Yes, I Do Want to Take Your Guns
The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?
We have a gun violence problem in America.
I have been a gun control advocate since I was about ten. I used to get in fights about it in elementary school. I imagine this probably had something to do with the Columbine shooting, and indoctrination by my immensely liberal parents, but I don’t really remember an inciting incident. I remember going to the Million Mom March in DC, however. And I remember backing off those arguments in middle and high school right around the time I stopped calling myself a feminist.
Don’t worry guys. In case you couldn’t tell, I got both of those back.
I’ve been in the same room as a gun held by a civilian twice in my life. The first time, because my dad wanted to make sure that my sister and I knew it was in the house, and that it was in several different pieces. If we ever saw one of those pieces out in the open, we were not, under any circumstances, supposed to touch it. Leave it where it was and go get an adult. The second time was in high school in a room full of high school aged boys, and I was petrified.
I used to change buses at the Pentagon on the way to work (yes there is a big WMATA transfer station there. No, it’s probably not the smartest place to put it, but that’s WMATA for you) and there were quite obviously soldiers patrolling the area with their large guns strapped to their chests. They never once made me feel safer.
I say this first because it’s important to know that my aversion to guns is deep seated and longstanding before I tell you that my favorite quote from NCIS: Los Angeles (Hillz, you’re totally right, it is the strongest in the franchise) is “keep wits sharp, your heart open, and your gun loaded.” I’ve made flippant comments about how gun control is a great idea right up until we’re invaded and I’ve seen the Red Dawn remake and Zombieland enough times to know just how it’d work. As Gary Younge argues in this incisive and painfully accurate assessment of American gun culture — “In a society that fetishises self-reliance, the gun speaks to rugged individualism — each person should be responsible for saving themselves.” I understand how a nation born of a violent rebellion against tyranny, steeped in reverence for the Wild West and Davey Crockett produces a mythology of rugged individualism that makes gun control feel like a government stranglehold.
But I still love when guns are fired in time with the music in action movies.
America has a gun violence problem so deeply rooted in our culture, so endemic to our identity and our mythology, that having the argument feels impossible. On top of that, the National Rifle Association is decades ahead of us in political organizing, and a combination of cowardly CDC directors and federal funding restrictions inhibit our ability to study gun violence as a public health crisis.
And as with all facets of American identity, your experience with guns is largely filtered through the lens of gender, sexuality, and race. The success of gun control laws in America largely depends on who they impact — if white gun owners feel the effects, the law is too much. If the laws primarily punish people of color, and black men in particular, then they are okay. The silence of the gun lobby after Philando Castile was murdered by police officers claiming the presence of a gun as their excuse is only the latest in the long, racist history of guns in America.
It is hard to talk about. The entrenchment of guns in contemporary culture is arguably, as with so many of our national mythologies, the product of unfettered capitalism, particularly the gun industry’s fight to stay in business. But that doesn’t make the feelings any less real, and it certainly doesn’t diminish their power.
Gun control advocates have a long fight ahead of them, and this fight will only find success if we can find a way to complicate our own narratives and mythologies about American identity, if we can untangle those identities from our media and our culture. To suggest that someone has built their identity on a false narrative, to complicate their stories with the contradictions of someone else’s lived experience, to convince them that their narratives are instrumental in the deaths of others — is heart stopping, bone shatteringly hard. But not as heart stopping and bone shattering as the bullets themselves.
Still if we want to construct a new narrative — not one based on the mythology of death, but the physicality of it, what bullets do to bodies — perhaps we should start with some facts.
- On average, 93 people are killed by a gun per day in the United States (source).
- America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world (source).
- 3% of Americans own half of the guns in the US (source).
- America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany (source).
- Women in the US are sixteen times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other high-income countries (source).
- When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, a woman is five times more likely to be killed (source).
- In total, over 21,000 Americans die by gun suicide each year. More than half of all suicide deaths in the U.S. are carried out with a gun (source).
- Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, less than 10% will result in death. But for gun suicides, those statistics are flipped: approximately 90% of gun suicide attempts end in death (source).
- States with more guns report more suicides (source).
- States with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun deaths (source).
There are those who have looked at statistics like these, and concluded that gun control is not the answer. And there is a fair argument to make that stricter gun control laws will not solve these issues. Domestic violence, suicide, homicide, police killings, police deaths — all of these problems have deeper and more complex causes than the presence of firearms. We need better mental health services in this country, better schools and better jobs and stronger support systems in communities. We need better policies to address domestic abuse.
But guns make each one of those situations more dangerous. Guns make suicide more successful, make domestic violence more deadly, make the impulse to kill as many people as possible before you die more possible. Guns do not make police officers safer, and they certainly do not make victims of police shootings any safer.
Guns are not passive. It’s not just that they don’t make people safer — the presence of a gun makes death more likely, whether at the hands of a murderer, a child, or yourself.
My instinct is always going to be this: yes, we do want to take away your guns. We want less people to have guns and we want it to be harder for people to get them. I personally feel that if you want to go hunting or skeet shooting or to target practice, you should rent your gun and turn it in at the end of the day. I don’t think most police officers should have guns either. It doesn’t really matter how much I love you or how much I trust you, if you’re holding a gun I’m going to be nervous. Imagine how it feels walking around strangers, no matter if they are wearing a uniform or not. And I’m just a white woman with an overactive imagination. Imagine how it feels if you’re black and 2.5 times more likely to be shot by the police.
Obviously that instinct isn’t going to play well in today’s political climate. And since we continue to sell things like cigarettes and alcohol which also increase the likelihood of death, I’m not sure we really have the legal recourse to take away all guns from everyone. And there will always be a segment of the population that sees any gun restrictions as an infringement on their inherent and unalienable rights.
Luckily we have this nifty thing in society called a compromise. And compromise suggests that while we won’t be taking away everyone’s guns, measures with significant public support like universal background checks should not be as difficult to enact as they continue to be. Further limiting the types of guns on the market and who can buy them have slightly less public support but research suggests that they would also be effective.
Our government has stolen the notion of truth. Our national conversation on gun control is controlled by a radical organization that stokes a frenzy of blind fear, all the while selling you the thing that’s most likely to kill you.
We have to take it back.
We have a right to live safely. We have a right to pursue happiness without the shadow of a gun hanging over us like Damocles’ sword. We have a right to send our children to school, to go to the movies, to a concert, to the mall without that curdling fear in the pit of our stomachs. We have a right to insist that our government help us in that effort.
Want to join the fight? As always, you can call your members of Congress and ask them what their plan is to reduce gun violence. You can make sure to vote for candidates that support gun control laws (like Ralph Northam in Virginia) and you can support and promote the work or organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
It’s going to be a hard fight, and a long one, but we’re going to win. Because we’re fighting for our lives.