I hate to think I’m prone to racial profiling, but when I hear a mass shooting announced on TV, they might as well have a stock photo of an angry white guy because that’s who it’s going to be. Angry, pimply, teenaged white guy shooting up an Arby’s or a classroom. Old, angry white guy shooting up a Planned Parenthood clinic. Middle-aged white guy raining lead on a country-music festival because, what, he doesn’t like Auto-Tune or something?
We may never know the deep reasons why, but bullet-based mass murder is such a white-guy thing that I’m surprised I haven’t shot up an Arby’s yet.
I grew up fascinated with guns. My father skipped out when I was 5, and I got the idea that if I read the 1943 Marine Corps Manual he left behind, we’d have something to talk about if he ever came back. I learned to read, in part, by studying how to fieldstrip a Colt .45, how to position a Browning Automatic Rifle to protect the squad, even how to operate a flame thrower.
Guns were the essential prop device on our black-and-white TV: The Rifleman. Combat. Quick Draw McGraw. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Guns aplenty, guns ahoy, and there were guns in space once we got there, boy. There was scarcely a life form in the galaxies that didn’t get the bejesus phasered out of them on Star Trek.
My stepdad taught me to shoot when I was 9, with a .30-06 rifle. That was a big bore for a scrawny kid. The recoil felt as if I’d been punched in the shoulder by a large, angry man, a sensation I was familiar with since that was my stepdad’s description in those years.
So I’m white. I’m male. As long as I’ve been alive, guns have been a primary fetish in our society, from John Wayne to John Wick and today’s other filmic gorefests and immersive body-count video games. I grew up in a house with guns, dysfunction and the occasional whap! of violence. I’m pissed off as often as not. I could easily be squeezed into the profile of a deranged shooter.
Yet I’ve never much felt like shooting anybody. Maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe it was the Beatles coming along when they did, when doodling Rickenbackers suddenly became more fun than sketching Lugers. It also mattered that the Beatles arrived on the heels of one of our saddest gun moments, the assassination of JFK. That, and the gun murders of RFK, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Kent and Jackson State students, John Lennon, et way too many al., could give the impression that guns were doing anything but protecting our freedoms.
I’ve owned guns. I may still. They do not make me feel freer, and the statistical likelihood of my needing one to protect my family is less these days than my needing a bomb shelter. I still like the option of having a gun if there’s an intruder in our house in the middle of the night, though I’d probably have to ask him how to get the safety off.
I’m pretty sure I’d never shoot a gun in anger or in fear. That was put to the test decades ago when I had a nightmare that I’d been woken by a knock on my front door, and when I answered it, a giant, gray, smothering hand crushed me against a wall. I woke up in a wild sweat, my heart going like a second-line snare drum. And I heard KNOCKING ON MY FRONT DOOR!
“Not this time, fucker!” I said, grabbing my snub-nosed .38. I considered putting a few rounds through the thin Masonite door just to be safe, but I had the presence of mind to ask, “Who is it?” It was my then-girlfriend, who had just felt like coming by at 2:40 in the morning. I’m glad I didn’t shoot her. No one even makes a Valentine’s Day card that says, “Remember that time I put a few rounds of hollow point in you, darling?”
I’ve had some fun with guns—shooting televisions in the desert la Zabriskie Point and such—but if giving them up is part of what it takes to make our kids and country safer, I’m in.
Realistically, that’s not going to happen. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its government vassals aren’t going to budge on assault rifles. And if you think for an instant that ARs belong on the streets of America, you need to read the Atlantic piece by an emergency-room doctor who was seeing the pulped organs of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students sent there. Read it, then shut up about your precious rights, Smeagol.
Guns, particularly assault rifles, aren’t making us safer. They’re mowing us down and shaming us on the world stage, where it looks as if we’d rather forfeit our children than mitigate our addiction to guns.
But “Freedom!” “The Second Amendment!” Go suck a musket, pal. King George III isn’t billeting troops in your home, and you’re not in even a poorly regulated militia. Worried that the Russians are going to slip in and take over our country? Too late. (There are credible claims, by the way, that a Vladimir Putin-aligned Russian banker and other Ruskies are helping to fund the NRA, whose head, Wayne LaPierre, last week blamed the school shootings on the “socialist liberal elites.”)
“But cars kill more people!”
When you reload a gun, it’s because you just shot something; when you refill your car, it’s because you just drove to San Luis Obispo. Cars serve a function in our daily lives. Even so, our government periodically compels carmakers to make them safer, and you need a license and insurance to operate one.
There is a musty horde of such old gun arguments, and the generation that’s being gunned down is sick of hearing them. Through anger and tears, these kids are speaking with the clarity and vision of our Founding Fathers, tired of their lives being ruled by an elite that doesn’t hear them. Taxation without representation is a bitch, but it doesn’t compare with seeing your friends obliterated by weapons our founders would never have countenanced, while gun profiteers offer thoughts and, this time, heinous insults to the victims.
The kindest thing the far right is saying about these kids rising up is that they’re too young and emotional to have a voice in their fate. Others claim they’re tools and pawns of the media and liberal elite, or that they’re “crisis actors” paid by George Soros. These are the same kids that the right will tell you are old enough to own an AR-15, old enough to date Judge Roy Moore, and nearly old enough to die in our wars, but they shouldn’t have a voice in their friends being slaughtered?
Donald Trump says he hears them—he had a piece of paper telling him so—but he hears the NRA’s LaPierre a lot louder, parroting his words about having to “harden our schools” with more guns in the hands of teachers and custodians. Last week, Trump promised he’d do something (unlike his predecessors, he said, meaning Barack Obama, without mentioning it was Congressional Republicans who blocked Obama at every turn). Trump could start by reinstating the Obama-era law Republicans abolished last year that had made it harder for the severely mentally ill to buy guns.
Our Dana Rohrabacher and other OC Republicans were among the abolishers. You might remember that when it’s time to vote.
These kids are marching. They gathered in historic numbers in Tallahassee last week to urge Florida legislators to consider regulating assault rifles. Instead, their tone-deaf “representatives” spent the day passing a resolution declaring pornography to be a health risk to adolescents and others.
But there will be more student marches. We should join them, if they’ll have us, until marches aren’t needed and this goddamn carnage stops.