By John Rydell
Recently, my ever-patient real estate agent picked me up on a Saturday morning to show me yet another house during my exhaustive search for the perfect home.
When we arrived at the single-family house in Reisterstown, there was no “for sale” sign in the front yard. I thought that was odd, but was assured by the veteran realtor she had the correct address. The door was unlocked, so we entered to begin our tour. Moments later, a man in his 60’s emerged from the kitchen with a stunned look on his face and yelled “What are you doing in my house!” The bewildered agent quickly glanced at her listing sheet and discovered we had entered the wrong house. The home for sale was on East Chestnut Hill Lane, but we were standing in the foyer of a house on West Chestnut Hill.
I became nervous, while my realtor’s face turned red as she profusely apologized, showing the man a sheet which listed the other address. During this brief, but uncomfortable encounter, the homeowner remained remarkably calm. Perhaps, he had mistakenly received mail addressed to the other house on East Chestnut Hill. Maybe our appearance during the day did not suggest malicious intentions. He must have concluded this was nothing more than an innocent mistake. So we quickly left, and my realtor located the house actually for sale a few blocks away.
Much later, I realized how the brief encounter could have ended tragically at multiple points.
What if his home had previously been burglarized?
What if the man owned weapons? If so, would he have panicked and reached for his gun before asking who we were? And what if my realtor and I had been African American?
Honestly, I had never pondered these questions — until recently. That’s because this incident occurred more than 30 years ago. Now, hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear of another violent encounter in which innocent victims were shot and killed by agitated homeowners and motorists.
In April 2023 Ralph Yarl, an African-American teenager, went to the wrong house in search of his brothers. He was shot and wounded by a White 84-year old homeowner, Andrew Lester, who fired his gun through a glass storm door.
The same month, a White six-year-old North Carolina girl, Kinsley White, was shot by a neighbor, 24-year-old Robert Louis Singletary, when she went to retrieve a basketball that rolled into his yard.
A 20-year-old woman, Kaylin Gillis, was shot on April 15 when she and friends pulled into the wrong driveway. She paid for the simple mistake with her life, after 65-year-old homeowner Kevin Monahan shot into the vehicle, striking Gillis, who was a passenger.
Then there is the horrific case in Texas, where five people, including a 9-year old boy, were killed execution-style by a deranged gunman, who had just been asked by a neighbor to stop firing his gun outside.
As a reporter in Baltimore for more than 30 years, I covered dozens — if not hundreds of homicides — often fueled by drugs, retaliation or domestic issues. On rare occasions, I reported incidents in which an armed homeowner shot and killed a suspect who had broken into the home. In those cases, prosecutors declined to charge the homeowner with a crime. But it was extremely rare to find random shootings of innocent people who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In fact, I never thought about such scenarios in which I could become a victim. But recently, I received a small package in the mail, which was addressed to a neighbor two blocks away. As I drove to the other house, I initially had planned to pull into the driveway, get out and place the package on the front porch. But what if the homeowner (who I don’t know) suspected I was a “porch pirate” preparing to steal another package already sitting on the front step? Instead, I parked on the street and placed the package in the mailbox.
In hindsight, I’m sure I overreacted. But a report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reveals gun ownership in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the past 30 years. Americans own an estimated 434 million firearms.
How many of our neighbors now possess weapons? And will that impact our day-to-day routine?
Will members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to scale back their door-to-door preaching? Will members of high school sports teams have to curtail or eliminate their door-to-door fundraising? And will political candidates and their volunteers have to change their strategy for soliciting potential voters? With more gun ownership comes more responsibility. To randomly shoot strangers in haste, without considering the consequences, will only result in more senseless deaths while ruining the lives of those responsible.
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