I grew up in a household in the South with no guns, though I never felt their absence. It actually never occurred to me that normal people would keep guns in their home, just irresponsible rednecks and criminals. In fact, when I was a teenager, rebelling against my hippie parents and their politics of social justice and inclusion, I playfully put up an NRA sticker on my wall. I thought it was funny and transgressive. My mom thought I’d lost my mind. I was a terrible rebel and a privileged, middle-class kid.
I now know about all of the nice, responsible people who own guns, folks who like to shoot at targets and even think they may have to use a gun to protect their family, somehow, one day, god forbid (though please check the statistics on that). I also know that there’s nothing subversive about the NRA. It’s everywhere. And, it’s certainly not funny. Even the most no-fucks-given comedian knows that dead kids aren’t funny. Back in the early 90s though, as I rolled my eyes and shrugged my shoulders through high school, the NRA was just putting the finishing touches on a massive and, ultimately successful, push to put increasingly dangerous weapons in the hands of many more people.
A lot has happened since then. Carnage, terrorism, war, and political opportunism combined to make us a nation armed like never before. And, contentious social issues, like massive incarceration, the criminalization of black and brown people, limited abortion access, domestic violence, and a mental health crisis, became more violent, more deadly problems. Our cops changed, our schools changed, our prisons changed, and our governments changed. We changed.
Now, our cultural differences in this country have always been vast and varied, as they should be. But, a small homogeneous group of rich, powerful, white men have always been adept at exploiting those differences. They’ve forced us into binary camps, where we shouldn’t have to live. But, while we do live here, I believe that every other divisive issue we fight passionately about should come second to guns. And, this isn’t because I think women’s health or civil rights are less important than gun reform. It’s simply because these issues are far more deadly until we get dangerous weapons out of the hands of people who want to kill immigrants, kids wearing hoodies, abortion doctors, high school students, and wives, partners, and children.
This is a hard topic of debate in the South. You can tell, because our representatives don’t even get much of that sweet NRA money. That organization knows how Southerners vote. But I’ve stuck it out here. Just like many of you. Despite some serious reservations – just like you. Gun reform isn’t the only issue we need to come together on. However, if we can bridge some chasms here, we can surprise the nation and set an example for real progressive change.
More than most, I’m guilty of cynicism and prejudice when it comes to gun-loving folks, but I admit that I can’t ignore them or dismiss them anymore. I’m hoping they have come to the same conclusion and feel the same way about me and my angry friends. We should all be talking to teachers who are scared in their classrooms, parents who dread those active shooter conversations, cops who KNOW that more guns mean more problems, and kids – let’s leave kids out this discussion, for once.
I’m a better rebel now. I’m outraged and disgusted, and I’m ready to work. Who’s with me?