Friday, December 17, 2010


Here’s a little secret: I usually carry a gun. Like more than 100,000 other Oregonians, I have a concealed handgun license. That means every day I ask myself – carry or not carry?

If I’m hiking in mountain lion country it’s a no-brainer. Of course a gun makes sense. But the Valley River Mall, which was where I was headed the other day? Then I thought: mall shootings, Christmas craziness, foreclosures, guys out of money out of work out of luck out of hope. So on my one-day Christmas shopping marathon I holstered the Glock 9mm under my belt. OK, the odds are really low but what if...?

As I hustled out the mall’s exit, ignoring displays of Christmas sausage, special holiday deals and a cosmos of bright shiny objects, I bragged to myself, That may have been the fastest successful Christmas shopping trip in this mall’s history. Plus, just ten days before Christmas at high noon and I was parked in the first space right in front of the mall entrance. Timing!

Actually, my mall visit, stop number three on my excursion, wasn’t really “shopping” at all. It was “buying.” I had to buy one trinket that I had seen in an ad and I walked straight to the mall directory, found the store, went there, bought the little doodad for my wife’s Christmas stocking and walked straight out to my car.

I took a few minutes to study my shopping plan. Next stop: Home Depot. Thinking of the heavy lunch-hour traffic I decided to exit via the back of the mall parking lot. Past the JC Penney, across the parking lot, past the Firestone tire place and then on my way. 12:20 p.m. La de da.

Police shoot suspect after gunfire at mall, blared the next morning’s newspaper headline.
Police chased down the man after he reportedly fired a number of shots from a handgun as he stood in a packed Valley River Center parking lot at 12:26 p.m. Police said the man was between JC Penney and a Firestone tire outlet when he fired several gunshots.

Six minutes? Is that how close I came to crossing paths with this nut with a gun? What if I had stopped to look at a window display? What if I hadn’t parked so close to the entrance? What would I have done if I had been right there six minutes later when the guy was shooting at his demons?
No one was injured by the gunshots outside the mall, but at least one vehicle in the mall parking lot was struck, Eugene Policy Chief Kerns said.
What if that one vehicle had been mine? What would I have done? Sure, I’d have floored it if that was an option. But what if…?

A SWAT team caught the guy a few miles away and shot him sitting in his SUV “after he ignored their instructions and made constant, unpredictable motions.”

As for me, I may have narrowly missed my first gunfight. Some days it’s all about timing.


I went for a morning run in rare winter Oregon sunshine. I put Handel’s “Messiah” on my headphones. I wondered about the man I thought of as “the nut with a gun.” Turns out he was a professional killer – I’m glad we didn’t cross paths. Trained by experts in the U.S. Army, his name is Michael Thomas Mason, 27, a veteran who served combat tours in Afghanistan doing God knows what awful things. Mason confided to a former neighbor that his experience in Afghanistan was “very extreme.” And now this. He’s lying in a hospital near death.

Handel’s soaring oratorio praising an omniscient God didn’t fit the mood. I stopped and put on some early Harry Connick, Jr. I wonder what was the last music that Michael Thomas Mason heard.

Near the end of my run I found a penny in the street. You know, “See a penny, pick it up, and all day you’ll have good luck.” I carried it home and tossed it in my little pond, wishing Michael Thomas Mason happy dreams. The penny bounced on some ice and just laid there. Was that God’s way of saying “no”?

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