Gun Free Zone.
Last June, when the United States erupted yet again with another act of mass shooting terrorism in Charleston, my wife and I were camping in the remote mountains of Montana.
This week Obama mandated an Executive Order initiating a multi-tiered approach to gun control and funds for mental illness. After he spoke of the numbness in the commonality of mass shootings, I resurfaced the piece below to share how Charleston’s murders affected us and the paranoia we felt camping in an open carry state.
Nine churchgoers in Charleston South Carolina were murdered. Murdered by an insane white kid with easy access to guns.
Even though we’re off the grid, I have just enough cell service to receive my daily news alerts.
I read the news and told my wife. She cried. I felt sick.
This was a hate crime, racially motivated killings. Senseless. Heartless. Terrorism. I’m afraid to be here, camping, which is weird as we’re white, well at least I am. My wife is Latina but can pass. We’re gay, which can be something. Mostly I feel exposed, as if our 1964 Aristocrat Loliner, a 13-foot canned ham trailer, advertises our city sleeking, gun-less, liberal ways.
This is our second time to this campsite. It’s near perfect here. Remote. Breathtaking. Healing warm waters. We rarely wear our bathing suits. Weekdays are perfection as we mostly have the place to ourselves.
Weekends tend to bring the fifth wheels, rigs that rival Seattle apartments. Campsites fill and paradise vanishes for a forty-eight hour festival of ATV’s, generators and gun-toting white people.
We endure those 48-hours as we know tranquility lies on the other side.
The camp-host Bill took a deep liking to us. He takes care of us, making sure we have enough shade from the 100-degree heat by adding stakes to our awning and cruising by nightly with extra firewood. And older guy, he could easily be 55 or 75. Toothless, it’s hard to tell. He told us Obama is “a n*gger”. Then he said he voted for him the second time round. He told us everybody has guns. It’s Montana.
After reading the news I sought out Facebook for details. I needed to understand. I wanted to know what happened. I felt nauseous as I absorbed the magnitude. I wanted to know nothing. It’s all too disturbing. I shut my phone off.
I watched the clouds soar by. Threw ball into the water for our two labs. Pressed my body against the hot rocks on the beach. Looked at the Great North and asked why? How?
I was pissed. At mindless policing. At politicians. At Americans for allowing this senseless hatred to exist. I paddle-boarded. Walked around the campsite. Told the chubby little kid in the disco ball site to quit lighting matches as a forest fire is a spark away. He paused for a second, starred at me blankly, and lit a few more. I watched astonished. He grew bored with the matches and picked up his rifle. Maybe a BB gun. Hard to stay. He aimed it all around.
I retreated back into Facebook. Back to the nine, mostly women, who were shot. I avoided the killer. I’m sick of killers. It’s a little late to start caring about their mental illness and all the other signs leading to violence. When mental illness becomes terrorism, that’s a sure sign that we know longer care. All terrorists are mental ill. Sick with hatred. Fucked beyond comprehension. Out of love, in fear with everything. I don’t care to know this kid or any other deranged kid unless we’re helping them before it’s too late, before they strike again.
We drank whiskey early. Chased it with wine. Lit a campfire. Dazed in dismay at the ease of having a gun, ease of shooting a gun, ease at which people point, pull and kill. We grew increasingly self-conscious as night fell. No longer wrapped safely in the spirit of mountains and river and wildlife. The hatred felt palpable. It had to be in our minds.
The next morning I again sought comfort in the shared values of my Facebook feed. Grief everywhere. Stories of forgiveness by the surviving families. A manifesto. The desire to start a race war.
There was nowhere to go. You can’t escape that. That hatred is contagious.
Again, device off. Again retreating to nature. Distracted. Unfocused. Wanting to go home. Needing to escape from the F350s, holsters and cigarette smoke.
We decided to flee the campsite for the liberal bastion of Whitefish. We needed to feel safe. Clean. Away from the dirt, even if just for a few hours.
We pulled into camp at nightfall. The weekend was upon us. Fires crackling. Rigs and hotrods, hooting and hollering filled the campsite. We wanted quiet. Solace. A place to be prayerful. To feel the sacredness a life. Instead we were anxious.
Everybody looked like a killer. The guy at the beach fishing with his family with his pistol strapped to his waist. The elder couple and their two little yippy dogs by the bathroom, they had guns. Across the way, the disco campsite with their the camouflage baseball caps and bellies too large for the confines of their “Kiss me, I’m not your cousin” t-shirts, felt like a racist playground, a KKK meeting in the making.
Early the next morning we decided to cut our trip short. Even though we’d reserved the site for another week, there was no way to stay. We couldn’t play cribbage, swim, or read in the hammock as our neighbors went off in their boats with their beers and guns.
We felt alone in our grief, as the rhetoric of guns are my rights grew louder with each mass shooting. We’d heard the propaganda before. We knew the NRA was arming its members with vitriol so hateful that it promoted more violence. We were surrounded by card-carrying members.
And we also knew that, mostly likely, everybody at the campsite was a good person, a family person, people who love the outdoors, yet our values about guns isolated us. We wanted to post a sign at our campsite stating Gun Free Zone, a demarcation signaling that guns aren’t welcome here. Thing is bullets don’t read signs. They have this heartless way of finding those minding their own business.
Our only solace was home, Seattle, our bubble of progressive ideals. All year we had dreamed of this time in nature, remote and away from the chaos and danger of the city, only to realize you don’t leave it behind. It’s disillusioning to grasp that danger is everywhere. It’s utterly depressing to feel like guns vs. humanity is an endless battle. People are killing people. And guns are killing our ability to feel safe in havens like the beautiful shores of Hunger Horse Montana, school, church, movie theaters. When will enough be enough?