Thursday, December 14, 2017
Opinion

Dog getting off leash shouldn't be a fatal error

Shooting someone because of a frisky dog qualifies as a case of having too many bullets and all the brains of a sack full of snipes.

There's been a lot of attention paid to the rising death toll from guns since the Newtown, Conn., school shootings last December that claimed the lives of 20 children, six employees and the mother of the shooter.

As the debate over even modest gun control measures begins to heat up, at least 2,033 people have been killed by a firearm since Newtown. As you read this, that number has likely gone up.

It's understandable that the murders of children, or the bloody serial rampage by deranged former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner, have garnered the most notoriety and helped fuel the gun debate.

But Peter Harbachuk deserves a place in the gun conversation, too. His is a cautionary tale about how certifiably stupid our gun culture has become.

Harbachuk could have easily met his demise on the streets of St. Petersburg in a case of murder while dog walking.

A few days ago, Harbachuk was taking his golden retriever, Bella, for a stroll when the hound was spooked by another dog. In the ensuing chaos, Bella wiggled free from her collar and bolted across the street. Stuff happens.

As Bella raced into the roadway, she narrowly avoided being struck by a pickup truck as Harbachuk ran to recapture his pet. And that should have been the end of one of life's occasional hassles when one has a dog.

But this is Florida, the gunshine state, where a day without a few shots indiscriminately fired is a day without last rites.

Words were exchanged between Harbachuk and the driver of the truck, as well a female passenger. There was an era when these sorts of flaps would be resolved by a few well chosen comments about birth legitimacy or mental acuity, or an invitation to commit a physically impossible sexual act, topped off with vigorous displays of the single-digit international sign language for "Have a nice day." Good times, good times.

In this case, the armed and dimwitted driver decided this was an ideal opportunity at conflict resolution to shoot Harbachuk in the leg. All because of a dog.

Only in Florida could you say things might have gone much worse for Harbachuk. After all, the shooter, channeling his inner George Zimmerman, originally pointed his weapon as Harbachuk's head before lowering his aim. In this gun-crazed state, that probably would be good manners.

There but for a momentary change of direction, Peter Harbachuk easily could have been … 2034. And counting, and counting, and …

The gun death tally by the online Slate magazine is just an estimate, a compilation of available police reports and news accounts of fatal shootings. There is no post-Newtown central database, or estimate of nonfatal shooting incidents such as Harbachuk's brush with an anger management-challenged but pistol-packing bumpkin.

The number of people wounded by guns since Newtown must far exceed the body bag figure — domestic disputes, children playing with firearms, convenience store robberies, gang dust-ups, road rage confrontations, guys walking their dogs.

Would it surprise anyone if Harbachuk's shooter is eventually found that he possesses a concealed carry permit and claims he was taking advantage of the ludicrous "stand your ground'' law, fearful of the dangerous golden retriever, a breed known for brutally licking people to death?

Driving away from the situation without firing the gun wasn't an option?

Soon the debate will be joined in Washington with one side calling for universal background checks, getting rid of extended gun clips and reinstating the assault weapons ban. On the other side, dominated by the feckless National Rifle Association, the solution to all the gun violence will revolve around making sure more people have more guns.

This may take a while to find common ground.

The powerful images of the dead children and their grieving families will be offered up.

But the bandages on Peter Harbachuk's left leg tell a unsettling story of a society where the most banal, brief chance meeting between two strangers can suddenly turn potentially fatal due to easy access to a gun.

All because of an excitable dog named Bella.

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