My great-grandfather owned a grocery store and butchered his own cows. He'd take his shotgun down to the cow pasture, pick out a good one, and BLAM. Then they'd hang it up from some ropes and butcher it. Right there in the dirt road, they'd do it. In fact, on the road to my great-uncle Calvin's farm, at the end of the little lane most of my father's family lived on, is an antique remnant of how people used to once upon a time kill cows, which is two poles in the ground, a pole across the top, from which rope would hang the cow while they butchered it. Very quaint, very 1930s.
Anyway, one day my great-grandfather took his 12-year-old son Joseph out to the cow pasture to shoot a cow for butchering to sell in the shop. While walking down the dirt road, my great-grandfather tripped and fell on his shotgun, which went off and instantly killed him. Right in front of my 12-year-old grandfather.
There are some mumbled family rumors about how in the Sam Hill THAT happened; my great-grandfather was a seasoned, knowledgeable gun owner. Why'd he take the safety off before they got to the cows? (See where I'm going with this? Accidental suicide is where I'm going with this.) Which is horrifying, right? Why in the world would a father even do that in front of his 12-year-old boy? It didn't really seem like my great-grandfather's style. So nobody really knows; it was most likely a really big mistake, unless it wasn't. A tragic accident.
My point with this story is that guns are dangerous. Even the most very knowledgeable, seasoned gun owners can make a tragic, permanent mistake. My family has a history of tragic accidents with guns, and thus we are a testament to how very, very careful and respectful humans should be with tools they create, particularly when they create tools that are specifically designed kill other living things. Since sometimes they themselves may end up being one of the killed living things.
I was raised by a man who loved guns, who was raised by a man who loved guns, who was raised by a long line of men who loved guns. They were farmers and hunters and soldiers who used them to kill cows and deer and bring home meat for their families and sometimes killed other human beings when their government told them to. The key word here, I think, is KILL. Guns are tools, and they are tools designed and used to kill.
Human beings, by nature, are killers. Some of us are conscientious objectors to it, and we get on Social Media and cry WHY??? WHY?!?!?! when killing happens. And yet, we still all do it, this killing business. We cut down trees to build houses and make books, and so we kill trees. You eat vegetables? Killing plants. I mean, it's just what we do. Survival of the fittest. We must eat to survive, we must have shelter. We are a smart species, we have evolved opposable thumbs and larger brains. But we are still very much cave people, in many ways; our main goal is always to survive the best. And we are not immune to the forces of Nature and other species that also want to survive. You go out in a tornado? That tornado will smack you in the brain with a large, flying object and kill you. You get in the water with Jaws? He's got big teeth he's going to use as tools to kill you. Circle of Life.
But this San Bernardino thing...Sandy Hook, Connecticut...movie theater shootings...gas station shootouts...crazy ex-husbands going after wives they abused...acts of passion...someone snaps after years of struggling with mental health and takes handfuls of other human beings down with them. The other morning I saw a local news story about a 7 year old who found her mom's boyfriend's hand gun in their sofa, picked it up to look at it, and it went off in her face, killing her instantly. The mom was interviewed on TV and was so very matter of fact about it. Guns are just in their home. It was a tragic accident. She said. Flatly.
Tragic accident. I know everyone handles grief differently, but the woman didn't even have a single trace of affect on her face; this sort of thing just happens where she's from. Just matter-of-fact: my kid was a tragic accident. Jesus Christ.
And yet. I was raised by a gun owners, so I get it, gun lovers. Yes, yes, yes. We're all going to be running to YOUR houses for protection when the Zombie Apocalypse hits. Be assured: I'll be the first one at your door, ringing your doorbell, hiding behind you as you shoot down the zombies. And also please know: there IS a part of me that would really like to go to a gun range and wear some big earphones and safety glasses and feel the sexy power of a Glock in my hands as I shoot at some paper person 50 feet away. I have girlfriends who swear that's better than having an orgasm. I mean...for real?! I can't even. And if that's the truth, then hell yeah. I think about having an orgasm with a Glock once in awhile. What warm-blooded girl wouldn't?
But you know what else I think about? I think about all the times my dad laid out his antique shotguns and pistols to clean them. And I think about how, every time he did, he described in careful detail exactly what a discharged bullet from one of them could do to a human body. And about how you never know if a gun is truly empty...you can never ever be sure, and that's why they have safety locks.
I think about WHY my father would have these talks with my brother and me when we were children. I think about how our gun cabinet - displayed proudly and prominently in our foyer - was always locked but had a glass door on it. And I think about how, after my father died and my mom's house was robbed, that very gun cabinet's glass door was smashed in and every single shotgun in it had been taken out and carefully laid on the floor in front of the cabinet. The thieves had been considering, pondering...how to get them all out of the house? And in the end, clearly decided to leave them - maybe they were in too much of a hurry...or maybe it was just too risky to be seen walking out of a house with a bunch of long shotguns. I wish you could see, in your mind, what I am seeing in mine...the image of all of my father's guns carefully laid out on the floor, and not taken simply because there were too many. Had they been able to figure out how to do it, those guns could have been used for any purpose - robbing, maiming, killing. It was a chilling thing. They carefully laid every single shotgun out; they desperately wanted them. Just couldn't figure out how to do it quietly.
I think about WHY my father, a graduate of military college and an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, raised by Navy veterans of World War II who sat around and told lots and lots of War-Is-Hell stories to the point all my young father ever wanted was to grab a gun and go kill some enemies of the United States...I think about WHY my father would not only never teach his own son how to shoot a gun and kill a deer, but would also actively and vocally discourage him from going to war. From shooting another living thing.
I think about the story my mother once told me about my father, who was in the throes of a very deep and gripping depression as he struggled with alcohol addiction and several bad punches Life hit him with...I think about my dad sitting on the edge of a tub with one of his pistols in his hands, pondering. And telling my mom, when she walked in on him and asked, that he'd just been cleaning it. But there was a stray bullet in the sink.
I think about how, after my father died and my mother was cleaning out his closet, she found a pistol on the top shelf of that closet. I think about how bad it scared her just to touch it and that, later, she had the police officer husband of a friend come over to take it down. She wanted him to make absolutely sure it was unloaded before she put it in the gun cabinet. I think about how it wasn't unloaded. I think about how it had bullets in it still. And the safety was off. I think about how many times my father warned me as a child about guns that had bullets in them. And I think about how my father's father witnessed his own father die from a gunshot. And that my father hadn't bothered to put the safety on his own gun. That had bullets in it.
I don't want to take away anybody's guns. I know some people use them to go get meat for their family. I know some people use them for fun and pleasure and kinky simulated orgasms. I know some people are absolutely convinced that, every single night, there are like all these stealth ninjas with AK-47s lurking in their bushes and the only way they'll possibly be able to save themselves and their children is if they own an arsenal of guns.
Yes, I totally get it, gun owners. And I promise, as the child of a gun owner and the granddaughter of gun owners, I WANT you to have access to guns.
But can we agree that 7 year olds shooting themselves in the face isn't okay? Can we agree that people walking into crowded public areas and shooting at random is a bad thing? Can we agree that the answer is actually NOT to put MORE guns into the atmosphere, but maybe to be more careful about who gets them?
(I know...I KNOW. This is where your hackles go up and you grab your NRA paraphernalia/talking points and start handing me inane little facts about people stabbing each other with knives and so maybe we should control knives better. Stop. Just stop it.)
It's just. I just don't want anyone's mommies and daddies innocently enjoying a day at work to die just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't want that to happen anymore. And I absolutely don't want anyone's babies who are learning their ABCs and just starting to add and subtract to die. As a mother, I cannot even begin to tell you the clutches of fear and anguish this thought sends me into; I can SEE my own child in every single one of those Sandy Hook kids' faces...I can FEEL exactly what I imagine those mothers felt when they were told their little girl or boy was one of the children who didn't make it out alive.
When I was growing up, we lived in Oklahoma and one of our neighbors in the back of us was arrested because he shot and killed another neighbor over a disagreement about which extra inch of yard belonged to whom. Did you know? Back in 1979, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, somebody once died because he dared to argue about one goddamn inch of grass.
I'm tired of angry, vigilante assholes being given access to tools so they can play God. And I'm tired of people driving around the streets with guns in their glove compartments, flying into a momentarily psycho road rage, pulling out that gun and doing something stupidly blind and tragic with it. And I'm tired of reading news stories about drive by shootings because a lot of the children I work with deal with this, a lot, and their stories - always told in very matter-of-fact words with a very innocent and naive viewpoint on it - break my heart. And I'm just so fucking tired of guns and our passion for guns in this country. Why are we not as passionate about children living in poverty, why are we not passionate about children who go to bed or wake up with hunger? Why are we not angry and passionate about children who are homeless, living with adults who hurt them.
But I get it. You love them, and the Constitution says you can have them. And god forbid we mess with a 226-year-old document that's been already been amended 27 times and is probably due for a few more.
A very large part of the problem is that we are a sick country. Our mental health care system is broken. Our justice system is antiquated, racist, and ineffective. We pour money into tax breaks for people who need it least and hoard help from people who need it most. We distract ourselves with dumb issues and pointlessness so we don't have to address the real heartbreaking ones. It's so easy to demand and defend your 2nd amendment right when you're not the one picking out clothes for your child to wear in a coffin.
How does it make me a terribly wrong and misguided person to want like just three more laws controlling how we distribute firearms that aren't designed to kill Bambie or The Yearling, but are absolutely designed to end human life? Why is it bad for me to say: cool, own your guns but why the hell do you need the assault rifle? Put the assault rifle back.
Why am I the crazy one to want a few more laws that say: hey, you have to wait a little longer before you can have that semi-automatic...hey, you have to pass this mental health test before you can get that Glock...Oh, you want a gun? Well, sure but you'll need to pay gun insurance to own one, just like you pay car insurance...hey, you can have an AK-47, a Glock, and a shotgun in your house, but that's all. Why do you need more than that? Are you building your own personal Army or something? This ain't Waco.
I know there are gun control advocates out there who want A LOT of control. I am not one of them; I'm not saying: get rid of all the guns, America. I know there are assassin ninjas in your bushes and you're constantly being threatened by gangstas in hoodies.
I just want babies to stop dying. And I want gun enthusiasts to acknowledge, goddammit, that if you own a gun, YES. There can be tragic accidents. Just please acknowledge they're weapons of destruction, and if you own one there can be tragic accidents. My very own gun enthusiast father did this all the time, and was almost a victim of it himself. And his grandfather certainly was. Stop acting like just because you practice at a gun range every other weekend that you're a freaking expert on guns. You are not a gun expert; you're a weekend cowboy/cowgirl. And so stop talking like you know EXACTLY what you'd do if a crazed gun man started shooting up the restaurant you're eating at; be real with yourself. Because you have no IDEA what you'll do, exactly, how you'll act until you actually go through one of those situations and god forbid you ever are in a situation where you have to go through something like that. Trained, skilled police officers will tell you they have to LEARN how to control themselves in those highly charged situations, and it is very hard. Stop acting like you think you're Dirty Harry and get real: owning guns makes you feel safer and more in control of a world you're actually quite afraid of, and admit they also maybe make you feel very bad ass. And please acknowledge that you probably have an issue that you might need to address if you keep needing to buy more guns, that two or three just don't seem to be quite enough for you. Even though you aren't a cop, a soldier, or a hired assassin.
Guns are tragic. People are crazy. People love crazy, tragic things. We crave dangerous romance.
Which is why the FDA regulates our foods and drugs. And our money is regulated. And how we build roads. And how many safety features our cars have; and now we have laws making us wear seatbelts, or fine us for texting or put us in jail for drinking while driving. And there are building codes so our houses don't topple down and crush us. And we pay good money to make sure we have police protection in case our guns don't stop the ninjas in our bushes, and for firefighters in case the bush ninjas set our homes ablaze. And I know all those regulations really chap some of your asses, especially those of you who love guns, because they're all examples of TOO MUCH GOVERNMENT. (And I also think you're totally missing the point while enjoying a longer and more comfortable life than people had in the Wild West you so romanticize.)
I just don't get why asking for some extra regulations on tools specifically designed to end life makes ME the crazy one. Jesus God, I only own knives and numb chucks.