IT HAPPENED around 3 a.m. at the corner of Charles and Lafayette, on the sidewalk next to the Merit gas station. I was leaning on my cab after a hard night's driving, chatting with another cab driver. We heard a dull "pop" and turned around to see a young man, wearing dull green sweat pants and holding a silver-colored revolver, crouched over the prone body of another young man dressed similarly.
The man with the gun looked up, spotted us -- and the other dozen or so people around -- and ran away.
The victim sprawled on the sidewalk, a broken Pepsi bottle near his head, panting, "Uh, uh, uh" over and over. Shot in the back, he was in too much pain to call out for help. His eyes held the pleading look one sees on the face of a wounded deer or a dog that has been half-crushed by a speeding car. I've seen the look before on both human and animal faces. It's a "put me out of my misery" expression that goes right to your gut and turns you inside out.
I called my dispatcher on the radio and asked her to send police and an ambulance. In due course they came (cops, 3 minutes and 45 seconds; ambulance, 6 minutes and 20 seconds) and went to work. Sort of. The cops' disinterest was complete. They glanced briefly at the victim, and one of them started interviewing onlookers in a desultory fashion. Another cabbie had chased the shooter. He returned shortly after the cops arrived and was questioned by one of them.
The victim didn't get so much as a kind word from the cops, even though he wouldn't have heard it through his "Uh, uh, uh" refrain. Some sympathy would have been nice. But why should the cops care about one guy in green sweat pants who gets shot by another? Their job is to catch criminals, not comfort victims. Someone else should have been on hand to comfort the victim and explain to him why having plenty of handguns around is good for America.
Yes, I mean you happy folks from the NRA, who work to make sure young men in green sweat pants have a plentiful supply of guns to use on each other. Where were you? Tucked away safely in quiet neighborhoods, I suppose, with revolvers under your pillows, dreaming of hunting deer in open fields. Instead of dreaming in your snug, gun-protected nests, you should get out here on the streets and see first-hand the results of your efforts to put guns in as many hands as possible.
Every time I read one of your letters or editorials about the evils of gun control, I think of the shootings I've seen and the stories I've read about children mowed down in the gun battles that are common in so many city neighborhoods. And I think about you NRA people and your apparent desire to put a gun in the hands of every American man, woman and child, and how you are so good at writing letters and putting bumper stickers on your cars, but never show up when the victims of your efforts need help.
When I read your letters I think about all the hard-working people who take taxis home from work at night because they are afraid of getting shot while they wait for a bus, and I wonder why the NRA doesn't pay their fare. You are the ones who promote gun ownership and use. My taxi passengers don't. But they pay, and you don't.
I see the shooting victims hauled off to expensive hospitals. You, the gun proliferation advocates, should pay for your victims' medical treatment. You should pay to incarcerate the shooters you have helped arm. But that would be going too far. You're just a bunch of happy sportsmen exercising your Second Amendment right "to keep and bear arms," aren't you? Besides, as you've said for years, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." You believe this homily because you don't see what happens at night on the streets.
Today handgun violence is primarily an inner-city phenomenon, and you NRA letter-writers seem to believe that the only people who get shot are sub-human "thems" who live someplace you'll never even visit.
But the violence is spreading, thanks in part to your efforts. The day will come when you, too, live in neighborhoods under siege, and the man grunting in pain while a group of cops avoids his eyes is someone you know.
When that day comes, will you change your tune?
The next time you think about writing a pro-gun letter to an elected representative or a newspaper editor, think about the pain you are causing. Think about the day -- perhaps not far in the future -- when you and yours will suffer from the same level of carnage now endured by people who live in neighborhoods you're afraid to go near.
And realize that, unless you start working to undo the harm you've already done, one day you might lie on the sidewalk with a bullet in your back, panting "Uh, uh, uh," while you wait for someone to end your pain.
Robin Miller writes from Baltimore.