I Once Owned a Gun…

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.

Photo by Ekaterina Shevchenko on Unsplash

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.

• Let’s Stop Just Talking About Gun Control, 2013

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.”

From www.gunviolencearchive.org

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.


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

America. Land of the Free, Home of the…Incredibly Selfish?

Listening to an elected congressman, too-loose mask slipping below his nose, finger pointing, voice crackling with indignation, demand to know just when Americans can “get their liberty and freedoms back,” might have, in other circumstances, inspired a round of applause. After all, our liberties and freedoms are what make us uniquely American, for God’s sake, so any attempt to diminish, limit, or impose upon those vaunted privileges is certainly something to protest.

Of course, in this case we’re talking about ever-contrarian, “I scream before I talk” Republican congressman, Jim Jordan, whose permanently aggrieved brand of discourse has been painfully endured for years (who could forget the Benghazi hearings?), and who’s now decided that Dr. Anthony Fauci, with his prescription of precautions — masks, distancing, hand washing — designed to mitigate the already horrific death toll of COVID (nearing 600,000 Americans), is to be excoriated for the audacity of presuming Americans give a damn about each other.

When a sitting congressman frames commonsense steps to help keep each other healthy and safe as denials of our “liberties and freedoms,” you know you are in the Land of the Selfish. Jim Jordan is, apparently, a leader in that land

As we watch and listen to right wing pundits, Republican senators and representatives, conservative media, et al., take “bold” and outspoken stands against science, against logic, against any notion of “for the greater good,” I’m struck by how uniquely selfish Americans are. Maybe we always were — considering Manifest Destiny and the scourge of slavery that seems a good bet — but at this particular historical conflation of a deadly global pandemic, systemic racism, and the ongoing, never-ending, deeply disturbing epidemic of gun violence, that selfishness has come into high relief, making clear how destructive misunderstandings about the true definitions of “liberty and freedom” have become.

If you were to listen to a Republican, whether a stalwart oldie or one of the newer, more incendiary of the party, you’d believe that “liberties and freedoms” mean, “I can do, have, be, own, behave, respond, react in any way I want, regardless of impact, damage, or injury to others.” This blanket mandate extends to everything from wearing a mask during a pandemic, supporting logical gun laws, right up to everyday things like keeping your dog on a leash, or not calling the police when a Black person sits in a Starbucks.

Why are Americans so selfish? How have they twisted the notion of personal freedom into expressions of “carelessness” in its most literal definition? Societies and communities have survived over the hundreds of years of this country because of rules and laws that evolved out of need, as a response to events, reaction to problems; the understanding that a thriving whole is nurtured by the compassionate one.

What we’ve got now is a toxic brand of individualism that’s really more about entitlement mixed with hardcore self-centeredness.

According to Jim Jordan and other hissy-fitting right wingers, just the simple, self-and-other protective act of wearing a mask during a raging pandemic is his — their — “lost liberty.” Rather than frame it as a small but effective step they can participate in to help keep others safe, help the country overcome the pandemic, even help keep themselves from being infected, they’ve chosen to stamp their feet and declare such an “ask” as something oppressive, an infringement, because, dammit, that cloth on my face is just an intolerable assault on my personal liberties and freedoms!

The sheer childishness of that kind of response to a thoughtful, simple action meant to assist the “greater good” is just one small example of the great plague of American selfishness. Instead of the solidarity of, “we’re all in this together; what can we do to help our fellow Americans?”, we get a grown man waving his arms around, demanding that the renowned scientist he’s berating give him a date, a metric, dammit, for when all this foolishness will be over. Even the question is the height of stupidity, given that NO ONE can predict when this will all be over, but asking is endemic of the juvenile, tantrumming position this man and others have taken.

Meanwhile, the daily average of new COVID cases is over 70,000, but JIM JORDAN WANTS HIS LIBERTIES BACK.

I sometimes think about Great Britain in WWII, how the citizens of that country had to work together, in union, solidarity, and with great deprivation, to survive the almost-year-long Nazi “blitz,” and imagine that if Americans were asked to make such a sacrifice, Jim Jordan and the Republicans would be screeching about the oppression of blackout curtains and rationed butter. It seems whatever admirable independence is part of the American DNA has been, for far too many, subverted into a kind of corrosive civic narcissism. “What I need, want, think, demand is all that matters, damn the Nazis!” Would we have survived as well as England? I doubt it.

We see that same American egocentrism play out in the deadly, relentless gun debate, where rabid 2A zealots like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and so many others have prioritized their rights and freedoms over any discussion whatsoever that might help mitigate the over-ease of gun purchases, the lack of enforced regulations and due diligence of gun purchasers; the rethinking of a Constitutional amendment that is antiquated, misinterpreted, and couldn’t possibly have foreseen the current rash of assault weaponry and the country’s appetite to own such guns. As we’re daily met with news reports of mass shootings, domestic gun violence, suicides, gang wars, death on a massive scale, there feels to be no answers, because that egocentrism is so pervasive, so loud and threatening, so almost-violent in its pushback, that sane people looking for solutions to our gun violence epidemic are shouted down and finger-wagged much like Dr. Fauci in front of a sputtering Jim Jordan.

What is the answer? I don’t know. Well, actually, I do know: the answer is that Americans have to evolve beyond their conviction that their personal independence — “liberties and freedoms” —is rationale, justification, defense of selfishness. Just as Brits joined in solidarity to survive the deadly onslaught on their country without framing it as a loss of liberty and freedom, so can Americans do the same regarding our particular “wars.”

Of course, that would take an attitude adjustment. A reframing of “united states.” A willingness to care about, empathize with, and humanize those outside our personal circles to actually DO what’s best for the greatest good. Are Americans capable of that at this moment in time?

As I watch Jim Jordan haranguing Fauci, as I read Boebert’s and Greene’s toxic pro-gun tweets, as I note the racism and bigotry insinuated in our systems, as I witness continued refusal to take necessary steps to stymie the gun wars, I fear that Americans of the 21st century have lost their ability, their will, their compassion to act in global, national, and personal solidarity to make the world a safer, more just, more functional place for all people.

Are we really going to let that be our American identity? I hope not. My liberties and freedoms are not threatened by wearing a mask. By pushing for better gun laws. By considering equity as essential. In fact, my ability to participate in and contribute to those goals IS what makes me a good American.

Think about that, Jim Jordan.

Photo of Jim Jordan by Gage Skidmore @ Creative Commons


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.