Fifty or more locals gathered in our town’s pizza parlor after a recent burglary. Their mood was somber. I arrived late and stood near the rear of the crowd. I couldn’t see their faces. But from the tone of their voices I could tell they weren’t there to play bingo.
The first question I heard came from a woman near the front.
“Can I just point my gun at ‘em?” she asked.
The Sheriff shook his head.
“No, M’am. Holding a gun in a threatening manner is considered brandishing.”
“But I’ve got a long driveway,” the woman continued, “and there’s signs posted all along the way. ‘No trespassing.’ ‘No soliciting.’ ‘Keep out.’ So if anyone’s at my door, then they’re up to no good.”
Another speaker offered a suggestion.
“You can stroll up holding a shotgun,” he said. “Don’t need to point it. Just have it in your hands. That sends a message.”
“Is that legal?” someone else asked.
The sheriff jumped back into the discussion.
“It used to be legal to display a weapon in public in plain view,” he said. “That’s called ‘open carry.’ The law’s changed, but you can still do that on your own property.”
The crowd murmured a bit, and the Sheriff continued.
“Ever been down to the local pawn shop?” he asked. “They open carry… and when was the last time you heard of them being robbed?”
There was widespread snickering.
“So I can greet a stranger carrying my gun,” long-driveway woman asked.
The Sheriff held up his hands and shrugged. “It’s a matter of personal judgment,” he answered. “It depends on whether you feel threatened.”
Yet another voice chimed in.
“Make sure they don’t get too close,” the man said. “You don’t want them grabbin’ your gun.”
Karin and I exchanged glances. This was the first Neighborhood Watch discussion we’d ever attended, and it sounded like dialogue from a Bruce Willis movie.
“Should we leave?” Karin whispered.
I motioned for her to sit down. “With this crowd,” I said, “You’d better not make any sudden moves.”
So we stayed and learned a few things.
The Sheriff said that the good old days of leaving your house unlocked are a thing of the past. Crime is up. He advised us that prudent homeowners should take a photo inventory of their valuables. These should then be locked in a fire-proof gun safe. (Cost? About $600.)
It’s also wise to buy an alarm. (Another $600.)
You also may want to reinforce your doors and windows. (Cost? My guess is $600.)
And you may want to get a dog.
“You don’t necessarily need a BIG dog,” the Sheriff said. “A small yapper will do. Anything that will let you know someone’s out there.”
I’m guessing this is ONE thing on my to-do list that can be had for less than the $600 anti-crime price-point.
At least up front.
As the meeting progressed, the Sheriff described a variety of identity-theft and get-rich-quick crimes. “If something seems too good to be true,” he warned us, “it probably is.” He told a heartbreaking story of an elderly woman who was tricked out of her life savings with a lottery-scam, and then committed suicide.
No joke—there are some real scumballs out there. There are even crooks that look at the obits and target recent widows, trying to get them to release credit card or other personal, financial information.
But most of the evening’s discussion centered on home burglary.
The Sheriff told us that the most commonly taken items are firearms, jewelry and electronics. This is good to know, but it didn’t help me much. My problem is the only guns I own discharge H2O and all the jewelry and electronics in my house cost less that the cheapest fire-proof safe.
I guess the best protection against theft is living on a teacher’s salary.
But seriously, I get it. I do understand what it’s like to be burglarized. When I was in high school, someone broke into my parent’s home. The intruder woke my Dad, who, in turn, roused the household—everyone except me.
I slept through the whole thing.
Even when the police arrived and did their investigation, I dozed. Imagine my surprise when I finally awoke the next morning to find our furniture in disarray and all the doorways smeared with black finger-print-dusting soot.
The experience left a lasting impression on my parents. After that and in the years since, Dad became quite serious about security. His home now has multiple layers of protection—wrought-iron, alarms and more.
It’s ready for a full-scale zombie assault.
I won’t betray any confidences here if I tell you what he once said to me: “Son if you’re in town and drop by to visit, call first. And make sure you don’t EVER surprise me at night.”
But it wasn’t until I was in college though that I got a taste of what it was like to experience firsthand “a significant property loss.” One night after working late, I was too tired to park my car in our rental’s garage. The wooden door had a broken spring, and opening it was like trying to set a new Olympic record on the overhead press.
“What the hell,” I thought, looking at the tidy lawns and softly glowing windows of the homes nearby. “This is a nice neighborhood.” So I left my “cool car” a spiffy, 1962 rag-top VW Beetle, sitting on the street.
It was the last time I ever saw it.
The car wasn’t insured for theft, and it was never recovered. Since then, my solution to auto-theft has been to own a series of decidedly un-cool, “beater-cars.” These are rides that are worth less than the gasoline in their tank. Not everyone has the dork-power to carry this off, but it’s worked for me.
The downside is that I’m never sure if they’ll start and get me to work.
I reflected on these crime-victim experiences during the “Watch” meeting. The burglary that prompted the meeting was detailed in vivid photos, and it’s easy to see why my community is angry and edgy. The “Watch” meeting was helpful—I’m glad the Sheriff came and talked to us, and he offered specific tips that I’ll try. (Don’t leave garage-door remotes in your car; trim the emergency door-opener cord so it can’t be ‘fished out” from outside, and keep the door from your home to the garage locked.)
But the evening’s discussion also was unsettling. It was worrisome to hear some folks say that any stranger who comes their way—even on foot in broad daylight—is a threat they’re prepared to meet with lethal force.
Who ARE these people, and is this attitude common in Shasta? I’d like to think it isn’t, but then I see bumper stickers that say things like: “Due to rising ammunition costs. No warning shots will be fired.”
It makes one wonder.
So, sadly, MY #1 take-away from the “Watch” meeting is this: If your car quits on a back road around here, think twice before asking a local for help….
Especially if their place has a long driveway.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.