By Marjolein Groot Nibbelink
More than 97 guns are owned per 100 people in the United States. Serbia is second, with 58 per 100, and Yemen third with 55 per 100. Last year, 4.7 homicides per 100,000 people were committed using firearms, closely following countries like Niger, Yemen and Albania. You are four to five times more likely to get shot in the United States than in any other developed country. These are revealing statistics that no one can argue about.
After five years of closely observing this aspect of our culture, events of the past few months helped clarify some of my feelings around it. In January, the Deschutes Brewery was hosting their annual tap takeover at Eichardt’s and were sent an email they should show up “ARMED AND ON HIGH ALERT,” because, “A crowd might show up armed and do something nasty.” The sheriff’s department stationed a deputy out front and the only crowd that showed up was one of jolly patrons in defiance of the threat and in support of their favorite bar. It was the coziest dollar beer night I’ve been to.
Between that night and this week, I’ve run into more insensitivity about gun violence. A few days after the Deschutes/Eichardt’s threat, I sat in the nicely renovated upstairs area of said establishment and watched an adult play peekaboo with a baby. I was shocked when the “peekaboo” changed into, “Shots fired!,” and became so uncomfortable that I left, hearing the “Ohhh… SHOTS FIRED!” blend into the otherwise warm murmur of my beloved pub.
I’m not a parent and, as such, abstain from criticizing people for how they treat children; but, no matter how hard I tried, I could not fathom why anyone would say that to an infant.
One week later, my friend and I were quietly enjoying the sunset from the hood of my car off Bottle Bay Road as two pickups holding about 10 teenagers in full camo pulled up. We’d passed them earlier and they had kindly waved at us.
“Did you see those girls?” one of them whispered.
They aimed their homemade fake guns and rifles at us, laughing and pulling the triggers.
I was annoyed and, even though I’m sure they were playing, I felt concerned and culturally confused. We ignored them and, after seven minutes of whispers, giggles and clicks, they drove off. As I cast a disapproving look, a false black gun was pointed right at me, clicking incessantly, and joined by a battle cry of, “Die, die, die!”
I have lived in a lot of different cultures and opt for tolerance when I feel insecure interpreting behavior, but my friend acknowledged what I had felt — intimidation. She also helpfully pointed out, “One does not point guns at people, real or fake, at this time in the United States.”
She’s right, of course, and listening to people who have lived here their entire lives helps me understand what is considered acceptable and what isn’t. Pointing out the ongoing reality of people going on shooting rampages in schools and shopping malls clarified why exactly it’s not OK.
Sadly, some people maintain the conviction that they can casually drop death threats to innocent beer drinkers and young women enjoying the sunset. Clearly, the nitwit responsible for the threat to Eichardt’s is dissatisfied by the result of their intimidation. I was forwarded an email on Jan. 30, titled, “lawsuit with you against Sandpoint bar,” detailing alleged negligence of pub owner Jeff Nizzoli and encouraging people to bring suit for “emotional distress such as loss of sleep, night sweats, ulcers, headaches, nervous tics or other physical signs of distress,” after being put at “undue risk … upon your learning after the fact that [there was] a threat of gun violence against you as a customer that evening.”
I asked Jeff whether he’d received any lawsuits since the letter was circulated. True to form, he responded, “No, but I did respond to the email. I may not have ulcers, but you bet I lost sleep that night!”
Not much later, someone handed me a fresh report from the Reader that serial racist robocaller Scott Rhodes is being fined $13 million by the Federal Communications Committee. Whether or not he is behind the Eichardt’s threat, it’s nice to see some justice served and people being held accountable for their jerkness, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that sensitivity around gun violence appears to be at a low. If we can’t change the hostility aimed at us, we might make an example of those who came for dollar beers that night back in January, including the mayor of Sandpoint.
We can stand together in opposition, hand in hand, beer in hand, and a smile on our faces. And for those who consider death threats an ethical way to express their opinion, I’d like to suggest a different coping mechanism — one called tolerance.
Marjolein Groot Nibbelink is a transplant who left The Netherlands looking for a place to live that suited her personality better. After an intentional search covering more than 30 countries and four continents, she chose Sandpoint in 2014. She shows her love and care for this place by being engaged in local and national issues.
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