07 June 2013

Guns and Anger, Coda

(I described the day my children were shut inside their school because of a man with a gun in Part 1. I discuss the gender politics of the NRA in Part 2.)

Of course, I recognize that not all gun owners—not even the majority—are as unhinged as James Yaeger, who epitomizes the kind of volatile personality that I’d like to keep as far away from firearms as possible. My cousins represent, to me, the opposite end of the spectrum: level-headed, generally chill guys who happen to enjoy hunting.

Salad. (Photo by Anoosh Jorjorian)
 My memories of Jorjorian family dinners seem to always involve my (liberal) dad and my (conservative) uncle trying to prove the strengths of their arguments mainly through the loudness of their voices while my grandmother shouted over them in her broad Long Island accent, “DOES ANYBODY WANT MORE SALAD?” Naturally, these arguments were pointless, since neither would budge in his convictions. Despite these clashes, my dad and my uncle clearly love each other, and their bonds run deep. They provided for me a powerful model—never let the little things in life like money or politics drive a wedge between family.

My cousins are older than me, so we were never close, and we inherited from our fathers our strong political convictions. But I always enjoy seeing them at family gatherings, and now that I am a mother, sharing in parenthood has given us a new connection.

I disagree with them about many things, but hunting isn’t one of them. I have eaten the venison and elk they have brought back from hunting trips, and it was delicious. I remember when I was about 12 years old, I said to them, “Deer are overpopulated. Hunting helps keep their numbers at sustainable levels.” (I was probably quoting from Sierra magazine.) I still treasure the looks of shock on their faces. “That’s right,” said my older cousin. “Wow,” said my younger cousin. “I thought you would be like, ‘Aw, the poor little deer.’” “No,” I snorted. (Because I wasn’t an “emotional” girl, but rational and scientific! Did I mention I was a tomboy?)

I recount this to establish my bona fides when I say: I am not against all guns.

But I want to stand up for my right not to have a gun. I don’t want to live in a society where everyone has to have a gun to feel safe because so many unregulated, illegal guns are in circulation due to lax gun control laws. I have lived in sketchy places in the U.S. and abroad, and I have been scared, but never—even when I heard shots and saw the flashes—to the point of wishing I had a gun. I can’t—and don’t want to—imagine how I would feel if I ever shot anyone in error, as an accident, or because I mistook a threat, or because I didn’t read a situation correctly. And if my kids ever died because they accessed a gun in my house, I could never forgive myself.

Ultimately, the “guy with a gun” turned out to be a 19-year-old student who turned himself in to the Santa Monica College psychological services department. He was unarmed.

I am not reassured that the threat turned out not to be “real.” Gun massacres now seem almost like tornadoes: random, unpredictable, terrifying, and inevitable. We know that, sooner or later, it will happen again, because we have had at least one gun massacre nearly every year since 1982.

I am tired of the irrational political calculus that makes gun law reform impossible. The unholy marriage of money and politics, the use of the filibuster to blackmail our democracy, and rampant gerrymandering stand in the way of meaningful change, and each of these is a campaign unto itself. And yet, when we look at places like Australia, it’s clear that reform could get done if politicians would stand by principles rather than by the NRA and their deep pockets.

I am also weary of action via electronic proxy. I send out e-mail messages and tweets, and I know an intern somewhere just checks a box noting my opinion and arranges for a form letter to be sent back to me. As I said in my letter, I am done with e-mails and tweeting. Remember the days when Senators’ offices would be flooded with mail from outraged citizens? We can’t all march in the streets (although we should more often), but we can send letters. On paper. Something material that has to be physically dealt with.

I’ll be participating in the Father’s Day campaign planned by Moms Demand Action. I hope you will, too.

CODA TO A CODA: Today, when I went to pick up my daughter from school, I had a sense of déjà vu when I saw that Santa Monica College was once again barricaded. I arrived at her school to a parking lot eerily empty and quiet. 

The school was on lockdown again. This time, some of the parents had heard the shots, and one had even seen the man with the gun. We were all shut inside with our kids. My daughter kept whining that she wanted to go home, and I kept saying, "We can't go home yet, honey. What do you want to play?" 

My husband had texted that the gunman was in custody shortly after I arrived, but the lockdown remained. After about an hour, with our kids climbing the walls, most of us decided to try to leave. My son was at home, and I wanted us to be all together.

But it wasn't quite over, and the drone of helicopters constantly overhead grated at my nerves.

It's now 9:30 p.m., and the kids are in bed. It has been a harrowing day. Four people are dead. The gunman was killed on the scene. 

We can't live like this. It has to end. 

No comments:

Post a Comment