Reply to bumper stickers a wrong turn

This Just In...

May 07, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

INSTINCTS AND experience tell me that the person who wrote the note was a man -- a real guy, I'd say. I'll further speculate -- and, in a moment, you'll see this isn't much of a leap -- that he's a guy with strong opinions, the particular type who gets almost daily validation on AM talk-radio shows all across the fruited plain.

Those are assumptions, of course, but I'd put money on them. I did some time on talk radio a few years ago; I have some familiarity with this species.

Apparently, the man wrote the note while visiting -- or shortly after leaving -- a doctor's office. In fact, he might even be a doctor.

One afternoon last week, while crossing a parking lot outside a medical building in Baltimore County, he spotted three bumper stickers on a car, and these bumper stickers goaded him to reach for a pen. He ripped a page from a medical magazine, either already in his possession or fetched from a nearby doctor's office. He wrote a note in a blank area of the page, then placed it on the windshield of the car.

Of course, he did not sign his name.

The bumper stickers that set him off were distinctly pro-gun-control: "Guns Don't Die, People Do," "Someone I Love Was Murdered" and "It's Easier To Childproof Your Gun Than Bullet-Proof Your Child."

Compared with some of the acidic prose you see on bumper stickers, this was harmless stuff.

Personally, I've never been the bumper sticker type, but I follow what others put on their cars and trucks closely. (In fact, sometimes I follow too closely to get a read on small-print bumper stickers.) Some have amused me. Some have sickened me. Some have really ticked me off.

Though I strongly disagree with the views of certain bumper stickers, I've never been moved to confront the people flashing them. I figured there are basically three reasons why I've lived to see Cal reach 40: I've never camped in grizzly country, never dug a hole without first calling Miss Utility, and never rolled down the driver's-side window and expressed disagreement with a guy sporting a bumper sticker that could have come free with membership in the Unabomber Fan Club.

I've heard of some people, provoked by bumper stickers, writing notes and leaving them on car windshields. But, again, that's something I've managed to avoid. I figure if someone's convictions are strong enough to get them to mark up a fine-looking automobile with a bumper sticker, then nothing I can say will change their minds.

A bumper sticker is often someone's idea of the last word on a subject.

In this case, the pairing of the bumper stickers "Someone I Love Was Murdered" and "Guns Don't Die, People Do" suggested a strong conviction forged in personal tragedy.

You see something like that and you feel pity for the driver of the car; you respect the pain he or she has suffered in this life, keep your distance and count your blessings, that's all.

But the guy who wrote the note couldn't contain himself.

Gun owners who are politically conservative and generally tough on crime -- usually supporters of the death penalty -- are all sympathetic ears when it comes to crime victims, but not when those victims angle the debate against their cherished handguns. Members of the all-guns-all-the-time crowd resent that crime victims who demand gun control speak with a moral authority they cannot touch. It frustrates and galls them.

"I have an NRA sticker on my car," the note began. "People who hate guns have never had anything happen to them where they needed a gun. I have.

"Living in Baltimore City was a real thrill, but living in the suburbs your white --- wouldn't have a clue. The stuff you see every night on the news -- I lived with. If you weren't armed, you were a damn fool. Get the mail, mow the lawn, work on the car, take a walk -- arm yourself.

"This notion is surreal to you. So was the trash I lived with. My house was never broken into because I had guns and was willing to use them. You are living in a trance."

The assumptions -- his this time, not mine -- are that the owner of the car with the three bumper stickers is out of touch with the real world of crime and violence, a white suburbanite do-gooder trying to tell others how to live.

He was right -- up to a point.

The person who owns the car is white, and she lives in an immediate suburb of Baltimore. But as for being out of touch with the real world of crime and violence -- that's where he was wrong.

Lois Hess has had more than her fill of all that. Her life was forever changed on a February day in 1975 by a man with a handgun in Rosedale, in Baltimore County.

Lois Hess is 73 now, still advocating greater controls on handguns; she's devoted the last quarter-century to it. And though she was "a little shook up" by the note on her windshield the other day, she plans to keep the bumper stickers on her car. The "Someone I Love" was her son, Stuart. He was 24 when he was killed.

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