Motown gunslingers

Boom, boom, boom, boom, gonna shoot you right down. 
—John Lee Hooker

I was taking a brisk health walk on Belle Isle, avoiding the goose dung that seems to be everywhere, when a van with tinted windows pulled up next to me. The window rolled down and my pal Mulenga Harangua waved from behind the wheel.

"Hey, what's going on Mulenga?"

"I'm enjoying a free ride around the island before they slap an entry fee on a brotha. Get in and take a ride with me."

I opened the door and hopped in. The back of the van was packed with bales of straw. It smelled like harvest time on the family farm.

"Why all the straw? Are you collecting props for a Green Acres revival?" I peered around the bales. "Is Arnold the pig back there?"

"I wish he was. Then I'd be eating some serious pork chops tomorrow. I'd smoke me a couple of hams, get some chitlins, pork loins, bacon, ribs and pig's feet. I'd make me some head cheese. I'd even have some pig-tail soup. I'd be eating high, low, front and back on the hog."

For a moment the taste of my mother's homemade headcheese washed across my tongue. Then the barnyard smell hit my nose again.

"So what's the straw about?"

"I'm building a pistol range in my basement."

"A what?"

Mulenga reached inside his coat and pulled out a handgun that looked like a cannon to me. He waved it in my direction as I shrank away trying to make myself as small as possible. "I need to get some practice with this. And I figure I can make some money by renting the facilities to a few neighbors."

"Where'd you get that?"

"Don't ask, don't tell," he said with a laugh.

"What the hell is it for?"

"This is a new day in Detroit, man. Things are changing, and I decided to get on with the changes. No more looking back." Mulenga slid the gat back inside his jacket.

"But what does that have to do with carrying around a lethal weapon?"

"Anything can be a lethal weapon. This van could be a lethal weapon; a stick could be a lethal weapon. Hey, I could kill you with a slingshot and a peach pit."

"With you behind the wheel I'm sure this could be a lethal weapon, but why a gun the size of Texas?"

"I'm just getting with the program. Didn't you hear about all the new City Council members carrying guns? They want the city to change, be like them. I'm getting with the program."

I looked out the window at a couple of kids playing in a picnic area. One of them had a stick he held like a rifle to shoot at his playmate. When the other kid didn't fall down the one with the stick ran over and smacked him across the side of his head. I groaned inwardly and thought about intervening, but Mulenga pressed the gas pedal and we sped away.

Yeah, I'd heard about the pistol-packing gang we'll have in office come January — Kwame Kenyatta, Charles Pugh, Gary Brown and James Tate. The Rev. Andrew Spivey, who looks like a Fruit of Islam member in his bow tie and neatly slicked hair, applied for a concealed weapons permit after the election. I'm guessing that we'll not be seeing any ordinance restricting the carrying of handguns around here. The National Rifle Association is going to love this bunch.

"You see all these open lots in the city. It's the Wild West again," Mulenga howls. "Every man for himself. I'm a pioneer in the newly rural Detroit."

I racked my brain trying to remember instances of any politicians who saved themselves from violence by virtue of packing a gun. Nothing. Then I tried to remember any reports of average citizens who saved themselves with a gun. Nope. However I did recall numerous instances of little kids finding a gun in the closet and accidentally killing a sibling or friend. Not to mention a couple of pro athletes managing to shoot themselves — former Michigan State receiver Plaxico Burress is Exhibit A.

Maybe folks feel safer packing heat, but a little time searching on Google doesn't bring much in the way of answers. There are several pro-gun websites with anecdotal stories about folks protecting themselves with guns. But nothing I would consider independently verified. The only actual news piece came last month when a pistol-packing mama in Pennsylvania, who often bragged about carrying her Glock 26 for self-protection, was killed by her husband in what police refer to as a murder-suicide.

A University of Pennsylvania researcher recently applied scientific methodology to the issue in tracking shooting victims in Philadelphia. His finding was that guns did not, on average, protect gun toters from being shot in an assault. Instead, they raised the risk of being shot by more than four times. Of course, his methodology is under attack from the gun lobby.

Meanwhile on Belle Isle, Mulenga was feeling his oats. "Nobody's gonna mess with me now. I'll pop a cap in a MF."

"You think that's how they should encourage people to resolve conflict?"

"Conflict, whatever. I'm ready for anybody, cops, the Klan, and that big-ass dog my neighbor has. You know these council members have to go around some raggedy neighborhoods. Have you seen how big the rats are around here? I saw one take a pit bull down. One of them suckers come after me it'll be boom, boom, boom."

"Maybe it would be better if they carried pepper spray or a Taser."

"Naw, they need gun racks in those city cars they drive around. I'm hoping one of them hires me for their security detail."

"I think they have police officers for that."

"I'm talking about real security. Have you seen those little pea shooters the cops carry?" Mulenga was getting excited. He pulled out his gat and waved it around. "Now this is some real security."

"Let me out of here before one of us gets hurt."

Mulenga screeched over to the curb and I got out. "This is the future, man," he called after me. "You got to be a real man to hold out in Detroit these days."

I shrugged my shoulders as I walked away — didn't even want to look at him.

Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]