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We were on Beacon Hill, my roommate and I, walking home from Bush Garden after butchering some Springsteen. We'd missed the late 36 bus, so we decided to hoof it. We were at 14th Avenue South and South Atlantic, just past the PacMed building, when a kid in his late teens wearing a black hoodie asked us for the time.
We ignored him and kept walking.
But he kept asking.
Four other kids in the same getup emerged from behind a bush, one of whom had a gun. He pointed it in our faces. Things continued normally from that point (as normally as you'd expect for an armed robbery). They threatened; we complied. I tried to negotiate for my glucometer, but they out-argued me pretty succinctly: "Do you want to get shot, motherfucker?"
Naturally, I said no, and they ransacked our pockets and took off down a side street. They made off with $11, two gently used smartphones, my key ring, my insulin, my glucometer, and my tip check. Fortunately, our other roommate was home, I happen to know her phone number by heart, and I had plenty of backup diabetes supplies at home, including a second glucometer. It was humiliating to be robbed of my valuables, my medicine, and my pride, but it could have been much worse. My roommate and I looked at each other, let it wash over us, and kept walking. The only words we could muster up were "I guess that just happened."
According to Seattle Police Department numbers, robberies in the first three months of this year are up 10 percent over last year. About two blocks into our trek, a cop rolled by, and we flagged him down. He made a very unconvincing effort to track our assailants, giving the distinct impression that he believed our cause lost from the get-go. He also made sure to let us know, "If they tried to rob me, I would have pulled out my gun and asked them, 'How badly do you want my stuff?'" I wasn't in the mood to point out how incredibly foolish that statement was, so I just let it slide, borrowed his cell phone to get ahold of our roommate so we could get into the house, and let him drive us home.
The second time it happened to me, I was riding my bike home from work late on a Saturday, cruising down Beacon Avenue by the Red Apple. A gaggle of drunk high-school kids was lurking at the light-rail station, engaged in that type of wholesome social gathering that can only take place at midnight on a Saturday.
As I passed the station, a couple of their compatriots emerged—again, from some bushes—on my side of the street, forming a human blockade of sorts. Their body language was nonthreatening at first. It seemed like they wanted to maybe mess with me for having a shiny bike and wearing leggings under my shorts (which I was already making enough fun of myself for, thank you very much... it was cold, and I forgot to do laundry). When I stopped moving, they pressed closer to me, asking if they could ride my bike or play with my phone.
Their haranguing quickly turned from "Let me try your bike" and "Let me see your phone" to "Give me your phone, bitch." Even before that, I sensed that something was off about the situation and tried to move around them to remount and speed off. When their hostilities erupted a bit too soon for that, I picked up my bike and backed down the sidewalk, using it as a shield to fend off my assailants.
The rowdier our exchange got, the more attention it drew from the crowd in front of the station, and soon I was facing a small mob of larcenous high schoolers. They were throwing haymakers at me through my bike frame. I knew that if they got behind me, I was finished, having recently watched a shit-talking Juggalo fall victim to the same tactics at the hands of a mob of kids at Westlake. So I backed into the middle of the road, hoping to use traffic to keep them from getting behind me.
None of the drivers whose path of travel was impeded offered assistance (this is Seattle, after all), but they saved me by serving as silent witnesses. After a few more abortive lunges, my attackers had exhausted their fervor for robbery and retreated to the station. I was shaken, and they had stripped my backup glucometer from my pants pocket in the scuffle, but I still had my phone and my insulin and my bike.
The most salient feeling one is left with in the wake of a mugging is impotent rage. After both incidents, I couldn't sleep. I sat up in bed, seething, my mind racing through various scenarios of vengeance. It wasn't much of a stretch to imagine myself shooting down my attackers in cold blood, and I'll admit I even looked up the prices of handguns online. I used to be so into Death Wish, the 1974 vigilante movie featuring a mustachioed Charles Bronson revenge-killing anyone he deemed a worthless street punk to avenge the murder of his wife in an armed home invasion. How could you blame a likable, ostensibly liberal guy for his rage toward these smarmy street criminals in leather jackets? Especially after what happened to the woman he loved? I'm a sucker for a bad mustache and some good camp, and I bought the movie's bullshit—the massive logical leap of killing random people just because he was pissed, all perfectly obfuscated with the heartstring-tugging details—hook, line, and sinker.
I'll admit I fantasized about spending my nights stalking my muggers through South Seattle, waiting for them to strike another unsuspecting victim, only to become victims themselves. I wanted to take them unawares, shoot them in the legs, and leave them bleeding for the cops to find. In short, I was thinking some really psycho shit.
Thankfully, I'm not a psycho. I'm pretty dedicated to nonviolence, and I can't really conceive of a scenario where I would use force for any purpose other than defending myself. Given the chance to replay either of my muggings with a gun tucked in my waistband, I'd decline without hesitation, for two reasons.
One, the more handguns that exist in society, the more likely one is to be robbed at gunpoint. Second Amendment defenders can crow on all they want about responsible gun ownership, but more guns means more guns in the hands of criminals and responsible gun owners alike. Given my experiences, I'd rather face an unarmed mob (like that second pack of kids) than one guy with a gun. I'd rather take a good old-fashioned beating than a shot any day. Having to administer a beating makes a criminal work harder for their ill-gotten gains. If I'm gonna sling plates all week for my dough, muggers should have to work a little harder to take it from me. And it would be hypocritical of me to have that conviction but then go out and get a gun myself.
Two, I intend to live out the rest of my life without ever taking anyone else's. True, there are many ways to kill someone without using a gun. I could have brained one of those kids with my U-lock. But unlike a gun, a U-lock is not designed to kill. As someone who has no desire to kill others, I don't see the point of owning a handgun. This makes me think that people who insist on owning guns as a means of self-defense are either (a) mentally prepared for the reality of killing another human being (doubtful), or (b) living in a Bronson-esque fantasy world where the lives one imagines taking are the lives of cartoonish street toughs, not teenage kids with poor judgment, braces, and some very worried parents at home.
Gun ownership is just not the solution to street crime. Reducing income inequality and increasing access to public transit late at night—seriously, can someone please do something to increase public transit late at night?—might help, but getting more citizens to tote handguns won't. I realize that last sentence sounds like textbook liberal fantasy, but it's far from fantastical. It's based on my real-life experience with two real-life muggings, one with a gun and one without. I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the people arguing so vehemently for gun ownership can't say they've had that same experience.