Here's a purely hypothetical story to consider, but one that is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.
After sorting out the aftermath of my wife's death, I finally decide to move into a smaller place. I go through more paperwork, more heavy lifting, more wrangling the cats so they don't accidentally get left behind or trapped in a storage box. You know how cats are.
Finally, the utilities are hooked up, my new fridge has enough food to last me a while, the cats are wrestling with each other and exploring their new digs, and I've cleaned all the piles of clothes off my bed. Satisfied that I'm settling into my new home, I decide to break out my portable charcoal grill and cook up some organic burgers on the front porch.
It's hot and humid today, but there's children running around all over the place, some on bicycles, some on skateboards, some playing hide-and-seek, with one of them hiding on my porch. I smile and get on with tending the coals.
That's when she shows up. A fairly attractive housewife, possibly in her mid-40s, had a little Botox, definitely had a child or two. Her smile can't hide the fact that she is nervous and perhaps a little jittery, but also rather inquisitive. She doesn't join me on the porch, doesn't offer her hand.
"Welcome to the neighborhood," she says in a cheerful but somewhat flat voice. "I see you're making some little friends already."
"Oh, him?" I respond, nodding towards the hide-and-seek kid on my porch. "He's fine. Just a little game he's playing with his friends."
"That's my David," the housewife says. "He's so curious, gets into everything. And I'm always worried what would happen if David came across a gun."
This conversation has certainly turned all of a sudden. "What makes you say that?" I ask as I throw the first burgers on the grill.
"Well, I had no idea until recently that studies show..."
I think to myself, is this a neighbor or an infomercial? But I listen politely:
"...around 35 percent of households with children have a gun. And everyone in our church group has committed to making sure our children stay safe from guns in the neighborhood. So I've gotten in the habit of asking everyone..."
"Wait a moment," I ask. "You HAVE talked to David about what to do if he ever finds a firearm, haven't you?"
The soccer mom shifts nervously from one foot to another. "I have, but you know how kids are. Do you have any kids?"
"I'm afraid not," I respond, not wanting to get into my whole life story at this point. The burgers are now happily sizzling over the coals. And my visitor is sweating, but I can tell it's not just from the heat.
"I feel really weird asking this, and maybe you'll think that I'm neurotic or nosy," she finally asks, " but do you keep a gun in your house?"
"You're right, that IS a little forward," I respond, flipping one of the burgers with my spatula. "Why are you asking me about my private life?"
"No, no, no, it's not about intruding on your privacy, it's about making sure my little boy is safe." She is almost stammering at this point. "I'm just asking if you keep a gun inside, that's all."
That's when I see this poor woman's questions for what they really are. She's not to blame; she's only a pawn in someone else's game - a game that is like a demented adult version of hide-and-seek, where you hide in your living room and seek out any threats, whether real or imaginary, that your peers tell you may be hiding in your neighborhood.
"Look," I finally say, "I'm a Democrat. I've served as a precinct chair, an election judge, and even a delegate to the state convention. I care deeply about keeping kids safe, and your David has nothing to fear from me at all. I will continue to work within the Democratic Party to make sure that David gets the education he needs and the healthcare he deserves, same with all the other children on this street. But I'm not going to just give up the details of my private life at the drop of a hat. Maybe I don't have any guns at all. Maybe I have some old hunting rifles I inherited from my parents. Or maybe I own a Smith & Wesson revolver. The point is, I am frankly surprised that you ask me about whether I own a gun before you even ask me if I vote, what church I attend, or anything else that has to do with my Constitutional rights. Maybe if you tried to get to know me a little more at first, I'd give you an answer to your question. But this isn't right."
The housewife's eyes have suddenly glazed over. The smoke is pouring off of the burgers.
"David, come along with Mommy, now..."
"But Mom, we're playing hide and seek..."
"Find another hiding spot, then. Do it now. Go!"
David obediently runs off to find a new hiding place, and Mom watches carefully to ensure David isn't hiding anywhere on my property.
"I'm not passing judgment on you," she tells me, "but David is really curious and into everything, and I just don't feel comfortable with him playing in a place where there are guns."
"I never said I had..."
But the housewife has already turned her back to me and started walking away. She's pushing buttons on her cellphone, and I may be mistaken, but I thought I heard her tell someone on the other end, "We have a turd in the punchbowl."
It's two weeks later, and I've got the last of the moving boxes emptied and sorted out, and I'm cooking burgers on the porch again. It's hot and humid again today, but there's children running around all over the place, some on bicycles, some on skateboards, some playing hide-and-seek, but none of them get anywhere near my porch. In fact, they seem to be afraid of my house for some reason.
I see another mom, a younger woman in her late 20's, pushing a baby stroller around. I smile and wave hello to her, but she shoots me a dirty look and shouts, "Gun lover!"
This neighborhood has been paralyzed in fear because someone decided to stick their nose where it didn't belong and ferret out details about my private life. "Not passing judgment," my eye. Someone's decided to make an example out of me.
It doesn't have to be this way. You could argue that I should simply come clean, and perhaps I would to someone who got to know me a little better, maybe even join me for a burger or two. I really shouldn't eat all of these burgers myself, after all. But until the time is right, respect my privacy in the same way that I strive to respect yours.