When I was in high school, my 14-year-old brother Bill shot himself. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds. He was holding his BB gun and it accidentally went off. I was down the hall in my bedroom, not doing homework, when he yelled my name. He was sitting on his bed, a bit stunned, unsure what to do. Our parents weren’t home and this was in the days before cell phones. Being the responsible older sister (and enjoying an opportunity for drama), I naturally called the police. A short while later, my mom pulled into our driveway, greeted by a mass of emergency vehicles. I can only imagine what was going through her mind as she drove up to that scene at her home.
Family lore has it that the BB just missed a vital nerve in my brother’s hand. My dad arrived home just after the paramedics had patched Bill up, and the cops had confiscated the gun. Dad and Bill were summoned to the police station for a good old-fashioned talking to. A few reminders about gun safety, a handshake, and my brother was reunited with his BB gun and sent on his way.
To date, this has been the only gun related incident in my life (I think this evidences my status as a gun layperson: a real gun aficionado would probably consider a BB gun a toy). As a person living in the United States in 2018, I think this makes me lucky.
After each gun massacre in our country, I go to the National Rifle Association’s Facebook page and check out the comments. I’m always curious to see how the other side processes these tragedies. Sadly, the commentary is never surprising. Or hopeful. It’s always a take on one of two varying sentiments: “now the democrats will REALLY want to take our guns”, or “we need to arm more good guys with guns.” There is never, ever, ever, even a hint of, nary a scant reference to, what I think would be an intrinsic reaction: how about less guns?
After the headlines go away, during that sweet delusional lull we experience in between mass shootings, I try to understand the mindset of the gun rights crowd. I try to grasp how two such disparate responses can result from the same set of facts. Why does the thought of more guns make some people feel safer, and others less so?
To some, it’s a matter of personal security. A few years ago, my BFF (my “best friend forever” since way before this acronym became a thing) informed me she was getting a gun. She is small, but mighty. She’s also Italian, with a bit of a temper. I didn’t think a firearm was such a great idea. But, I get it. I really do. Our generation was raised on 70s detective shows. All the greats: Charlie’s Angels, Policewoman, Daphne and Velma from Scooby Doo. I too have entertained visions of myself as armed and dangerous, with really good hair (I also like to pretend I’m Stevie Nicks when I’m in a rockstar mood).
BFF is a real estate agent, and she had legitimate reasons for wanting to be proactive. Right around the time she decided to arm herself, there had been a spate of news stories about female realtors who had been threatened or assaulted, while working alone. BFF is quite fit and more than adept at a verbal sparing. However, at a petite 5’4’’, in a physical showdown I’d put my money on the bad guy, who likely will have had more recent gun escapades. I think BFF’s money would have been better spent on a self-defense course (note to self: sign daughters up for self-defense course).
I was mugged when I was in college, walking to the train station in a sketchy area. Some guy grabbed my neck, ripped off my jewelry, and ran away. In terms of crime drama, it was pretty benign. Nevertheless, I’m sure a lot of people might immediately want to walk around armed after that. Not me. My first thought was that it was pretty naïve of Suzy from the suburbs to stroll through that part of the city flaunting her gold. I did get some mace from a cop friend however. Never used it, but it made me feel better to carry it around.
Gun culture is a thing, and it’s hard to fathom if you’ve not been a part of it growing up. I can’t legitimately lay claim to this myself, although guns were always in the distant background during my upbringing. My mother’s extended family hails from the Deep South. If one gives any credence to the stories and photos, it would seem that people were more likely to own a gun than a pair of shoes. Visits with my aunts, uncles and cousins usually included some gun related activity for the males. Hunting, target practice, general gun fondling, etc. If memory serves, when my brother and my cousin Rick turned 13, they were each gifted one of my grandfather’s shotguns. To my recollection, my girl cousins and I did not receive any such coming of age memento.
My dad, a New Yorker, was always drawn to anything having to do with guns. In another life he was a southern “good ol’ boy” or a Wild West gunslinger. He had a small, yet impressive collection of various types of firearms. They were kept secured in a closet in my parents’ bedroom. I don’t recall him using them much, beyond an occasional visit to a shooting range, a hobby he enjoyed with my brother. Like any collector, he would take them out occasionally to admire them. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. To my father, guns had a kind of artistry about them.
The gun love did not manifest itself in my own DNA, and my father’s gun stash held no special allure for me. When I was in my 20s though, dad attempted to school me on gun usage. “Suzy, have a seat, I want to show you how to use a gun.” He sat me down, put a gun in my hand and attempted to walk me through the basics. I had a marginal interest, but found handling the gun itself awkward and uncomfortable. However, I knew it made him feel like he had imparted a necessary life skill, like driving a stick shift (I’ve retained nothing about how to use a gun, but I can still drive a stick shift).
About ten years after that, my interest piqued again, and I invited myself to the shooting range with my brother. I must admit, I sort of enjoyed it. There was some sort of twisted satisfaction when the bullet hit the target. Certainly, it appealed to the vengeance loving part of me: imagining, as the target, a certain political figure or school bully is rather therapeutic. I get the same satisfaction though when I pound a chicken breast with a mallet. Or when I do a Soul Cycle class. So, I’m not sure I need a gun.
Self-protection and weapons fetishes aside, many of my fellow Americans simply believe that gun ownership is their 2nd Amendment right. Over the years, these folks have given me numerous reasons why losing this right would be a travesty. But it always seems to come down to this: apparently, an unreasonable search and seizure from our own government is just around the corner, and having your own personal militia is the only defense. To this I say, it’s the 21st century. We are all probably more at risk from a cyber attack than anything else. How exactly is a gun going to protect you from this?
Excepting law enforcement and the military, I really don’t see the need for anybody to own a gun. The basically unfettered access to them in this country seems to do more harm than good. Seriously, just where are all the “good guys with guns” that the NRA is always yammering about? If they’re out there, they’re doing a lousy job.
My eldest daughter, Katie, was an infant when the Columbine massacre occurred. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 26,000 kids under the age of 18 have been killed by gunfire since then. How about less guns, while we work on fixing all the things that are making men want to blow people away? And yes, while not a perfect science, generally they are men, and they are white.
My children have grown up in a country where their right to own a gun is given more value than their right to be alive. As my youngest daughter is finishing her school years, incoming kindergarten parents will likely be preparing their children for active shooter drills. If this thought doesn’t fill you with despair, there is something wrong with you.
Fate has been kind to me so far, but I don’t take it for granted. Last year, as I was helping Katie pack up for college, there was a lot of advice flying around about campus safety, particularly for the girls. No one was suggesting a gun, but I was encouraged to buy Katie one of those little personal alarms. It looks like a toy keychain. You attach it to your backpack and press a little button, which theoretically scares your attacker away. I felt so good when I bought this for her. About a week ago, I remembered to ask her how the alarm worked out, did it make her feel safer? She looks puzzled. “Oh that”, she says, “I never even took it out of the box.” I hope she never needs a gun either.