Last week I posted this picture of a billboard I spotted in East Austin.
As you can see, some imaginative individual or individuals with spray paint modified the word “firearms” to “fear.” Texas Fear Festival.
When I spotted the billboard, I did a double take. The alteration was subtle, and it took a minute to sink it. Typical Austin, I chuckled. Often referred to as “a blue dot in a sea of red,” this creative vandalism did not surprise me. The sign is located exactly one mile from The University of Texas at Austin campus, where tensions are currently rising over the recent passing of Senate Bill 11 — the campus carry law. Students plan to bring dildos to school on August 1st, 2016, the day SB 11 goes into effect, to protest the school’s ban on obscenity and not guns. (Note: August 1st is the day that Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 32 others from the UT tower in 1966.)
Though I co-wrote a film called Loves Her Gun, which follows the story of a young woman who falls into gun culture as a means to feel safe after being victim to an attack, I’ve never spoken publicly about guns. My feelings are gray, as many people’s feelings are, avoiding either extreme. I’ve shot a gun at a range, my father owns a handgun and I applaud the responsible men and women I know who own one. I have no interest in the strategic plucking of guns out of of owners’ hands, but America’s system for gun accessibility is not working, and something needs to change. Period. I do not have the answers, and I don’t pretend to. (Here are maybe a few places we can start.)
I shared the photo to my social media profiles thinking that it would get a few laughs. It did get a few laughs, then a bunch of shares, and then an explosion of comments. The producers of the gun show had shared the photo in stride and with humor, but with the sharing came an influx of commenters, a few diplomatic and most not-so-diplomatic:
“Die in a fire feminazi. You could kill yourself.”
“Hmmm…maybe we should practice head-on-curb jamming.”
“Property crime is well done? Stupid libtard.”
“If I would have seen the people responsible for this i would have beat them with an inch of thier life then claimed protection under the good samaritan act.”
There was the gentlemen who claimed Sandy Hook was a hoax, and another who posted a photo of an individual with their head blown apart. There was the man who was proud to be an “ammosexual” over a “homosexual,” and several individuals mentioned how quick “libtards” are to defend black people but hate cops.
My favorites were the man who sent me and another woman a photo of Midol and a man who called me and others “wilted lettuce eaters.”
(It’s only fair to acknowledge that the gun control advocates also resorted to name calling on the thread but refrained from threats, homophobia and racism.)
Naively, as a person who has not publicly jumped into the gun debate, I was surprised at the response the photo received. My “Well done, Austin” was a nod to the creativity of the vandalism, not the vandalism itself. As a fan of culture jamming, I thought it was an excellent example of activism and a great conversation starter (Note: The billboard is now back to its original state). However, my three words angered many. I jumped into the debate on occasion, mostly to shut down any far out claims, but I found myself sad and frustrated.
There were reasonable, articulate pro-gun individuals on the thread, ones that enjoyed a respectable debate, but they were drowned out by a larger voice, a voice full of anger and hate. This voice spoke of hurting others, of telling others to kill themselves. We should all listen to both sides of every argument, that is how we grow and learn, but it becomes difficult to listen to words laced with venom; it’s not fair to the pro-gun individuals who are trying to make a rational argument.
I questioned writing this essay because, I’ll be honest, I was afraid. I was fearful of more wishes of death and fearful of personal attacks. Many of the threats were hard to take seriously, with their lack of adequate spelling and grammar (I received “your stupid” more than I can count), but some of them were real and alarming. And I know that if this post even gets a handful of eyes on it, there will be more of the same.
But I wrote this anyways. I wrote it to tell the loudest sect of the pro-gun movement that there are many of us who are for gun control who are also open to hearing what you have to say. It’s only fair. We may not agree and we may not change our point of view, but we can respect your opinion. We can disagree — with tolerance. It doesn’t have to be one extreme vs. the other extreme.
And if you don’t want to listen to me, please respect your pro-gun peers who are trying to have a rational debate.