I awoke to a blaze of weapons fire. The rhythm of an automatic assault rifle led a chorus of handguns blasting in the night.
Was I an extra in a Quentin Tarantino movie? In a re-enactment of D-Day? In the midst of a terrorist attack?
No, it was midnight on New Year’s. Welcome to 2015. Duck!
On reflection, the gunfire outside my brother’s house in Missouri has something in common with terrorism. It instilled fear. It also was a reminder of how many trigger-happy goofballs are ready to shoot on a whim.
The gunfire’s not-so-subliminal message: “Don’t Tread on Me!” Or, alternatively, “Maybe I’ll Tread on You.”
I was visiting my brother and his family in Florissant, only a couple of miles from the summer festival of harmony that was held in my hometown, Ferguson.
The blasting of bullets, which went on for several minutes, suggested just how much worse the Ferguson clashes could have been.
We live in a nation with an estimated 90 guns for every 100 people.
That’s why I didn’t call the cops when I heard a machine gun ringing in the new year. Who, in their right minds, would answer such a call?
“Excuse me, citizen. Would you please put down that bottle of Budweiser and hand me your AK-47?”
Apparently we are getting used to it.
Terrorists kill 17 people in Paris and, around the world, vast gatherings of the outraged hold vigils.
But that shooting was special. It not only was about murder but about radical Islam and freedom of speech.
Where are the vigils, across the nation, after the latest school shootings, the latest shopping mall slaughters, the latest child to shoot his brother or sister by accident?
The response has become local and transitory. A few flowers, a few prayers and back to normal. Normal, as in a chicken in every pot and a pistol in every nightstand drawer.
When former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco inadvertently blew off a finger with a bullet last year, he became a punch line. Maiming by gun as a joke.
“Jose Canseco shoots off middle finger but gains perspective,” said a comic. “He now uses his words to express himself.”
Didn’t he know guns were dangerous?
Well, do any of us?
State legislators brush off attempts to make gun laws more restrictive. The National Rifle Association (NRA) thanks them for their service, in the form of campaign contributions and a cease-fire on propping up potential gun-happy opponents.
The gun lobby has changed society — and not for the better.
Remember Minnesota before businesses felt compelled to post signs that firearms aren’t welcome on the premises? No sign and it’s legal to pack firearms almost anywhere.
Minnesota doesn’t require firearm registration and has left the gun show/Internet loophole for unregistered owners wide open. It has no ban on assault weapons and appears content to hand out “open carry” permits.
President Obama made an effort, though brief and halfhearted, to place a few more restrictions on firearms after the killing of 20 children, most ages 6 and 7, as well as six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Mass.
The initiative went nowhere.
Meanwhile, the bully boys at the NRA, which spreads fear among citizens and politicians alike, crow on their organization’s website that gun sales are on the rise.
In recent years, gun shops have reported shortages of ammo, as firearm owners appear to respond to the NRA fiction that “Obama plans to take away your guns.”
Obama’s feeble response: a ludicrous photo-op, where he posed aiming a rifle on a firing range. At last, the Republic is secure.
The poison has spread. A recent poll by Pew Research found that, for the first time in 20 years of polling, Americans favor gun rights over gun controls by a large margin. In a poll last month, 52 percent backed the status quo. Forty-six percent thought control over guns was more important.
Glimmers of hope for sanity in overseeing gun sales and ownership pop up here and there.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, has started pumping millions into campaigns to toughen firearm restrictions. In Washington state in November, voters approved, by a 60 percent majority, new restrictions on gun sales — from background checks to strictures on gun show and Internet sales.
Nevertheless, most Americans seem to no longer give much thought to who pulled the trigger or how the guns got in their hands.
The daily shootings in this country, including mass murder on campuses, seem to have become part of the soundtrack of daily life. Even the New York Times gave up on its monthly tally. It found so many that they became a droning monotone of death and destruction.
Thankfully, others are keeping tabs.
So far this year, 215 people have died from gunfire. No, that was a couple of days ago. The accurate number is 265. No, that was yesterday. Eleven days into the new year, 327 people had been killed by gun shots.
The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that keeps count, tallied 12,533 gun deaths across the nation in 2014.
That comes to 34 a day.
Congratulations, America! The year 2015 is off to a great start. The body count is just under 30 a day.
Last year, the nation survived — well, most of us survived — 280 mass shootings. So far this year, we’ve experienced a mere six. Only 50 weeks left to go …
What about Minnesota? Those statistics roll in more slowly, but they’re alarming.
From 2001 to 2010 in Minnesota, 3,431 people died at the point of a gun, according to the Center for American Progress and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. A figure, the study noted, that almost equaled the U.S. death toll in the Iraq war.
By one estimate, four of every 10 Minnesotans own a gun.
A study released last June painted Minnesota as less blood-soaked than other states in terms of firearm mayhem. Minnesota ranked 42nd in gun deaths in 2011 — or 7.41 deaths per 100,000 residents. The nationwide rate was 10.38, according to the Violence Policy Center.
By comparison, in England the gun death rate per 100,000 that year was 0.23.
England, home of the free and the sane.
Apart from losing sleep on the holiday, there’s more than the statistics driving my distaste for guns and the U.S. freewheeling policy of letting almost anyone buy one.
I have a long history of being around guns and gun owners.
One of my aunts lived alone in a high-crime area. She carried a “Saturday night special” .38 in her purse.
The thought of a frail woman in her late 70s in a shootout with thugs would have been laughable if it weren’t so sad. Worse, she years earlier had a handgun stolen in a burglary. It was stored — ever so wisely — in a kitchen pantry.
The freshly armed burglar didn’t even leave a thank-you note. Criminals can be so rude.
An uncle was a gun nut. Every Christmas season, my family would go to his house for dinner. He usually answered the door with a new firearm in his hand. “Isn’t this a little honey?” he’d ask, as we nervously brushed by a shiny derringer or a Colt .45.
His basement was brimming with firearms. And he was seething with anger. He hated a long list of adversaries, including his wife.
My father expected to one day walk in on a murder scene. But the uncle died of natural causes, leaving a widow and a pile of armaments.
As a reporter, I saw the damage guns can do. Once, as a young lad listening on a radio to a police dispatcher, I raced a car to the scene of a shooting. The door of the house was open. In the hallway, the deceased was face down, wearing a jacket tattered by buckshot. Blood was everywhere.
Suddenly, I realized the police were nowhere in sight. I didn’t know where the shooter was. I fled to my car to wait for the cavalry to arrive.
My job description was reporter, not vigilante.
I don’t own a gun. Never will. My New Year’s resolution is to keep all my fingers.
Mike Meyers, a former Star Tribune business reporter, is a writer in Minneapolis.