What Would Make You Own a Gun in Center City?

Making the decision to arm yourself against crime.

I guess I have a thing about the last lines of Inquirer articles these days. Or maybe the Inky’s just getting a real handle on the terrifying-thought-provoking sign-off. Whatever the reasoning, the fact remains that Daniel Rubin’s harrowing account of crimes against realtors in Center City—or rather, to be more accurate, random acts of unmitigated violence against two normal citizens who just happened to also be realtors—concluded with this clincher, about one of the two victims: “After Manfred went to the police to look at mug shots, he dropped by a shop on Ellsworth Street and bought a gun.”

In the classic American narrative, this is an empowering ending: Onetime victim vows never to be victimized again, and purchases the necessary means to protect his/her (but more often than not his) property, guard his family, keep his cash and, sometimes, dispense his justice. Rubin’s story utilizes this “never again” spirit to great effect. “Unemployment’s gone on too long. People need to feed their families. They’re doing desperate things,” he quotes Manfred as saying; a sentiment Rubin follows with a resounding “But not again to him.”

After all, if the success of Chris Nolan’s Batman franchise has taught us anything about our country’s deep-rooted attitude toward combatting crime, it’s that one man with his own money (and preferably a lot of it, and preferably collected through some deliciously successful capitalist enterprise), his own gun, his own car (or tank, in the case of the Batmobile), and a score to settle with the criminals of the world is better than a thousand public servants.

To be honest, when I first read this article’s conclusion, I felt it, too: the Batman-esque surge of vigilante thrill. After all, as Rubin reports, this man, Fred Manfred, had been confronted with a gun while watering his South 7th Street garden at 10 a.m. He’d been forced to give up his cellphone and the $500 in cash he was keeping in his bedroom, by a stranger who wandered into his backyard and stared him down with eyes like “looking at the soul of Satan.” I understood Manfred’s fear, his sense that nothing and nowhere will be safe anymore unless he makes it safe; it seemed almost natural to me that he should buy a gun.

Then I remembered the mass shooting at that damn Batman movie a few weeks ago, and the brutal gun violence in a Sikh temple of worship four days ago. I remembered that more people die from gunshot wounds in this country than pretty much anywhere else in world—because we have more guns to kill with.

And along with the mass murders—those deaths we seem so keen to file under the heading “psycho killings,” to fear and mourn rather than use as a means for gun-control conversation—I thought about Bucky, the middle-school friend of my sister’s who shot himself in the head by accident while checking out his parent’s gun.

I wondered if Fred Manfred has a kid.