On Weapons

Shortly after publishing my third book, I met a private detective who came to a reading at Kate’s Mystery Books  outside Boston. The detective told me her practice is a lot like V I’s: she did homicide investigations for clients who were being railroaded by a judicial process that liked to pick on the first convenient African-American they encountered. She said she didn’t expect fiction and reality to march in lock-step, but there was one thing she thought I should change. In my early books, V I always had her Smith & Wesson with her. Kate’s detective told me that was a mistake.

Kate’s detective said that she herself owned a handgun, had a permit, was a pretty good shot, but she almost never carried a weapon, even though she routinely found herself in some of Boston’s crummiest neighborhoods and projects.

The reason? She said you unconsciously escalate conflict when you are carrying a weapon. It’s as if your unconscious mind is itching to pull the trigger. When she left her weapon at home, she said she found more creative ways to resolve problems.

I think of that advice often, and never more so than in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Whether a skinny kid in a hoodie really posed a threat to a big man in an SUV is something we may never know. But we can be pretty sure that if George Zimmerman hadn’t  been carrying a gun, he would have stayed in his SUV. Maybe the police would have come, maybe they would have roughed up a kid for wandering around a gated community while black, but Trayvon would still be alive.

Armies and governments follow the same psychology. Hard as I petitioned and prayed for peace in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq, I knew that once George Bush had deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers and millions of weapons to the Persian Gulf, his trigger finger was itching so painfully that nothing would keep him from shooting first.

If George had kept his personnel and weapons at home and let the UN inspectors do their job, we would not have 4400 dead American service men and women, 31000 with terrible injuries, 110000 Iraqi civilians killed and many millions left homeless. We would have the $3 trillion we’ve spent on this war to use for schools, roads, and maybe even health care.

Unknown Soldier in Iraq

Unknown U.S. Soldier in Iraq

Right now, I think it’s a pretty hopeless battle to gain a modicum of control over weapons of destruction, mass or otherwise, in the United States. Every time you take off your clothes in the airport, remember that the NRA has battled relentlessly not just to allow George Zimmerman a conceal carry permit, but to make sure anyone on a terrorism watch list gets a free pass on owning and carrying a weapon. The Patriot Act puts more controls on looking at what we read than on what we shoot.

Toilet destroyed by concealed weapon

Toilet in Utah wounds man whose concealed weapon went off

Perhaps we will read more such uplifting stories in the future.

And state legislatures believe the only controls that should be legislated are on women’s vaginas. Cry, my beloved country.


  • Edith Maxwell

    What an articulate essay, Sara. Thank you. It’s a discouraging world out there.

  • Marilynne Smith

    You know how to put the story in perspective.  I too saw the shooter as a gun ready to go off.  That’s probably why he joined the community watch group – so he could carry a gun and maybe shoot it. I’m so sorry that the one he shot was a young boy.

  • Steven Hart

    “The Patriot Act puts more controls on looking at what we read than on what we shoot.”


  • Barbwieser

    You’re so good at spelling it out, Sara. Thanks for writing.

  • genny from jersey

    Well said, Sara.  I think Zimmerman was a “wanta be cop”.   It’s hard to think this was not racial motivated based upon his comments in the 911 call, in spite of what his “friend” has been saying in news reports.  His  physcila size, gun, this fact that he’s gotten off on other charges with a slap on the wrist, and his father’s position gave him a sense of entititlement to do whatever he wanted  without fear of any accountablility.. 

  • Shirleyannb

    In her new book, “Drift,” MSNBC News host Rachel Maddow says there is a big disconnect when Americans think of war. We don’t know what really happens in war. Only a few of our citizens actually go to war now, so we can’t relate to the realities of it.

    Back in the 1960’s Vietnam era when there was a draft, we all knew young men who went to war. Many never returned. Now there is no draft, and it’s usually the poor who go to war. The middle class is quite removed from the horrors of war, allowing the military to control our going to war.

  • Sara Paretsky

    Thanks for these perspectives and reactions. There was a disturbing story in the March 31 Wall Street Journal on a big jump in homicides justified as “self-defense” in states like Florida with Stand Your Ground laws. I wish I knew what to do besides wringing my hands and posting on social media. http:///

  • Miss E

    Very true. One only needs to look at the homicide statistics in other countries, particularly those in Europe, which have much tighter restrictions on gun ownership. Go figure, they have much lower rates of homicide as well as other violent crimes. I’ve never even held a gun, but I would assume it’s much easier to shoot someone than to use a knife or another instrument. It seems like an enabling sort of weapon, one that could affect behavior. Of course, fighting people who’ve misread the Second Amendment often makes me feel like Sisyphus…

  • Kathy Durkin

    I agree.  It is outrageous on so many counts that George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin and that those Stand Your Ground laws are in place and growing, thanks to the NRA and right wing.  And the laws are enforced unfairly.  There is a young African-American woman who has been in jail in Florida for over a year because she shot to defend herself from her abusive spouse.  He was not hurt.  She shot in the air.  She faces 20 years in jail.  She has three children at home, including a baby.  She had an order of protection against the abuser.  She and her attorney say that this was justified under the Stand Your Grand law.  It was self-defense and no one was harmed.  There are two systems of justice.
    Definitely, people should do all they can to oppose this injustice and law.
    And the wars, too.  And they’re growing, too.  That 9 boys were killed by a bomb in Afghanistan because they were out herding their families’ sheep and goats and that a U.S. soldier brutally killed 15 people, while they were sleeping, including 9 children just is so outrageous. 
    I wish tens of thousands of people were out, marching against the wars and against racism and injustice. 

  •  THIS is what I always think but it is rarely brought up…WHY?  that and the simple fact that 50 years ago if there was an altercation people had a fist fights…they didn’t pull out a gun.

    The insanity of guns is my greatest bewilderment in my life of   “wow….. really?” 

    …my dad never let us 5 kids play with toy guns…he experienced killing in WWII..he is 87 and an eccentric who has never owned a TV.  He lives in another century. He is passionately conservative.  YIKES and YUCK…BUT he hates guns…good for him…

  • JoAnn Welsh

    I, too, despair when I see people arguing that the best defense against guns in the streets is for everyone to go armed, prepared to shoot down the shooters. How is that supposed to be progress?…Maybe in addition to the hand-wrining and the social media posts, you could have V.I. get tangled in a Trayvon-type case, but with an otherwise decent person doing something he or she regrets due to this kind of escalation? The more frustrated and powerless I feel, the more I need to concentrate on what my particular strengths are and how they can be brought to bear — they may not be as direct a fix as legislation, but they can have an effect. V.I. is certainly a great example of that. 

  • Joan

    I’m not much of a facebook person but I’ve read every one of your books so that makes me a true fan. I was just looking for the material posted on your facebook page when I got the e-mail about your latest posting.  Then i saw this writing.  I hope you don’t mind but I’ve sent to a bunch of my little “network” because I felt so strongly about the things you said. Thank you. If you run for president or senator I’ll help certainly vote for you.


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