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Reading the Map

By Tina Traster

January 16, 2013 -- GULP!

Hes got a gun! I shriek.

What do you mean? my husband calls from the living room.

Hes on the list. Quick, come here.

My husband, Ricky, shuffles into my office, to my desk, where Im staring agog at a map of Rockland County filled with purple dots.

Each dot in this interactive online map represents a homeowner who has registered for a pistol permit.

Not surprised, Ricky says.

Me neither, but still. Makes me queasy.

Over the years, weve fought with neighbors over one thing or another. Tempers have flared. Some spiteful things have been done, though nothing Id categorize as violent. Knowing that many have guns or at least a permit to own one gives this a new spin. It makes me feel more vulnerable because even if someone is not inclined to be violent, what if?

What if one day they go berserk, take leave of their senses and bam!, settle the latest dispute with a lethal shot, rather than angry words?

Youre being melodramatic, my husband says, reading my thoughts.

Maybe. Maybe not.

A couple of years ago, a man down the road shot a neighbor for absolutely no reason or at least no reason anyone ever figured out. It was at a condo complex at 6 in the morning. The victim was walking his dog when he was struck from behind. He was shot multiple times but survived. The shooter is in prison now. The incident was a reminder that guns are used against innocent people even in suburbia.

The interactive online map my local newspaper, the Journal News, published last month in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting has caused a huge controversy. Reporters have received death threats, and the paper has hired security. This week, Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino asked the paper to remove the map. And New Yorks new gun-control bill signed by Gov. Cuomo includes a clause that will allow those with pistol permits to opt out of having their personal information available to the public.

As creepy as it is, knowing who owns a gun, I open every dot along my street and on a street around the corner. There are nearly 30 dots 30 dots! Im flabbergasted.

You wont believe this, I say, pointing out a dot representing a different neighbor.

Wow, now that really is surprising, Ricky says.

The only time I met the neighbor, who has since moved away, I rang his bell on a Saturday morning. He answered, wearing a Japanese-style robe. He was sipping tea. He looked like a Zen master. He worked in the yoga business. That man with a gun is hard to imagine.

Maybe Im totally naive, but I always thought gun owners lived in Texas or Kansas, not 45 minutes from Midtown.

I presumed the gun debate was a red state/blue state squabble. I was wrong. One out of every 23 people in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties is licensed to own a gun.

I do know about living with a gun in your home. I grew up in Brooklyn, and my father owned a pistol. He would tell me he carried it to protect himself when he traveled to bad neighborhoods for work.

I hated the idea he had a gun. I knew it could be turned against him in a nanosecond. Lets face it many people who keep or carry guns are not skilled at using them in a crisis. I despised the idea there was a gun in his bedroom, in our house. It gave me nightmares. I felt unsafe. Especially when my parents fought.

So its hard for me to fathom why so many of my neighbors are packing heat. Is it to ward off an intruder? To blow away a raccoon thats tipping the garbage can?

Is it becoming a suburban must-have like a lawn mower, a leaf blower, a grill?

If I had to make bets, Id have thought one particular neighbor would have a gun, maybe even a few. Hes reclusive and unfriendly. And yet, no purple dot on the interactive map for him. Of course, that doesnt mean he doesnt have a weapon. The map, which has stirred a national controversy over privacy issues, only publishes names and addresses of those who have pistol permits. New York law does not require a permit to own a long gun, such as a rifle or shotgun.

And I wonder: If someone owns a pistol, are they more likely to also own a rifle? A shotgun? An assault weapon? An arsenal? A rocket launcher? Is it wrong to assume that where there is one gun, there is another? And what about those who own weapons illegally?

I have never considered owning a gun I dont think I ever could. I live in a relatively safe neighborhood. Im well aware that many times a gun owners gun is turned against them in an incident. And I could never shoot anyone.

But I am thinking about a bulletproof vest. Maybe my gun-owning neighbors have a catalog I could thumb through?

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