The Tricoastal Woman Thinks About Guns

My father didn’t hunt.

That statement needs some context. My father was born and raised in West Texas in the first half of the 20th Century, a time and place in which the myths of the West still existed. He spent his teen years cowboying for his uncles. When he was in the service, he was rated highly as a marksman. Back when he raised sheep, before World War II, he shot the occasional deer to put food on the table.

He kept a shotgun when I was a kid, but the only time he removed it from its case was to take it outside to shoot in the air when he heard hunters who trespassing on our property. He didn’t want anybody hunting on our property not just because we had kids running around on it and horses in the pasture, but because he didn’t want them to shoot our wildlife, particularly the raccoons.

He was heartbroken one Sunday when a neighbor at church told us he’d shot a fat raccoon coming out of his chicken coop with a hen under each arm. Daddy was pretty sure that was the boar raccoon he’d been watching for years.

In his last years, I used to take my father on drives in the country and we’d stop to watch the deer. But that wasn’t just an old age pursuit. When I was a little kid, we used to drive over to the coast along the road where the Johnson Space Center is, back when it was a cow pasture full of deer as well. Anytime we spotted deer, we’d stop by the side of the road and watch them running through the pasture.

At one point in the 1960s, he kept a gun in his glove compartment, because he was an investigative reporter and some of his investigations involved some folks with ties to organized crime. But I don’t think he ever had to use it.

My father knew how to use a gun. He could fire one to feed himself or to protect himself or others. But he never used one for other reasons. And he loved wild animals for themselves.

And that’s how I grew up thinking about guns. Or partly, anyway. It melded with the TV westerns that supposedly told the story that my ancestors actually lived. TV and movies managed to make the culture more gun-centric than it actually was and to prettify it at the same time.

I did, in fact, borrow a revolver when I was representing one side in a very messy divorce case that involved various people who likely owned guns making drunken phone calls in the middle of the night. Fortunately, nothing happened, because looking back I think it was a stupid thing to do. I didn’t really know how to use a gun, not like my father did. And I don’t think anyone should ever own or rely on a gun unless they have had quite a bit of training in how to use one.

But there’s something else that has influenced my thinking about guns: mass shootings of strangers. While I’m sure there must have been some of these things before, the current era seems to have started in 1966 when Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the tower at the University of Texas and shot randomly into the crowd, killing seventeen people and injuring many more.

I started school at UT a year later, and I still remember walking across the main mall, hearing a “boom”, and noticing that everyone around me jumped. (The boom was from a school spirit group shooting blanks out of a cannon.) We were all very aware of what had happened the previous year.

Whitman might have had a brain tumor. He might have had PTSD, given his military background. He killed his wife and his mother before he killed the others.

This is on my mind because of the shootings last weekend at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Two children and one young man were killed; many others were injured. The killer was nineteen. He was only the latest of many.

There are lots of factors that show up in these murder rampages. The murderers often have a history of violent misogyny. They’ve often been stirred up by white supremacists. They may not be direct members of any official terrorist group, but they’re certainly terrorists.

And they’re almost always men.

They’ve also grown up in a culture where these murders are both common and newsworthy. And it’s a culture that equates guns with power. We have the National Rifle Association and those who have fought to expand the originally limited idea of the Second Amendment to thank for that, along with the many stories in our culture that glorify gun violence.

I’ve lived with this story most of my life and it’s overwritten (and overridden) the idea of the gun as a tool used in necessary situations.

We need serious gun control in the U.S. Other countries have done so successfully and we can do it too. The state-by-state approach is not practical. The Gilroy killer bought his weapon in Nevada, apparently legally, though of course it was not legal for him to bring it to California.

I’ve lived for many years in areas with very restrictive gun laws and yet I could easily get one if I’d wanted it. I’m law-abiding, as a rule, but these laws are easy to get around. (Of course, I’ve also lived in Texas, where the laws changed from modestly controlled to someone’s fantasy of no holds barred.)

But we also need to change the narrative, to move away from the stories where a burst of violence “wins” the day. Because it doesn’t, for the most part.

Part of that change in narrative is directly addressing the white supremacy, misogyny, and related hatred of others that seems to motivate so many of these killers. The other part is telling stories that show how rarely violence fixes anything. I’m talking about all kinds of stories, real life ones as well as fictional.

I would kill to defend myself or someone else. But that’s a last resort, a nod to the reality that violence is still a real problem and that even though I’m skilled at avoiding and deflecting it, there are situations in which I might have no other choice.

But I don’t own a gun and don’t plan to get one. There’s no way to be perfectly safe in our complex world, but there are lots of ways to be safer besides being ready to shoot it out.

The narrative I’d like to see take over as we deal with the many ways climate change will affect our world is one of cooperative and connection. That’s how humans have always worked and that’s what will save us in the end.

We can start by standing up to those who preach hate.

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The Tricoastal Woman Thinks About Guns — 3 Comments

  1. *sigh* Nancy, as I catch up on your blog, there has been yet another domestic terrorism mass shooting, in El Paso. Our country is seriously screwed up in regard to lack of gun controls. Like you, I was raised by a hunter father who provided meat for our low-income family, and that felt like a continuation of a tradition that was okay. But now he’s 96 with a hoard of guns and rifles that my sisters assure me is safely locked up?? (Legally, I can do nothing about it.) What is safe or sane about people who amass all these weapons? Our culture and laws desperately need change! Thanks for your sane words, and for letting me rant here….

    • And as I reply, I’ve been reading about the shooting in Dayton that left nine more dead. This story gets more and more horrific. And I, too, worry about anyone with a hoard of guns. I don’t have a gun or want one, and I don’t think they keep anyone safe.

      When I sat down to write this, I was first thinking of the fact that I so clearly remember the University of Texas shooting that, in many ways, is the first of these kinds of killings. There are many other horrific examples of mass violence in our past, but those murders are where I mark the beginning of someone shooting randomly into crowds as opposed to the situations where groups invaded Black communities (to give one example of another kind of horror from our history). It feels like this mass shooting crap has been there in my adult life and has gone from bad to horrific. And now people are fanning the flames with blatant white supremacist and nationalist nonsense, while the tie to misogyny is both obvious and under-reported.

      One thing I didn’t write about, but perhaps should look at as well, is how both the NRA and the laws have shifted during that same period of time. The NRA wasn’t a proponent of extreme interpretations of the Second Amendment back then; that was reserved for a few cranks that no one thought would ever be taken seriously. Court cases up until this century refused to interpret the Second Amendment to mean unfettered access to guns and I never expected that to change. (When thinking about how bad things can get I am so often wrong.) And at the time of the first Texas shooting, Texas law did not allow either closed or open carry of guns, and required you to lock them in your car trunk to carry them places. There were some exceptions for people carrying money, but on the whole, the law was clear that people should not be running around with guns.

      And now look at the laws in so many states. It’s absurd.

      Thinking about it brought me back to the western mentality and how my father, who was raised with guns as a tool, had very little to do with guns once he left the military. (He did have a lot of fantasies of taking guns away from bad guys as his dementia progressed, which was both fascinating and disturbing.) I find it fascinating that he didn’t hunt during all the years I knew him, and I doubt he did much of even when he was young (except to put food on the table). And he certainly didn’t go around threatening people with guns. I wasn’t advocating his approach to guns, just recognizing where he came from and what it says about the underlying culture. Which is not the same as the current one in this way as well.