I have been asked from time to time why The Reader doesn’t print letters to the editor, to which I always answer, “I don’t know.”
Maybe it’s a space issue, maybe it’s because no one on staff has time to read and edit letters, or maybe they just expect you to post your comments online like everyone else, to be lost in the vast miasma of social media.
I do know it’s not because they don’t get any letters. At least I do. In fact, this column generates quite a few, including the installment printed in the Jan. 17 issue of The Reader whose theme was summarized in its title: “Gun Laws Will Never Change (and you’re (probably) going to be OK).”
The first came from Anthony (I’m leaving off last names because these letters were sent to me, not The Reader, and I have no idea if the writers intended to see them in print). Needless to say, Anthony didn’t like the column.
“I believe most of your opinions are lazy and cheap because you put so much emphasis on ‘nothing will ever change so get used to it.’ My thought is, if this is how you feel, why even bother writing an article?”
Anthony went on to say he liked the idea that gun owners should be held liable for whatever happens with their guns, but...
“The problem is, you resorted back to the idea that this will never be possible. Again, cheap and lazy. The last paragraph could not have left me (and my fiancé, who is an adjunct professor in English and Creative Writing at all three local universities) with a more dissatisfied feeling. Pick anyone off of the street and they could've written an article this elementary. Other than the previously mentioned statement, nothing else in this article allowed me the pleasure of thought. The claims you make (such as people who carry concealed weapons will never use them for bad) are nonsense and hypocritical and followed directly by a cop-out statement that demean the points you are trying (failing) to make... As a journalist, you should try to look at the issue from multiple perspectives, including a victim's. If you did this, then that would destroy your entire opinion and article. And then what would you write?”
I’ve received more than a few letters like this over the years, mostly from pissed off bands who were on the pointed end of a negative review. I replied to Anthony the way I reply to those angry bands or anyone who bothers to write a letter in response to something I’ve written:
“Thanks for the feedback, Anthony. Sorry you didn't like the piece or the point of view, but I appreciate you taking the time to write this.”
Despite writing a column for eight years, I still spent the next day the way I aways do after I get a letter like the one above: Moping around wondering in the back of my mind if my writing does, indeed, suck.
And then the day after Anthony’s letter, I got this one from from Charlie asking: “Can you exert your significant influence to re-publish (your column) in leading newspapers and on websites throughout the nation? Your points are important, and well taken.”
I had to read it a few times to convince myself that Charlie wasn’t being sarcastic. Neither Charlie’s nor Anthony’s letters directly said which side of the gun control issue they were on, but if I had to guess I’d say Anthony is for gun control, while Charlie is against it.
There was no question where "Chad" (not his real name) was coming from. He said in his letter that he carries a gun with him “every second, every day.”
“My parents don’t know, my friends don’t know," he wrote. "I was mugged a couple of times and developed pretty bad PTSD from the events. I went to a therapist who was an avid range shooter. He gave me my confidence back, ended my fear of firearms and gave me a choice instead of cowering and giving in to muggers. Detroit can be a tough town, and I needed to get tougher. 5'6" 120 lbs. soaking wet I was an easy target. Since carrying I don't walk with my head down anymore, I don't show fear and I don’t get bothered. I still walk the same route to class that I was assaulted at, but with my new sense of confidence, I’m able to look through people. I haven't pulled my weapon and I don’t know if I ever will if a time comes up. But to me, I’d much rather have it and not need it than not have it and need it.
“My problem is I’m a democrat. My whole family and friends are all democrats, they hate guns. My father sees no purpose for them, my mother would cry if she new I carried. My friends think that guns are useless and that everyone who has one is a redneck, white trash, P.O.S. I’m not a redneck, I’m small, jewish, and very liberal. And when I try and explain to them, they sound like pro-life supporters unwilling to compromise, they denounce it quickly.
“But as we both know, guns will not be leaving planet earth anytime soon. Gun laws will stay the same, and if assault weapons are banned (temporarily), the Mexican cartels and other illegal organized crime will still find ways to supply the demand. And I’m just really glad even a person like you who is afraid of guns can understand why it makes me feel safer to carry and is OK with me carrying next to them. I thank you for staying rational, in the face of a terrible tragedy, something I wish more people had the ability to do.”
He signed the letter “A Responsible Gun Owner.” I hope he is. I also hope he's a careful gun owner. Very careful. But even though I don’t begrudge him for it, I wish Chad lived in a world where he didn't think he needed to carry a gun, where he doesn't have to be afraid.
Keep those cards and letters coming.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.