kill. Xavier Louis-Jacques, 19, was killed March 27 by gunfire, and his death also follows many others.

“You make it sound like something that is semi-automatic is somehow outside the norm. Again, the vast majority of target, hunting and defensive firearms are semi-automatic,” Mei said, as though this wasn’t part of the problem, and as though we weren’t discussing a weapon that police say was about to be used – to apply Mei’s own lexicon – offensively. 

“It’s not anything significant. It’s a gun for children to learn to shoot with,” Mei said, as though the lack of a semi-automatic weapon’s significance in the taxonomy of firearms – to him, if not to the people shot with one – was not also part of the problem.

“This is what is commonly referred to as a ‘plinker.’ A gun used to shoot at tin cans or similarly small, light metal targets,” Mei said, as though the weapons he was dismissing weren’t being carried around and pulled out by teens after an argument with another human being. (Still, Mei acknowledged, “any firearm can be deadly if used to kill.”)

Another commenter, identified as Bradley Tudisca, suggested that it was the article or headline that was “spreading more fear than anything.” As though the more responsible tack would be to assure The Port that calm could prevail, because the only illegal weapons these teens were pulling out were a Glock 43X 9 mm pistol and semi-automatic GSG-16 rifle.

The suggestion is perverse, but it’s just spelling out the perversion wrought by the way this country fawns over the firepower allowed its residents (legally or otherwise). What’s more striking is that the only way these commenters perceived the headline – “Heavy-duty weaponry is taken from teens in Port” – was to look at where the guns fell within the spectrum of other guns. 

A semi-automatic weapon seems plenty “heavy-duty” to people who don’t understand why a self-reloading firearm would be needed to shoot at tin cans. But the commenters didn’t stop to think that it wasn’t that the guns were powerful in relation to other models that made them “heavy-duty,” but that they were guns at all. When talking about a 15-year-old – and wouldn’t it be nice even when talking about an 18-year-old – guns are heavy-duty weaponry compared with most everything else: A 15-year-old with brass knuckles or a pocketknife wouldn’t have drawn the same headline.

It’s not the headline that spreads fear; it’s the need for the headline. It’s not the specs of a teenager’s illegal gun that make it heavy-duty; it’s the fact that it’s a gun.

The illustration is from a photo by Kip Voytek via Flickr.

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