A City Kid’s Open Letter to American Gun Owners
I know you don't trust me. I know we come from different worlds. But what if your loved one was one of those 59 dead?
Dear gun owners: I hear you. Let’s talk about this.
Yes, I’m a city kid, and no I don’t own any guns. The first time I saw a gun, I don’t remember where I was or what the circumstances were other than that I was in a room I wasn’t supposed to be in and there was a big handgun in that room, resting on a table. I must have been five or six years old, and I remember time slowing way down as soon as I realized I was alone in a room with a gun. It was like this glowing, radioactive thing sitting on the table. I immediately wanted to get out of there.
You didn’t have that experience. You grew up with guns hanging on the wall.
All of my childhood memories involving guns were bad. Gangsters shooting at each other on my high school campus in Berkeley. My best friend blowing his head off with a shotgun after I left for college. A grandfather I never got to meet, because he put a gun to his own head long before my mom ever married my dad. You didn’t have those experiences. Your dad taught you how to shoot when you were nine, how to put the safety on every time. I understand that your gun experiences have all been good, and mine have all been bad.
I also get that some progressive gun control arguments demean your culture as redneck and ridiculous; a culture you cherish. I'm not here to put you down or belittle you with elite liberal logic or try to make you feel bad for someone else’s family member that got killed by some lunatic. Your gun didn't do that, and it isn't your fault. Really. I hear you.
I also get that it's too late to disarm America, that if we attempted to seize every gun in the nation the only people who still had guns would by definition be criminals. I get that guns are as integral to your values and your lives as cars or pillows and blankets. To you, guns are just silverware or socket wrenches or socks. Just things you own and should be allowed to own.
I know and love people who hunt, and there’s something I can respect about killing an animal you stalked after waking up at 4 a.m.. I even understand the fear that American democracy isn't as impermeable as we might imagine, and that you want to be able to protect your family if the system breaks down or the zombie apocalypse strikes or a tyrannical president tried to impose martial law and serve a third term. If Russian troopers parachute out of the sky as I’m writing this column, I will be forced to go cower in the basement with the biggest knife I can find. In that moment I will wish that I had a bunch of guns (and that I knew how to use them.)
I get that we come from completely different places on this. But it’s hard, really hard, not to just ignore that reality in the wake of a massacre like the one in Las Vegas on Sunday. It’s hard not to dream of a utopia where neither the police nor the public pack heat, where I never have to worry about walking into a crowded mall or a sports stadium or a school for fear that will be the day some slighted or bigoted asshole or mentally ill person hearing voices decides to shoot it up.
But imagine living in a place where you don’t have to worry about it at all. Just for a moment. Wouldn’t that be nice?
I get that that feeling can’t easily translate to some logical policy prescription, especially not in this version of America, or that it's even remotely realistic to think anything will stem the blood tide that surges constantly in and out of our communities, especially in cities like Chicago, where 500 people have been shot so far this year. I don’t live in Chicago, and chances are, neither do you. I get that you probably feel like that reality doesn’t apply to you, because you worked hard and got a good job and can afford not to live in a bad neighborhood where innocent people get shot by “thugs” whom the Democratic government aren’t doing enough to “round up.” I also get that Chicago has pretty strict gun laws, and people are still shooting each other there (largely with guns purchased in Indiana.) But still. Can’t we still agree that this isn’t OK? That it’s not acceptable to feel as unsafe as we do in this supposedly democratic, first-world country. Could we just start the conversation there?
Maybe you don’t worry about becoming an innocent bystander in America’s next mass shooting. But do you ever cut people off in traffic? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that no matter how angry the person you cut off, that person probably doesn't have a weapon within arm's reach that could end your life in a millisecond? That the most severe punishment for your breach of traffic etiquette is an ass-whupping and not a funeral?
And wouldn’t it also be a good idea to try to make us more safe from each other? Every day, Americans still kill each other in this country way more and way more effectively than anybody else kills anybody else anywhere else. Because we can. Because we have so many guns that fire so many more bullets in a short period of time.
I get that we live in bubbles now, roped off into our corners, shaking our heads in this bubble at how crazy the gun nuts are for not allowing background checks and in that bubble at how crazy the libtards are for thinking it makes people safe to prevent law-abiding citizens from stockpiling whatever arsenal they damn well please. I’m clearly in the libtard bubble. I don’t think any assault rifle is mighty enough to stop a drone dispatched to your house by an out-of-control president, and I think a good shotgun is probably plenty of firepower to stop an intruder, in the highly unlikely event one breaks in. (Shotguns are pretty good for zombies, too, if you aim above the neck.) But even in that bubble, I hear you.
I wonder if we could just look one more time, all of us together, at this question: if you could keep every gun in your house, or that you ever want to buy, but a few laws were changed to make it a little less likely that someone on a terrorist watch list or who just walked out of a mental ward could buy a gun without a background check, and shoot up your kid's school or your wife's workplace; if those laws meant that the next mass shooter could only kill five people in ten minutes instead of 50, and your wife or your daughter was one of the other 45, could we talk about that? Isn’t there some way we can meet in the middle? I just want to figure out if there’s something we can maybe agree on so fewer innocent people die. Not all of them. I know it's too late for that. Just fewer. I hear you. Can we talk about this?