Archive for March 2008

Of Guns and Frightened Women

March 11, 2008

Eight unsavory characters are blasted into eternity by a gun-wielding Jodie Foster. She’s making her way through a dark period, after a horrifying assault in Central Park by thugs who killed her boyfriend and put her into a three-week coma. She kills some people along the way. That’s the plot, and the body count, without ruining it for anyone who still intends to rent The Brave One.

The film calls to mind other stories of women and danger. North Reno women, whose rational anxieties have been fanned into a raging inferno by news coverage of a prowling serial rapist turned murderer. Some of those women are carrying pepper spray and taking self defense classes. Surely, determined rapists everywhere are shivering in their boots.

Back to Reno in a moment. The Brave One also causes the Reasonable Reporter to reflect, from her calm perspective in Nevada, on the surreal facts of life back on the Planet San Francisco. Was it really so common to hear gunfire out on the street? Was it really routine to speculate, based on the sound of the sirens, about the distance between our living room and the spot where the body lay? The speculation became ritual after a shooting that left a bystander lying about 25 yards from the front door. Did that really happen? Seems like a bad dream now.

And this was a desirable neighborhood, where newly-arrived young professionals lined up to pay exorbitant rents. Less affluent college students and would-be artists with day jobs packed in four to a flat. Unflinchingly, they wrote the big rent checks, in exchange for the gritty panache that came with a Mission District address. Many were surprised when their fantasy of a loft-and-cafe existence in the hip inner-city was punctured with bullets and bodies, and yes, the occasional bystander was caught in the crossfire.

Official word from the San Francisco Police in 2001 was that no permit to carry a weapon had been issued in the city for a more than a decade. This was the official word, but without much effort, the Reasonable Reporter tracked down a firearms trainer who had recently prepared a key figure in a high-profile criminal case to pass muster for a permit. The recently-permitted person provided off-the-record confirmation.

So much for the official word, which was so much official crap if you were well connected, or if the city had a compelling interest in your survival. It was true for ordinary citizens, though. Like the divorced mother of two in the Richmond District, whose menacing ex-husband ignored the restraining order and showed up at her apartment to kill her in front of their children. She would have been ineligible for a permit, had it occurred to her to apply for it. Yet guns were everywhere.

In The Brave One, Jodie Foster’s New York City heroine is freaked out and alone, and feels the need for protection. She’s unable to legally purchase a firearm, but when she walks out of the gun shop empty-handed, a stranger who overheard the unsuccessful transaction taps her on the shoulder. The need is met, and Foster becomes a vigilante.

Here’s another inner-city fantasy. An ordinary citizen gets her hands on a gun, and what follows naturally is that she embarks on a killing spree.

A variation of that fantasy is now extended to college students, as a spate of campus violence fuels debates about how to protect them. In the fantasy, armed students get drunk, and engage in a dormitory shoot-out. A competing fantasy has a lone woman in a dark campus parking lot — perhaps a UNR parking lot — defending herself by drawing a gun on a would-be rapist. Each scenario remains a fantasy until the day it occurs. And each could occur, irrespective of the law.

The difference as things currently stand – and this is where poor Jodie Foster got off to a bad start in The Brave One – is that the parking garage attack will go unreported. Any reasonable college freshman can figure out that it’s not worth risking a weapons charge in order to report that everything turned out OK.

Back to Reno, where the female population is jumpy, and police are imploring women to help in the capture of Brianna Denison’s killer by coming forward if they’ve been attacked. Who’s going to report her on-campus tangle with the man who might be most-wanted, if she also has to report her own criminal activity? Hiring a lawyer isn’t in the budget for most college women, never mind the hassle and the stigma and the famously invasive questions.

(If you’re interested, here’s Jodie Foster’s own commentary on The Brave One, from an interview in Entertainment Weekly:

“I don’t believe that any gun should be in the hand of a thinking, feeling, breathing human being. Americans are by nature filled with rage-slash-fear. And guns are a huge part of our culture. I know I’m crazy because I’m only supposed to say that in Europe. But violence corrupts absolutely. By the end of this, her transformation is complete. ”F— all of you, now I’m just going to kill people with my bare hands.”)