Many suburbanites have an innate fear of the city.
The common perception is that crime is much worse and much deadlier in urban areas where gangs, drug dealers, desperate addicts, aggressive homeless, unsupervised youths, prostitutes and other pitfalls are concentrated.
That fear has driven many to the supposedly safe and quiet haven of the outlying communities, although with that often comes a disconnect from neighbors and neighborhoods.
In that privacy, they connect to the outside world through the 24-hour news cycle’s stream of frightening events and statistics, and that leads to an undercurrent of fear — even of their unknown neighbors — that has inspired many to position guns around the house, and to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons.
Five area suburbanites — all white, four with guns and conceal-carry permits and a fifth in the process of obtaining both — participated in a Beacon Journal focus group to discuss guns and crime. The five who agreed to share their personal stories were granted anonymity so they could talk openly. “I always have been concerned about someone breaking in [my house] while I’m there, so I have a couple of pistols in different spots very close to where I’d be most of the time,” said Mark, a retired man in his sixties. (Participants were granted anonymity, so pseudonyms are used in this story.)
“So there’s never been a break-in in my neighborhood, there hasn’t been much noise, but there’s always the first time. Be prepared,” he said.
Lester, a man in his mid-40s, has two teenage sons who don’t have access to his guns, but are trained to use them. He said he keeps one gun locked up in a bedroom. But when he walked into the room and caught a neighbor’s drug-addicted daughter stuffing her pockets and bag with his belongings, he learned a vital lesson.
“I found out how useless a locked firearm was, even though it was within less than 10 feet from me,” he said.
The woman was between him and the gun.
The Medina County resident has a conceal-carry permit, but not because he wants to walk around town with a gun in his pocket.
“I chose to get my conceal-carry weapon permit because I could. It was legal. I had no real intention of carrying a weapon,” he said.
“One of the really, in my mind, really nice aspects of the conceal-carry weapon is — and this was actually part of the reason that I got my conceal-carry weapon permit — is part of the requirement is you’re trained how to use the weapon. You don’t just go sign a paper, get your weapon. You’re trained by an instructor on how to use that, how to fire it,” Lester said.
“A gun’s a tool. If you pick up a chain saw, go to the store and buy a chain saw, yeah, you’re allowed to do that. You’re dumb if you go out and try to use it just because I saw somebody do it on TV. But that’s a far more dangerous situation than the way the conceal-carry weapon law is today. To me, that’s a really important aspect of it, is the training.”
Rick lives in Cuyahoga Falls and has owned several businesses in the Akron and Cleveland areas. He said he felt owning a handgun was a necessity given that some of his properties were located in “the hood.”
“I had businesses in downtown Akron. I owned three buildings,” he said. “Very seldom was I without some protection. I’d leave the office late at night. Had a couple of run-ins. Years ago, they were called pimps, and their prostitutes stood in front of my doorway of my building and the police didn’t do much about it.”
Rick admitted he carried a concealed weapon long before it was legal.
“I’d rather get the police to holler at me or do something to me rather than laying on the ground in a pool of blood. I mean, I was vulnerable, is why. I very seldom carried it when I wasn’t in the inner-city or something, when I was out in the suburbs. Not that that’s always the best, but still, ” Rick said.
Neighbors are strangers
All of the participants agreed that the “neighborhood” concept has changed dramatically in the past few decades from when neighbors knew and watched out for each other.
“I know the people by face that live in the houses across the street, the houses beside me. Our lots are like 94 by 260, but we don’t neighbor,” said Hanna, a North Canton resident.
“We wave to each other, we see them out in the winter when they’re shoveling and in the summer when they’re mowing, and would probably know each other’s car … but we all work, we’re not even home, and most of our children are raised,” she said.
“So the neighborhood, when you say neighborhood and a neighborhood concept, are basically two different things. And when my children were growing up, if you’re a working parent, half the time your kids aren’t there. They’re in day care, after-school care or some other kinds of care. So I don’t know that everybody would interact that closely with their neighbors unless you’re retired, you do all that,” Hanna said.
By extension, the group said youths of inner-city neighborhoods already beset by crime are forced to appear tough to survive.
“I’m in the hood a lot. We talked about what the hood is, [you see] three, four guys walking together, they look and they act mean because that’s the way that everybody else is doing it and they catch it, whether it’s from the TV or the other gangs in town,” Rick said.
“They don’t want to be a victim in their own neighborhood,” Lester said.
“Exactly right. I had a guy that worked for me and helped me in my yard and I had to take him back [home]. He lived in the hood. And we got down near the hood, he put a skullcap on,” Rick continued.
“I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘You’ve got to drop me off, man, I’m back home.’ And he got out of the car and looked like a hoodlum. Out by my house, he was a nice young man,” he said.
Concerned for safety
Hanna, who grew up with a gun in her house that her father forbade her to touch, said she never felt the need to own a gun.
“I still don’t feel a need to have one. I’m in the process of getting it. … In my job, it’s something I’m considering because I do a lot of stuff with law enforcement and I sometimes go into unsafe neighborhoods. And even though they’re looking out for me, I still need to be able to take care of myself,” she said.
And as a woman, Hanna said at times she feels particularly vulnerable on the streets. “I thought about it coming up here to downtown Akron because I’d be a woman alone, walking in this area. I consider this the city,” she said.
Jillian, from Madison Township east of Cleveland, believes her gender might cause many criminals to assume she’s easy pickings, but that carrying a concealed gun in the streets isn’t necessarily the answer.
“I know how to take care of myself without a gun. I have smarts. I have the ability. I guess how I was raised was, to bring a gun into a situation makes the gun an option. If you didn’t have the option, how would you get out of the situation? And, yes, there are those few times when that’s the only answer to save your life,” she said.
“But the other 90 percent of the time, you need to be able to use your mind, you need to be able to turn around and walk away. You need to be aware of your surroundings, you need to walk like you’re not a victim. And if she’s walking like she’s strong and powerful and he’s bent over like a homeless person, walking down the street with his arms hanging, he’s going to be the one that’s going to get attacked,” Jillian said.
Hanna and most of the participants agreed with Jillian’s statement but worried about the 10 percent remaining in her equation.
“I think that part of your protection is that you’re always aware of your surroundings, your circumstances and whatever,” Hanna said.
“And one thing, when you have a conceal-carry [permit], you actually are knowledgeable and it’s a choice. So I thought, gee, if I’m going to get out of here at dark, here I am coming to this conceal-carry, talk-about thing and I’m going to be down here in this parking deck on the campus, pitch black where I don’t really know where it is, and I said, of all days, I should probably have it,” Hanna said.
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