A gun in the top drawer

When I was the editor of The Oakland Tribune back in the 1990s I kept a loaded Glock in my top drawer.

I take issue with the blanket news reports that the Annapolis shooting at the Capital Gazette, which killed four journalists and an employee, was a “surprise, a shock.” Newspapers in the ‘90s — and even more so today — don’t have budgets for security. Most don’t even have a check-in desk. I remember when I went to the San Francisco Chronicle, there was at least a security person at the entrance, sitting behind a desk where visitors had to sign in. Not exactly Fort Knox, but it was something.

Newspapers and reporters — even photographers — receive threats all the time. Every day, there is someone out there unhappy with the coverage, either about an issue for which they have passion, or coverage of themselves or a family member. Newspapers get letters, phone calls, and nowadays, threats through social media.

I had come to Oakland from Texas, where guns are part of the culture. When you go to a church or a bar in Texas you often see a sign saying, “Leave your guns outside.” I bought mine at a gun show (along with a 38mm), with no background check, just cash on the barrel, so to speak. I took a gun-safety class and started to target shoot for a hobby. I got pretty good. Eventually, I became an instructor in gun safety, and taught classes on weekends.

In Houston, I worked a night shift at The Houston Post, getting off work at 2 a.m. I had a long walk through a large dark parking lot, so I carried a Taser in my hand, the strap around my wrist, until I got to my car and locked the doors.

One night on my way home, a pickup truck rammed me from behind on Interstate 45. At the time, Clarence Thomas was being vetted for Supreme Court justice, and his former employee Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment. At one point she testified that he had given her a glass of Coca-Cola that had a pubic hair in it. As a joke, I put an “Anita Hill for President” bumper sticker on my car.

I thought the ramming was an accident. I didn’t think there was any damage. It was 2:15 a.m. and I just wanted to get home. But then, the truck sped up and rammed me harder. I thought of my bumper sticker. An exit came up, and I took it. The pickup followed me and rammed me again. I pulled over. Two guys got out of the pickup and in the rearview mirror I watched them marching up to my car.

I opened my glove compartment, took out my Glock, and flipped off the safety. I rolled down the driver’s window (crank style) and held the gun in front of my chest in both hands, as I’d been taught. I was the first to speak.

“May I help you gentlemen with anything?” I asked.

This was not what they had expected. They paused, then they saw the gun. I’ve not seen many men run faster since.

I am not a huge fan of gun ownership. But when I got to the Tribune, and as editor heard first-hand the plethora of complaints and threats that came over the transom every week, and without a single barrier between the newsroom and the street, I brought the Glock to work. Word got around and one day the deputy managing editor came in and asked me to see it. “You are an idiot,” I told him. “It’s not a display item.”

President Trump started fanning the flames against the media before he even stepped into office, and I can’t help but suspect that his rhetoric might have goaded Jarrod Ramos into walking into the Gazette with a pump-action shotgun.

It’s a tired argument, “If only someone would have had a gun, they might have stopped it.” But in this case, maybe they would been right.

I certainly would have tried.

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