Bears, Mountain Lions and Snakes, Oh My!

Debating with myself about guns.

While transplanting another cactus in the garden here at Hacienda Dominguez & Chelenzo Farms yesterday, I came across a spent bullet casing. It’s not the first one, as the children also found a full Winchester rifle casing not too long ago.

Our little treasures of brass, plastic and gun powder were found in an area on our property that apparently had previously been used for target practice. A steel barrel with bullet holes now sits and serves as a bench overlooking the cave and cliffs across the arroyo below the garden.

It’s also where earlier this week Milo and I heard the growl of a wild animal a couple of times during the afternoon as we were collecting the dogs, which had run down the hillside down to the dilapidating cedar siding and stone foundation house that sits fifty feet southwest of our property line. Chelsea also heard the same roar the following day, which sounded like either a bear or mountain lion to us.

Hence, as I was helping reestablish the roots of one life, I couldn’t help but contemplate the taking of another, if only to protect the lives of those I love most.

Ever since we’ve arrived in Cerrillos, one of the biggest questions for me has been - “Should we or shouldn’t we have a gun?” It’s a question that I’ve posed to many of our new friends and neighbors as I inquired about what was needed to live comfortably in the country.

What I discovered is that many feel “Guns aren’t necessary,” but that a slight majority actually advocates for the need to bear arms.

As a result of my informal poll, I like to tell friends and family back in New York and California that the general profile of those living in Cerrillos is “a bleeding heart liberal who rides horses and carries a gun.”

One of our closest neighbors suggests target practice on occasion, so that “the riffraff” remain aware; another couple have actually tried to establish a shooting range; and Annie Oakley, who is in her 60s, lives alone on the mesa, and is growing stuff people like - tells me, “I want to make sure everyone knows that I’m packing.”

That said, two of the oldest couples in the hood, both which been living here more than 30 years each, tell me with great confidence, “There’s no need for a gun here.” Both households are comfortable with the feral landscape and focus on a humanitarian approach to life, as well as a harmonious coexistence with nature.

Almost everyone that is pro-pistola, proclaims it’s for “protection” - either against the wild life that surrounds us or the notorious outlaws and mountain-dwelling mafia from the nearby town, a bad element that has been known to go on burglary sprees every few years. Almost, no one has said they have them for sport or hunting.

That said, the romance of the Wild West practically prescribes that you know how to shoot a gun if you live in the country, work a farm, and have to put an animal down if either for food, sympathy or protection.

Nonetheless and allthemore, despite my desire to live large, follow in the boot steps of John Wayne (whom, admittedly I’ve never seen on the big screen), Zapata or Pancho Villa; or to serve and protect my family, I’m a peace-loving hippie at heart.

Not too long ago, we were having lunch at the Mineshaft In Madrid and I recalled the following story for Mama and Olivia Luz from my childhood to justify my stance against guns.

I was about 11 and I was in my backyard in San Jose playing with my BB-gun rifle. For a couple years I had merely shot at tin cans and bottles, but this fateful afternoon I decided to experiment. Out of sheer curiosity, I took aim at a little bird that was chirping cheerfully on our neighbor’s roof. And then, I pulled the trigger. A moment later, the tiny innocent life rolled off and onto the ground. It is a moment I will never forget and always regret.

Being that I grew up in the peaceful paradise of Northern California, liberal-minded principles and politics were paramount for me from day one. Ultimately, I was lucky enough to attend a Jesuit prep school as well, which instilled a lifetime commitment to serving others.

While in college at UCLA I conscientiously sought to understand what unified us as human beings. Hence, my studies focused on international culture and folklore, cultural anthropology and world religions. What I concluded is that despite what Darwin said, despite the hundreds of thousands of years of tribal rivalry, war, crime, exploitation and horrifying and unforgivable genocide - I believe humanity is innately good, giving, generous and creative, if only because from love we came and if we’re lucky, surrounded by those who care - by love we’re bound to return.

This belief was particularly reinforced by the work and words of many of the prophets and wisemen I devoured: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Jesus Christ, Buddha, and even Leo Busgalia, all whom proselytized dealing with others and encouraging change by nonviolent means.

Furthermore, eventually graduating from Columbia with a masters in international public law and human rights, I learned in Constitutional Law class with the late Professor Louis Henkins that the second amendment has long been misinterpreted.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads as follows: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The fairly-obvious gist of the Second Amendment is clearly meant to collectively protect us from tyranny, and not to constitute an individual’s “right” to bear arms to hunt, hurt others or storm the Capitol.

It’s disappointing to think about how disempowered we are against the stronghold of the NRA and an antiquated and misapplied amendment, as well as so many misguided citizens that find freedom in the right to be violent.

On MLK Day, I wrote, “So sad that his death and those of other civil rights leaders of the time were had at the hand of guns. Did the Second Amendment serve to protect them or even uphold its original charge of supporting “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state...” back then? Has it since?

Alas, it seems to me that the misapplied “right to keep and bear arms” of individual citizens (rather than “the people” as a society) really has only made things a lot worse.

Considering the irreparable toll to life and limb, I get no thrill from the idea of holding, shooting or owning a gun. There are so many other exciting things life has to offer that I have no concerns foregoing the experience during my lifetime, especially if it ensures my peace of mind and the safety of those I love most.

However, that-was-then and this is here-and-now. And with the big bad wolf knocking on my back door, the big question for me remains: “How do I protect our home and family - children, chickens and dogs, oh my! If not with a gun, than what?”

Albeit not a lion, tiger, or bear, everyone out here agrees that rattlesnakes pose a serious threat too. One of our horse-loving friends proudly states he shoots ‘em if they dare come around. In contrast, one of my rainbow-loving friends (who doesn’t love rainbows?) advocates for the catch and release of our slithering rodent-deterring friends, and has sent me an Amazon link to “Gyorgkshi Heavy Duty Snake Tongs.”

That all said, although guns can serve defensively and as deterrents, it behooves me to mention the greater statistical danger and risk associated with having guns at home. And quite frankly, one doesn’t need an advanced degree to read and understand all the numbers, statistics and facts pertinent to the issue at hand.

A recent paper from the Violence Policy Center states that “for the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the total number of self-protective behaviors involving a firearm by victims of attempted or completed violent crimes or property crimes totaled only 338,700.” That comes to an annual average of 67,740 — not nothing, but nowhere near the N.R.A.’s 2 million or 2.5 million.

Readers can judge for themselves whether the V.P.C. or the N.R.A. is likely to have better numbers. The V.P.C. used data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The N.R.A.’s estimate is the result of a telephone survey conducted by a Florida State University criminologist.

The V.P.C. also found that in 2010 “there were only 230 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm” reported to the F.B.I.’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Compare that with the number of criminal gun homicides in the same year: 8,275. (That’s not counting gun suicides or unintentional shootings.) Or compare it with the number of Americans killed by guns since Newtown: 3,458.

As the V.P.C. paper states, 'guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes.'"

Then there’s all them homegrown accidents and deaths:

* In 2018, accidental gun deaths accounted for 1% (458) of total gun-related deaths (39,740) in the United States.

* Thus far in 2020, there have been unintentional shootings by over 220 children. This has resulted in 92 deaths and 135 injuries.

* Shelter-in-place orders during the coronavirus pandemic have led to major spikes in accidental shootings at home by children. Deadly unintentional shootings were up 43% in March & April compared to the same months in the previous 2 years.

* Around 77% of accidental gun deaths happen in the home.

* From 2006-2016, almost 6,885 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings. In 2016 alone, there were 495 incidents of accidental firearm deaths.

* Accidental gun deaths occur mainly to those under 25 years old. In 2014, 2,549 children (age 0-19) died by gunshot and an additional 13,576 were injured.

* Adolescents are particularly susceptible to accidental shootings due to specific behavioral characteristics associated with adolescence, such as impulsivity, feelings of invincibility, and curiosity about firearms.

* The majority of people killed in firearm accidents are under age 24, and most of these young people are being shot by someone else, usually someone their own age. The shooter is typically a friend or family member, often an older brother. By contrast, older adults are at a far lower risk of accidental firearm death, and most often are shooting themselves. (source)

(Source: 2020 ACCIDENTAL GUN DEATH STATISTICS IN THE US, October 2020, aftermath.com)

So there you have it, I laid it all out there and I still think I’ve got my feet squarely planted on the side of the fence that believes fences offer better, safer and more humanitarian protection than guns.

Sorry if you disagree, but let’s agree to remain friendly and disagreeable, shall we?