I once owned a gun. A real fancy, brand spankin’ new .357 Magnum. It was gifted to me on my 20th birthday by a boyfriend who happened to love guns. A lot.
I say this because he regularly reveled in his arsenal. Took them out, showed them off, handled them with the glow of true reverence. His pride was a .44 Magnum with a 9-inch barrel (“just like Dirty Harry!”). He loved that gun. He also loved his shotguns and rifles and who knows what else; I wasn’t clear on the inventory because I didn’t love guns. Including the one he gave me on my 20th birthday. I would’ve preferred a sweater.
Though I spent my nascent years in the urban environs of the big city of Chicago, my early childhood was relocated to a small farm town out in the sticks where lots people probably had guns. I say that not because I know — I never heard or saw anything having to do with guns, ever, during my childhood — but because it was the Midwest, it was rural; there were likely hunters, farmers, and recreational shooters immersed in the culture. It just wasn’t a theme of social conversation.
My own family, however, did not own guns. We were neither farmers nor hunters, target shooting wasn’t on the agenda, so I’m pretty sure I never saw one in real life until I met my .357 bestowing boyfriend. And the only time I actually put my finger on a trigger and pulled was the one occasion he took me shooting, him with his trusty “Dirty Harry”; me, my shiny new revolver. He was excited to share this favorite activity; I was not. There were cans and bottles and fruit of various sizes and colors balanced on a fence across the way—you’ve seen the scene in countless movies—and shooting commenced. I’m quite certain I was a lousy shot… how could I not be? But frankly I don’t remember much about that day other than I hated the exercise. The violence of it; the recoil, the BOOM, the impact… the power. The clear understanding that this hunk of metal could impart incalculable damage, and my absolute confusion about why I would want to do that.
He was not happy with me and we never went shooting again. When we broke up several months later, I did not take the gift with me, leaving it, instead, for his closet arsenal. Though I do remember him threatening me and my new boyfriend with one of his guns when it became clear I was not coming back. I heard he became a police officer.
I never touched a gun again. Just not my thing. And though I’ve lived the bulk of my adult life in the much maligned and largely misunderstood city of Los Angeles, occasionally in dubious neighborhoods where crime was high and gunshots were audible, I never felt the need to own a gun. Maybe I’ve been lucky; maybe I’ve been smart. Maybe it’s circumstance, happenstance; the roll of the dice. Certainly I’ve been in dicey situations from time to time, but I always managed to extricate myself without the use of, or desire for, a firearm.
I do, however, understand that there are circumstances when having a gun for protection is logical, and I also get that some people enjoy the sport of shooting… to each his own. But the prevailing message of, “I need a gun for protection” is not true for many (most?) people. But it’s a meme at this point, driven by 2A zealots, gun manufacturers, right wing groups, the NRA, and those whose identity, sense of power, and need to present as well-armed (we’ve seen the pictures on social media) have aggrandized guns to the point of fetishization. Given the repetitive and relentless experience of mass shootings, given the Republican Party’s general gun recalcitrance (they have, after all, claimed AR-15s are excellent for shooting feral pigs, prairie dogs, and raccoons); given the cultish attachment of so many to their possession and protection of guns, what do we suppose will ever be done about this uniquely American problem of gun violence?
I don’t know. I’ve already written reams on the topic. My thoughts have been published in articles going back to 2013, even before the slaughter of Sandy Hook’s children, which should have sparked tangible change but didn’t. Click on any one; I don’t need to be redundant here.
What I do want to put on the table is this: Outside of discussions of mental health, background checks, age of possession, NRA influence, etc., is the fact that, in reality, the horrors and tragedies of mass shootings, as horrible and tragic as they are, do not comprise the bulk of American gun deaths. The incidences of gun owners using their weapons in protection of families and properties don’t either. In fact, the three biggest categories of gun mayhem and death, by a long shot (no pun intended) are suicide, and injuries and deaths that are “willful, malicious, or accidental.”
Which means, which proves, that the obscene proliferation of guns in America, exceedingly, excessively, greater than any other country on earth, is built on the lie that, “we need guns for protection.”
We don’t, actually, given how infrequently they’re used for that purpose, at least per the above chart. It seems that myriad other ways have been utilized to protect oneself, one’s property, one’s family. Statistics—pesky, undeniable, and oft-times humbling—make that clear.
Defensive use rates only sixth in the above chart of nine categories.
Which illustrates the confirmation bias and rejection of facts held by the more than 84 million Americans who own guns. At least the ones who rail and rally behind the disproven “need” to own them for defensive purposes. That disconnect has caused our country to horde and accumulate an obscene number of guns for the sake of a myth.
Right now Congress is debating various new legislation: raising the age of ownership of AR-15s, enforcing background checks more universally, various other band aids (and band aids are better than nothing). But the bigger issue is the delusion within the greater “American think,” the meme that tricks people into believing they must own a gun to protect who and what they love most. It’s a clever ruse, because who wouldn’t put their life on the line to protect their child, their spouse, their parent? Who wouldn’t defend their business, their workers, their colleagues?
What do we do with that? I don’t know. All I know is, I held that .357 Magnum and could feel its weight, its heft, its power, and as I pulled the trigger, absorbed the kickback, and watched it blow apart whatever I managed to hit, I could only imagine what it would do a body. I put it down and never picked it up again.
I will defend myself, my home, and my loved ones to the death. I just won’t do it with a gun. Statistics tell me that’s a sensible philosophy.
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