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The Truth, Mainly - 02/14/1994

Protecting ourselves from drive-by bitings

It was a story to gladden the heart of the National Rifle Association. It was about a guy who lost an appendage and no guns were involved.

"Oh, no," you're thinking. "Not another piece about the Bobbitts."

If you'd been paying attention, you'd know that I don't do sordid sensationalism. If I can't stay on the high road, I don't make the trip. Somebody has to maintain standards of delicacy and decency. So I'm not talking about the Bobbitts.

I'm talking about the guy in Denver who got his nose bitten off. Over a pool game.

According to the Denver Post, "he was jumped outside the bar by one of the losing pool players, who bit off his nose before he knew what was happening." A neighbor "found his nose and glasses in the parking lot" (note the Post's decorous refusal to say whether the glasses were still on the nose). The nose got packed in ice, then went to the hospital where surgeons tried to re-attach it.

It didn't take.

"We didn't expect it to take," the plastic surgeon said. "It was more a matter of 'Well, it's here. We might as well try to put it back together.'"

But there's an upbeat ending. Now they're building him a new nose.

Reminds me of a guy in my hometown. His brother got mad at him and bit off his ear. Not his whole ear. Just a bite-sized chunk. That was back before they bothered to re-attach missing appendages. If someone bit it off, it stayed off. So Dick just walked around—a little lopsided—with that nub of an ear, resenting people who stared at it.

"Here he comes," we'd say. "Don't look at his ear."

That kind of dismemberment, incidentally, has long been a staple of American culture. Back in 1833, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet wrote a wildly popular book called Georgia Scenes in which two half-man, half-alligator types fight over some trifle. By the end, the winner was missing the middle finger of his left hand and "had entirely lost his left ear, and a large piece from his left cheek."

But what, you ask, has all this to do with the NRA? I'll tell you.

The NRA believes that "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." And stories in which people resort to the most primitive and low tech of weapons—their teeth, say—support the NRA position: It's not guns that are the problem; it's our wicked nature. Take away our guns and we'll bite each other to death. Extract our teeth and we'll do our damnedest to gum one another into early graves. The only solution to our violence is Universal Purification of the Human Soul. And until that comes to pass, we need guns to protect ourselves.

But that position has been getting a lot of bad press lately. And not just from wise guys who point out you hardly ever see a drive-by biting anymore. Twice within the last year or so, gun owners have protected themselves by shooting down foreign innocents—a Japanese teenager who went to the wrong house for a Halloween party, and a drunk Scotsman who banged on a door to get directions.

The Truth, Mainly


A study last fall by a researcher at Emory University undermined the self-defense argument by concluding that having a gun in your house triples your chances of being murdered—"usually by friends or relatives."

All sorts of schemes are being tried to disarm the public—trading in guns for football and basketball tickets in Denver, for $100 gift certificates to Toys R Us in New York City, for Bibles in Brooklyn's Baptist Churches.

And the government is trying to raise taxes on ammunition and raise licensing fees on gun dealers.

The most innovative move is one proposed by Post columnist Ed Quillen—who takes a narrow and literalist view of the Second Amendment and the original intent of the founding fathers. That means, he says, the arms we have the constitutional right to bear must have been made no later than 1791. And we have to make our own ammunition with what was available then—black powder, lead, and flint.

The anti-gun propaganda seems to be working. According to a USA Today-Gallup poll, 67% of us want stricter laws on gun sales, 81% favor handgun registration, and 87% agree with the Brady bill.

True grit gunmen don't retreat though. They're working to loosen up the laws against concealed weapons, the idea being that if enough law-abiding people carry handguns under their coats or tucked in their garters, criminals will get discouraged.

As one advocate explained it to the Colorado legislature, killing is not a bad thing when the person killed is evil.

Dirty Harry couldn't have said it better. The idea does have a make-my-day kind of appeal. Imagine a stranger approaching you on the street. He looks like a foreigner! He looks like he just lost a game of pool! He looks like he intends to bite off your nose!



Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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