We Are a Nation of Gun Owners

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a chalkboard drawing of a gun with a student's hand holding the chalk

Debbie says:

Most of us heard about the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and the dead 6-year-old boy who was bouncing in the bouncy house (and three other dead people). I happen to be staying in Wisconsin, so I saw front-page news about the shooting in Chippewa Falls, in which 5 people were killed. And I read anti-racist Twitter, so I saw news about the shooting in Brooklyn, in which 1 person was killed. Turns out that’s not even half of them.  Turns out also that heat is a factor in the number of shootings, which means the climate emergency has found another way to threaten our lives.

I wouldn’t ordinarily write about this topic, because there’s so little to say. And then I found Alli Marini’s essay, Moving Targets, in the Rumpus. It’s from last year, and unsurprisingly current.

Marini grew up in the American southeast. She chronicles her life from Memphis:

Our neighbors have guns and a pen of dogs in the backyard. They are sportsmen. anHunters. Good ol’ boys with rifles and a healthy love for the 2nd Amendment. They wear camo and set up targets in their backyard. My momma is nervous around them, but I’m too young to understand why. Let me say that again: At five years old, I am too young to understand why.

to Florida:

I am seven and the neighbor who watches me and my sister after school lets us watch horror movies, even though my momma says “no.” Darlene and her brother sneak into her father’s closet one afternoon to show me A Secret. It is a gun. I do not know it at the time, but later, I will understand that it’s a .45. “It goes BANG,” Darlene says. “We’re not supposed to touch it.” Her brother closes the lid and slides it back onto the top shelf.

and another part of Florida:

We are riding in a jacked-up Ford pickup and naturally, he has a .45 in the glove and a shotgun rack hanging in the cab. We are in high school now, and there are still no active shooter drills. Her boyfriend uses the n-word a lot, and when I object—he says, “I have nothing against black folk; I think everybody should own a couple.” I am stunned and scared and I tell them to take me home. I have failed at something and I don’t know how to make it right, because let me say this again: I am fifteen, and I am too young to know how to do the right thing when there are guns in the truck.

And college in Florida:

We are living in a student rental packed with more roommates than there are rooms. Derroll … brazenly walks through the house naked. He has many, many guns in our house. He leaves a loaded .45 in the kitchen and is quick to anger when I remind him we have cats who could knock the guns off the ledges and cause them to misfire. Once, a friend bangs on our door drunk, late at night and Derroll answers the door naked, brandishing a shotgun, making my drunk friend literally piss himself. … At nineteen, I am still too young to understand the full complexity of the danger I am in when I tell a white man that I am afraid of his temper and his guns. Let me say this again: At nineteen, I am old enough to understand the fear, but not the complexity of the danger.

And on into adulthood:

I have become a statistic of my own: married young, divorced young, three husbands by the time I’m thirty-five. I move to North Florida, more rural than the no-name town I grew up in, or the touristy city where I went to undergrad. Three husbands bring guns into our homes and tell me, “It’s to keep us safe, it’s so I can protect you. So I can protect you.” They say, “Castle Law,” and I don’t understand. I am twenty, twenty-four, thirty-two: how old must a woman be before realizing that the man who pledges to protect you might be the very person you need protection from?

Besides the guns, they have another thing in common: throughout the course of each marriage, they will all raise their hands to me in anger, and I will excuse it, hide it, forgive it. How much of this is me changing myself, perverting love into obedience, twisting love into complicity in secret-keeping, excusing violence to keep the peace.

Here is another thing they share: they are all angry. They are all white men. They all believe that the world owes them something but they can’t quite articulate what and the world can’t quite deliver, and violence is their only means of discourse. They all have easy access to guns. They are proud members of the NRA. They are Responsible Gun Owners on paper, to the world that doesn’t go home with them. They all love their guns in a way that only years later, I’ll understand that they could never love me. These men love their guns because deep down, they hate a part of themselves that they cannot show to the world.

There’s a lot more. Marini is a fine writer, and she opens a window to a life that people like me in the coastal elites don’t really understand. In my late ’60s, I still wouldn’t know how to do the right thing when there are guns in the truck, but I do know there might not be a right thing.

But if 50 people can die in mass shootings in one weekend, with many more injured, and certainly many more dead and injured in single shootings, it’s damned well time and past time to figure out the right thing. We need a combination of laws, alternative outlets for anger, and cultural shifts. Ten years ago would be good.

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “We Are a Nation of Gun Owners

  1. By “coastal elite”, do you mean money- and class-privileged? Because there are plenty of guns on the coasts. I dislike the phrase, because it’s a dog-whistle much loved by the right. The left need not adopt its crappy rhetoric.

    And I think that what you’re describing boils down to “the gun problem is a problem of patriarchal white supremacy,” given the intersection of whiteness, gun-owning, domestic-violence-commiting, and active woman-hating among mass gun murderers.

    1. Of course I know that “coastal elite” is a right-wing dog whistle, and I thought about the phrase before I included it. Nonetheless, I think that it’s a pretty applicable term for people, including many who identify as liberal or progressive (including, at least occasionally, me) who tend to dismiss, denigrate, or patronize entire social classes and ways of life that we don’t understand. I appreciate Marini’s nuanced description of a life I haven’t lived.

      I think it’s a little simplistic to say that the gun problem is a problem of white supremacy, because I think you have to factor in the 2nd Amendment, American exceptionalism, frontier mentality and a handful of other things, all of which may be tangential to white supremacy, but not identical. Not to mention that many black people and other people of color own guns, often for extremely understandable reasons. Gun culture goes so deep into the American psyche — as does white supremacy — that I don’t think either can be attributed to single causes.

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