In Missouri, two men got into an argument over a gambling debt. Later, the winner was flaunting the gold watch that the loser had used to pay him. So the loser pulled a gun and shot the winner dead.
In Kansas, two men were arguing over politics in a bar. One got so upset, he pulled a gun and killed the other. A couple of nights later, that gunman was shot dead by the victim’s friends.
In New Mexico, a law officer warned a group of carousers in a bar that they were not supposed to be carrying weapons. They pulled out their guns and shot him down.
And in Ionia, Mich., two men got into a road-rage incident, pulled off to a car wash, got out — and shot each other to death.
These are all tragic cases. People were killed. The only real difference is this: The first three incidents happened during the Wild West of the late 1800s. And the fourth happened last week.
We settle our issues with bullets in this country. We’ve been doing it since we rode horses. And sadly, there is no end in sight.
So today, we will once again enter combustible territory. We will talk about guns. And before the ugly arguments break out (we are fully braced for the nasty comments, cringing curse words and wild accusations that will appear in the comments online), let us at least recognize that this is not a new issue.
Not even close.
Whatever happened in Ionia, it seems clear that it was not worth dying over. Two men — Robert Taylor, 56, and James Pullum, 43 — got into something on the road (Pullum’s wife would tell 911 that Taylor, in a PT Cruiser, was tailgating Pullum’s Taurus) and when they pulled over, the anger was boiling.
Moments later, both were dead.
“Road rage,” Pullum’s wife, Teri, cries during a 911 call. “They were fighting. … They both shot each other.”
Ionia County Prosecutor Ron Schafer told mlive.com: “There was some sort of oral confrontation.”
He said they shot each other at fairly close range.
Every gun-violence headline emboldens some point of view. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School saw many pro-gun folks declare, “You see? If those teachers had been armed, this could have been avoided.”
The Ionia case, conversely, is like manna from heaven for the anti-gun crowd. How many times do you hear pro-gun voices claim, “People getting CCWs are responsible gun owners”?
Pullum and Taylor had licenses to carry concealed weapons.
“People who get CCWs respect guns because they have to learn about them.”
Again, both men had CCWs — and Taylor knew plenty about guns, as the prosecutor told mlive.com that Taylor, apparently a collector, might have owned more than 100.
“Regular folks aren’t the ones you have to worry about with guns — it’s the criminals.”
So far, there is no indication Pullum or Taylor had any serious criminal past. Taylor did lose his concealed weapons permit after a drunken-driving misdemeanor. But in 2010, he was able to get it back. And the prosecutor described him as “a polite, law-abiding citizen.”
So there are your basic facts. The guns weren’t illegally obtained, this wasn’t crossfire from a drug war, and the shooters weren’t deranged lunatics walking through a defenseless workplace.
Instead, this appears to be about tempers flaring over an everyday occurrence — traffic anger — but culminating in two deaths because, when the anger peaked, each man had a gun within reach and each used it to try to settle matters.
Same as we did in the Wild West.
The fact that the Ionia shootings came the same week as a disturbed man named Aaron Alexis allegedly shot up the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 and wounding eight — all with a weapon he legally obtained despite a troubling past — made the anti-gun lobby even angrier.
But if you expect it to change things, it won’t. Pro-gun folks will somehow explain away Ionia. Someone will claim it could have been worse if they didn’t shoot each other. Someone will say it’s the laws, not the guns. Someone will scream “stupid liberals!” and the whole thing will degenerate into name-calling.
The National Rifle Association will likely be silent.
And we can only be happy that people arguing through newspapers or televisions can’t fire bullets at each other the way Taylor and Pullum did. Scripture might warn that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. But we’ve been ignoring that for centuries.
And my bet is, we’re not stopping anytime soon.