Another victim of U.S. gun mania

Published Nov. 3, 1992|Updated Oct. 12, 2005

About 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 17, two 16-year-old boys knocked on a door, believing they had come to the right house for a party.

Moments later Webb Haymaker, our son, knelt over the body of his friend Yoshihiro Hattori _ exchange student, son of a housewife and an engineer from Nagoya, Japan.

At the same time, heading home from The Last of the Mohicans, we remarked how fortunate we are to live in an era in which we have not experienced the violence depicted in the film.

Holley's pager sounded and we pulled over at a public phone.

"There's been a terrible accident," a deputy sheriff told Holley. "Webb is all right. But his friend has been injured. We'd like you to come up here to the sheriff's substation"

Webb and Yoshi had driven to Central, a quiet suburb of Baton Rouge, to go to a party for exchange students. But the boys had two digits reversed in the address and were five houses off.

Bonnie Peairs opened the door and, startled by two boys she did not know, slammed it shut. Webb and Yoshi were walking back to their car when, behind them, a door under the carport opened. Yoshi moved toward the carport, probably assuming they had found the party after all.

But 30-year-old Rodney Peairs was at the door with his .44 Magnum. "Freeze!" he commanded.

"We're here for the party" Yoshi said, for the last time moving his body through space.

At the memorial service here, Yoshi's parents spoke with calm dignity and generosity of spirit. But, his mother observed, it is hard for Japanese people to understand why guns are so easily available in America. In Japan no one keeps firearms at home. Peairs too is a victim, she said; his life is now changed forever because of the accessibility of guns.

At Yoshi's funeral in Japan on Monday, the Hattoris released a more critical statement: "The thing we must really despise, more than the criminal, is the American law that permits people to own guns."

A .44 Magnum is not a gun with which you can shoot to wound; it is designed to kill. A .44 Magnum does not ensure a citizen protection from government tyranny.

But the owner of a .44 Magnum can easily see himself as Dirty Harry. When he does, he is primed to gun down unarmed children, with no questions asked and no provocation except that a body moved a little through space after the man with the Magnum said "Freeze!"

Had Peairs not been armed he might have acted on the human instinct to exchange words, to ask questions. But the gun perverted that instinct, substituting its voice for the human one.

Yoshi's death tells us something that we all know abstractly and that far too many of us are getting to know concretely: We must put behind us the imperatives of an unpoliced frontier, of an era when a homeowner couldn't lock his door and dial 911, as Peairs might have done.

Americans must learn to think of guns as reserved _ without exception _ for hunting.

We must explore this urgent question: Are we, our children and our neighbor's children really safer once we cross that mental line and let ourselves think of our guns as dual-purpose weapons, not just for killing game but for killing people too?

In memory of that smiling boy, Yoshi Hattori, we hope and pray that the time is near when our civilization will attain a new maturity.

Holley Galland Haymaker teaches medicine and Richard Haymaker is professor of physics, both at Louisiana State University.

New York Times News Service