Now that I have your attention …
We went out for a quick errand around 8 p.m. one evening a few weeks ago and came home less than an hour later to find a man with a long gun standing in the grass inches from our driveway. He was picking up a plastic bag filled with something.
At first, we didn’t see the gun. At first, we wrote it off a neighbor walking his dog. At first, we thought the bag was filled with pooch poop, and we praised the man for doing the right thing and not leaving his dog’s shit behind to fertilize our sidewalk.
Praise turned to panic, however, when we realized there was no dog. No dog meant, no dog shit. No dog shit meant … we had no idea what it meant because by then, we had caught a glimpse of the gun’s stock nestled comfortably under the man’s arm.
We drove into the garage so fast, I thought our car would end up in the kitchen. By the time we raced inside the house and looked out the front windows, he was gone.
I called 911 to report the incident … “see something, say something” solidly engraved in my mind, ready to report the bad guys among us disguised as friends and neighbors.
The 911 operator took down all my information, assured me that officers would be dispatched to check out the situation and asked if I would like those officers to knock on my door when they arrived.
“Of course,” I replied.
“OK, we’re sending someone now,” she said.
Two hours later, I went to bed, not knowing if officers had come out to investigate. I was also a bit concerned that no one had stopped by to at least put our minds at ease and tell us they would keep an eye on things.
A couple of days later, I followed up with a call to the Community Officer assigned to my neighborhood. I found his name and number in the neighborhood newsletter we receive every month, a newsletter that encourages us to call that officer whose job it is to help the citizens of my west Miramar, Florida, neighborhood. I left a message on his voicemail, and he called back about 30 minutes later. I was impressed with the quick response.
He told me he had looked up and reviewed the record of my call, assured me that an officer had driven by and had concluded that my call was “unfounded.”
He said the guy with the gun was probably out hunting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know.” He said the gun was probably “just a BB gun.” And even though Florida is not an open carry state, it is legal to open carry a BB gun, even one that looks like a real gun that can hurt a lot more than just iguanas.
Really? Hunting iguanas at 9 p.m. in my front yard in the middle of a residential neighborhood is OK? Carrying what looks like a rifle in front of my house is legal?
“But, hey, if you see him again, call us,” the officer said. He seemed bored with all this “unfounded gun talk,” and so I thanked him and hung up.
But something didn’t feel quite right to me. I just couldn’t accept the fact that a guy with a gun — OK, maybe just a BB gun — was out patrolling my block at night “hunting iguanas.”
I sent a note to my city’s mayor, who just happens to live in my development. Surely he would care enough to look further into what had happened, I thought. The mayor responded to my note right away, saying he’d ask the police chief to look into it. Three weeks later, when I hadn’t heard back, I sent another note to the mayor. I’m still waiting for his response.
I then voiced my concern about our neighborhood “hunter” to one of my neighbors. He smiled and said the guy I had seen lives a few doors down from us. He goes out every night to shoot bufo toads, brings their carcasses back home, photographs them and posts them on social media.
This is normal? Is this his idea of community service? Walk around the block shooting poisonous frogs for shits and giggles? I find that rock salt is just as effective. Sprinkling salt around the perimeter of your property equals no more frogs. (Google it if you don’t believe me.)
It seemed strange that the guy with the gun on my property was being given the benefit of the doubt, and I was being written off as a nutty neighbor jumping to conclusions.
Unfortunately, this is the norm, not the exception.
Hindsight in many mass shooting cases shows a frighteningly similar scenario. The names of mass shooters are often found on FBI watchlists. After the shootings, we learn that “Yep, we had him on the list. We knew he might do something.”
What good is a watchlist if all they do is watch it?
“See something, say something” was initially used to protect us against foreign terrorists. It has since been expanded to include anything we think is suspicious, out of the ordinary, like a guy with a long gun in your driveway.
But aren’t the people to whom we say something supposed to do something?
The El Paso, Texas, Walmart shooting suspect’s mother reportedly called police a few weeks before the mass shooting in which 22 people died and told them she was concerned because her 21-year-old son owned an “AK-type” firearm. Police responded that he was legally allowed to purchase and own such a weapon. Nothing to see here; move along. Case closed.
Note to law enforcement: If someone’s mom calls you to tell you she’s “concerned” that her kid has an assault weapon, perhaps you should pay attention.
As of September 1, 2019, there have been 283 mass shootings in the U.S. As of Sept. 19, 2019, I have yet to hear back from anyone in authority to explain why the events of that night in front of my house were brushed off as “unfounded.”
Isn’t it about time we stop using “see something, say something” as rhetoric and start putting it into practice?
One final note … If I had a weapon on “the night of the iguana” (sorry, Tennessee Williams, I couldn’t resist) and I had used that weapon to defend myself against the guy shooting iguanas and bufo toads, things could have ended much differently.
Florida’s stand your ground law, which basically says you can use deadly force if you fear for your life, especially if you are protecting your homestead, could have been put to the test that night.
Cue alternate ending.
I come home to find a man with a gun on my property. I’m afraid the man is going to shoot me. I pull out my gun and shoot him instead. End of story?
Not so fast. I would then have had to answer to a system that continually reminds us of our responsibility to protect one another, but then puts the burden of proof on the victim.
Bad guys … even potential bad guys … win again.
This isn’t a judgment on weapons. It’s certainly not a judgment on law enforcement.
It’s an observation, a call to action to hold those whose job it is to protect us to follow through with their responsibility, no matter how insignificant what we report to them may seem.
Don’t shoot the messenger.