Guns and violence, as they seem to appear daily on the American stage, are anathema to civil societies. Indeed, America is mocked and ridiculed among all the advanced nations for the degree of gun violence that unfolds there so frequently. Witness the Dylann Roof story that’s unfolded in just the last day.
I get it. I really do.
But I also find some logic in the idea that citizens have the right to be armed in defense of themselves; whether it be against their government – or their peers.
Unfortunately, the way that logic of the Second Amendment works out in practice in America makes a mockery of the idea. I think many of the people with access to guns in America are simply too stupid, opinionated and volatile to understand the purpose and sense of the Amendment and have perverted it into something else entirely.
All of this came to mind for me today because of something that happened that could have changed my life in a moment.
We were coming up from the Crémazie Metro Station on our way to catch the bus to the Rockland shopping centre when we heard a commotion behind us. There were loud out of control voices, -bully-boy voices. As we were moving up the escalators, Colette looked back to see what was going on and said that she hoped all what ever it was wasn’t coming our way. I thought the same thing.
When we got to the top, where the ticket turnstiles are, I thought I’d go over and mention to the ticket agent inside the secure office (bullet proof glass and etc.) that there was some sort of a commotion below and that they might want to alert security. But, just as I was approaching, a woman stepped up to talk with the agent and I didn’t want to wait or butt in. And Colette was already moving up the next escalator to the street level becausee she hadn’t seen me turn aside.
We got outside and walked to the bus stop and got into a line that was forming there. We both glanced behind us but nothing was happening so we forgot it.
In a few minutes, the bus arrived and we all got on. But, once everyone was on, the driver waited. Apparently he waits to leave on a specific schedule.
Reality finds us
We bagan to hear the commotion again now behind the bus and approaching. And, in a minute, a very large and solidly built man with short hair and a mean look appeared. With him was a second fellow that looked like an a animated scarecrow. Both of them were, apparently, seriously blown away on drugs of some sort. And ‘P’ or Meth, as some people know it, was the drug I would suspect.
The bigger one was simply belligerent to everyone. The scarecrow just followed him and clapped his hands with some sort of demented glee at everything the other one did. But I could see that under the scarecrow’s performance, that he was somehow the vassal of the larger man and that he was terrified of him.
It was clear, that the larger man was looking for anyone to stand up to him or defy him. He wanted a violent confrontation. His body language and eyes were full of it.
He walked to the side of our bus, where the front entry door was still open, and stood just outside and began to address the driver. Colette told me that he also addressed a older black man who was in the seat immediately behind the driver. He mocked and insulted both of them verbally and with hand and body motions. He was partially talking to them and insulting them and holding a conversation with himself as to whether he was going to get on and ride the bus or simply walk.
I think he wanted to driver to tell him not to get on and then he would have come aboard and bashed the driver. As I was looking at this fellow, I had no doubt that that’s what was potentially playing out.
The driver didn’t say anything. Colette and I were two seats back from the front of the bus on the right side. From there I couldn’t see the driver’s face because of the barrier behind him so I couldn’t sees how he was reacting to the threat; whether he was making eye contact with the man outside or not.
On the bus
Everyone on the bus was riveted and terrorized – wondering if this madman was going to come aboard. Surely, if he did it, was going to be deeply unpleasant for all of us and possibly violent, if anyone attempted to put up any sort of resistance or make any comment.
He kept talking to the driver and abusing him verbally while the scarecrow kept dancing, clapping his hands and laughing with each new volley.
Cut to the chase
Now, let’s cut to the chase, as they say, and reveal what actually happened.
The man debated with himself and then after abusing the driver and the black man a bit more as his partner clapped and danced, he turned and walked on. And the driver, cool as ice, so far as I could see, shut the bus door and we simply drove on asthe man hurled more abuse at us as we passed him.
That was a good outcome and I’m extremely happy that it worked out that way. But that’s not why I’m writing this piece. Here, I want to explore the other pathways; the ones that almost happened.
Meanwhile, down the other path
As the man raved outside, my mind worked through several scenarios about what might happen if he came aboard. Colette and I were very near the front so I thought it highly likely that we’d get tangled in it if thing got violent.
In one scenario, I thought of standing up and asking all the able-bodied men on board to help me repel this guy. But it occurred to me that most people will reman passive and I might end up standing there alone after having declared myself an opponent. That didn’t seem smart.
I also considered just remaining passive, like the driver, in hopes that things could be kept at a level below violence. So what if a few of us were insulted? It would rankle but no one would get hurt.
But it was a volatile situation and there was definetly another path events could follow and that was that he would board and violence would ensue.
Options and the law
At this point, I want to refer you back to the beginning of this piece where I’m talking about citizens having weapons for self-defense. There can be valid reasons to have weapons for self-defense and I was looking at one right in front of me.
As I’ve indicated, I’m torn about this issue because I think the proliferation of weapons in America to mentally unqualified people has made the country’s Second Amendment a thing of mockery to the rest of the world.
But, personally, I feel that I have the right to defend myself and I really don’t care what anyone else thinks about it. The right is simply mine, granted to me or not. I’m taking is as an absolute given because this is my life and no one else cares about it like I do.
The laws we have can make it difficult to be both a legal law-abiding citizen and to defend yourself effectively.
For example, the law says that you can defend yourself, if someone assaults you first.
And it also asserts that you can use reasonable force to defend yourself.
I suppose in many situations, in a civil society, these two rules make sense. After all, most of us understand why we have laws for the common good and most of us try to play nice.
But I found it all this to be slim comfort sitting in the bus waiting to see if this madman was coming aboard and wondering what I was going to do, if anything.
If push comes to shove
This fellow looked like he was on something like ‘P’ and I’ve read, multiple times, that people on such drugs can be tasered with little effect. And it can take several strong men to physically take them down and control them; powered by the drug and by unreasoning rage as they are.
Parts of this ran through my head as I watched him abusing the driver and debating with himself if he was going to come on the bus.
I was hoping that, perhaps, he’d move on.
Or hoping, that if he came onboard, he’d just be content to just abuse everyone verbally. The experience would undoubtedly grate on our nerves and egos, but we’d survive that.
But it was the case that he’d come onto the bus and begin bashing people that I was really worried about and thinking about – because the other scenarios would, essentially, take care of themselves.
And this is where we get back to the right to self-defense because I could see that this might shape up to be an extreme case.
This could become a case where someone puts you into a corner where either you had to submit to a beating (or watching someone else get beaten) or resist.
And it could be that there was going to be precious little room to maneuver outside of those two possibilities.
Consider, as well, that the man was very probably raging on a powerful drug. Nothing about a confrontation with him was going to be subtle.
What to do?
So, should one wait to be struck first before considering that one could engage in self-defense?
Should one’s response to being struck be a measured response so that you didn’t respond, according to the niceties of the law, with an unreasonable amount of force?
Well, dear readers, I’ll confess to you that I wasn’t thinking much about any of that. Most of that sort of stuff was after the fact thinking.
I’m not going there…
I was thinking to myself at that moment that any response to this fellow was going to have to be violent, sudden and it was going to either have to severely disable him or kill him.
Anything less, given his state, might put me and others in a spot wherein some of us were going to be severely beaten, crippled or killed. And don’t forget, that Colette was sitting just beside me.
As I alluded to a moment ago, much of this description of my thinking, which I’m laying out here, was actually after the fact thinking.
As the fellow was on the brink of coming on the bus, I was working out these possibilities, including the most extreme and violent ones, in a very immediate and visceral way. It was like seeing several futures unfold in front of me all in a moment. And knowing what I’d be doing in each of them.
I wrote a poem many years ago that, perhaps, gives some of the sense of the moment:
Balance, the poised and easy flexing
to meet experience as it comes
Tai Chi on the high seas
while the lightening rips.
No fear to act, none to wait,
each as appropriate.
Will to avoid the ocean of error
least you never hear
the thunder’s laughter.
28 Nov 84
How it was going to be
I knew several thing, intuitively:
If he began bashing, I wasn’t going to wait to be bashed.
If I went against him, it wasn’t going to be a measured response.
And, if at all possible, I wasn’t going to allow myself to get trapped in my seat with him over me in the aisle.
I also instinctively knew that if I was standing in front of him in the aisle and the game was on, how I was going to take him down.
Unpleasant images ahead
My apologies, dear readers, if this is graphic but I want you to remember that in this scenario this man is younger than me (I’m 67 now and he’s probably in his 30’s) and heavier than me and he’s very probably in an unreasoning drug induced rage.
I carry a Leatherman tool on my belt. It’s a multipurpose tool with, among other things, two separate knife blades; one standard and one serrated; both just under three inches long.
If it came to it, I was going to take him down violently and probably fatally.
Knife handle in the left hand with the blade facing to the left. Left hand sweeps up and to the right in a tight arc, right hand comes and cups the base of the knife’s handle and then a short, sharp and violent drive into the left side of his neck driven by my right arm and then driving left to right across his neck. The object being to cut through the front of his neck and windpipe and one sudden violent move.
He might stand and lash out for a few moments after that but he’d be on his way to the floor soon.
Something almost changed my life changed today
Afterwards? Well, that would have been a life changer.
I would have waited for the police and I would have been hoping that the other folks on the bus were going to back my account of the events.
I would have been sure that the next few months, and maybe more, were going to be a nightmare for me as the Canadian authorities worked out their opinions of what had happened on the bus and if I was culpable for defending myself and the others on the bus. The issues of self defense and unreasonable force would not have failed to come up.
The remaining part of our vacation to Vancouver for July and August would have been blown as well as our trip to the U.S. West Coast in September and, in all likelihood, Colette would have to return home while I worked things out.
I was a bit quiet over the next few hours, after that bus ride, just thinking about all that might have followed, if things had gone just slightly differently.
I would have deeply regretted the end of our vacation and the ensuing chaos in our lives.
It could have had a bad effect on our relationship. I have no idea how Colette might have absorbed the idea of me killing someone right in front of her; regardless of my justifications.
As for the guy on drugs who was out of control. I have to say I’d have had no regrets. I think when people step beyond certain bounds and force others into extreme acts of self defense, that they have abrogated their own rights. All things considered, I think the world would be far better off with one less of the type who would permit themselves to trod that path.
I want to say that in my three months in Montreal, I’ve never encountered a ‘hardcase’, other than this one fellow.
This story is not meant in anyway to deminish my admiration for Montreal. It is a peaceful, lovely, and law-abiding place which I have come to love.
Idiots, like this hardcase, can occur anywhere.
It is nice, because we live in civil law-abiding societies, that the half-life of people like this on the street, is generally pretty short.