From and currently living in The Bronx
To me it’s funny in a fucked up way that people only want to talk about gun control and mental health advocacy when extreme violence occurs in a non-urban, predominantly white neighborhood. I’m a media teacher in the Bronx. So this type of shit makes me question what to talk to my predominantly Dominican, Puerto Rican, Haitian and African-American teens about, should I tell them that they don’t count? That violence only matters if it happens in mass quantities and if and only if the majority of victims are Caucasian? Is that what I should tell them? Just let me know. Cuz did you know that four year old LLoyd Morgan died this summer in the Bronx from a stray bullet? Did you know that six year old Hailey Dominguez was shot during the Thanksgiving holiday? Maybe it’s not the same to you, maybe it’s not the same at all. But we still, as teachers, artists and administrators have to face this type of violence every single day without news crews or America giving any sort of fuck.
Anyway, let me put my bitterness aside. I refuse to play this game where we quantify deaths due to race or economics. Shit is what it is and none of it is pretty or fair, especially if you’re the parents of any of the children, people, spirits involved.
My dad acquired a legit gun license and brought a .22 caliber pistol into the house. For all you gun lovers, that’s a baby gun. He took me out to shoot it on the weekend at a local gun range. I was a pretty dope shot and loved the feeling of a gun in my hands.
So you want to know about my history with guns? Here it is: My Dad kept a gun in our house for years after we were robbed. Someone scaled the back side of our house without the help of a fire escape fire and robbed my family of the only heirlooms we had. My dad acquired a legit gun license and brought a .22 caliber pistol into the house. For all you gun lovers, that’s a baby gun. He took me out to shoot it on the weekend at a local gun range. I was a pretty dope shot and loved the feeling of a gun in my hands. My mother hated it. She felt like it brought the neighborhood too close to our lives and our home. See, I won’t front. I live in a Bronx suburb. I don’t and haven’t ever lived in the projects or in a neighborhood that is 100% rife with gun violence. However, that doesn’t stop me from hearing gun shots every weekend during the summer months. It doesn’t stop me from being afraid. I walk past real pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes and all other types of every day regular people who also may carry guns just to get to my fucking house. Sometimes, I wish I carried a gun too. I don’t and I won’t. But I get it on both sides.
I get the fear of walking past certain people who definitely need a gun to protect themselves. I wonder if whoever is fucking with them will accidentally shoot me in that brief second that I’m turning the corner. I understand why they carry. If I was them, I’d carry too. Fuck, the only reason the government shut down the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords were because they were POC practicing their rights to bear arms. But I guess only some people deserve to have their rights protected and their names remembered.
I guess what it boils down to for me is that it’s either everyone gets to carry or no one does. Either we all pass through the metal detectors or we don’t. My brown skin doesn’t make me more dangerous. So why am I and the men of my skin tone criminals, and the Caucasian killers just misunderstood geniuses?
Raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Lives in the East Bay, California
Growing up, the rules were as follows: no video games, ever. No violent computer games. No gun-related toys: no squirt guns, no nerf guns, no BB guns, no GI Joes, none of that. No violent movies. No violent television. As a fundamentally ridiculous child, I felt super-oppressed by my mother’s refusal to gift me a Super-Soaker.
I was raised by recovering hippies in a liberal college town — my Mom a Jewish girl from Chicago, my Dad a Quaker farmboy from Southeastern Ohio. My uncle got drafted for Vietnam but my Dad didn’t. He was involved in the peace movement or whatever. The only actual gun in our house was a non-functional rifle or something from my Dad’s distant relative Thomas Bernard who’d fought in the Revolutionary War. It had a giant bayonet on the end, which I guess is how you can stab somebody before you shoot them. It’s too heavy to think about.
There was riflery at camp. I tried it but was woefully unprepared for the fact that firing a gun is hard. There’s this weird kickback. That’s what scares me about the idea that we need guns for protection — do we honestly trust an amateur to hit their target?
At boarding school in Northern Michigan, some teachers cancelled classes on the first day of deer hunting season. Friends who lived nearby lived in homes with hunting rifles, and we stayed at hunting lodges, and our teachers had us read about hunting, too, and so this is how I understood the world: there were people who bought guns for hunting, and criminals who bought guns for killing and stealing, and professionals who bought guns for their jobs as cops or soldiers. Some people had guns for protection but I hadn’t met those people yet, or I had, but I didn’t know it.
In New York, Andres took me on a a date to see Shrek, and afterwards we just sort of ended up walking around Central Park in the dark, and that’s when he asked me if I wanted to know what was in the locked briefcase he carried everywhere. I felt like I should say that I did, so I did, and then he showed me the gun. I don’t know what I was expecting? “There are people who want to fuck with me,” he explained. “So I’ve always got this on me.” He held it out to me and asked if I wanted to touch it or hold it. I did not. I made a face and said “yikes!” like we were in a tender horror flick. He laughed at me, joked about how white I was. It made my stomach hurt, this little killing machine. Later he’d show me his scars.
I’ve seen or experienced other kinds of violence — the hand-to-hand kind — but I still can’t stomach gun violence or explosions or stabbing or any of that. I’ve seen maybe ten action movies, ever. I can’t handle Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, I resisted the urgings of every boy who insisted I hadn’t lived ’til I’d seen Lethal Weapon or Die Hard or whatever. I hate violence, I just hate it, I never want to see it.
In college I took a class called The Anthropology of Hunting. My time in Northern Michigan had peaked my interest. We watched Deer Hunter and read academic studies about hunting and took field trips to outdoor superstore Cabela’s in Dundee and I did a project about the aggressive and gendered language employed by manufacturers of hunting-themed action figures. In retrospect, the whole class was tinged with some academic elitism, probably. My then-boyfriend and I went to Cabela’s to get a coat and I’ve got a picture of him holding two assault rifles, and we put it on my livejournal with the caption “these are for killing deer!”
Another ex-boyfriend went to Police Academy and joined the NYPD and got his gun. It was weird when he came over and suddenly there was a gun in our apartment. I joked that I wanted to take pictures of myself with it for my blog and he told me I’d be arrested for illegal possession of a firearm, and so I took pictures with his handcuffs and blogged, frivolously: “Then I realized that handgun laws are something I have never thought about for more than like, five seconds, but for the record obviously I don’t really even know how guns work.”
As an adult I lived in different areas of Harlem for about six years and in Central Harlem there was a lot of gun violence, kids and teenagers caught in the crossfire, ignored by the media and memorialized in heartbreaking makeshift shrines on street corners. (It was also the year that three NYPD officers got off more or less scot-free after murdering Sean Bell.) Every time we heard a gunshot somebody would say “oh, it’s just firecrackers.” But really? People are just randomly shooting off firecrackers all the time? Even in the winter? Even in a town where nobody has a yard? I think it’s a conspiracy, a lie people started telling because it’s easier than hearing gunshots. It’s a privilege for us to hear that noise and imagine it’s all just another shiny explosion in the sky.
Carmen, Contributing Editor
Raised in Jersey
Currently living in Washington DC
I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, and I feel like that’s important to mention now because when it comes to guns and violence in general, you can’t get further from it than me. I’m a vegetarian and I won’t even support hunting as sport, and never have. I went to elementary school and high school in the wake of Columbine. I went to college in the wake of Virginia Tech. My mom raised me to be so incredibly obsessively sensitive toward others that I spent my formative years as a human doormat, befriending the friendless often just to make sure they’d make it out without hurting anyone. For God’s sake, when my mom wanted to be a cop in 1994 I cried because she’d have a gun in her holster. “Don’t get shot,” I sobbed into her clothes. “Don’t die.”
I moved downtown last summer and for the first time, I heard gun shots. I’m still not sure that that’s what it was, but I distinctly remember that Danny and I were sitting right in front of the big, open living room windows and we heard a repeating little noise. BangBangBang. And just like that, it was over. I sat still for ten minutes with my mouth open. I tried to fathom what it was like to have been there, to have seen a gun pointed at you, to have known what one looked like when it was about to hurt someone. Suddenly I felt like I didn’t know anything about my neighborhood, like I didn’t know anyone.
I tried to fathom what it was like to have been there, to have seen a gun pointed at you, to have known what one looked like when it was about to hurt someone.
Every time I learn about guns it’s because I’m told it could’ve been me in front of one, could’ve been me because I worked at a children’s center, because I went to high school, because I went to college, because I go to the movies, because I go to the mall, because I exist. As someone who plans bus routes meticulously and gets escorted to the metro at night, it’s hard for me to properly emphasize how unsafe it feels to question the people around you. Usually it comes down to the same final question: do they own a gun? If someone looks, appears, or really, feels like they can harm me, I walk faster and with my head down and I run for my fucking life until I’m sure I’m somewhere where I know everyone. I get home, I shut the door, and I think about my mother who never touched a gun but almost did to feed her kids. How the fuck are any of us supposed to make it out of here alive?
Raised in Manalapan NJ
Currently living in Milford, NJ
I grew up with guns in our house. My Dad had been a military sharp shooting instructor. We were raised with an understanding of what firearms were capable of and had a respect and understanding of the responsibility involved. It never occurred to me to take a gun to school or to show them off to friends. They weren’t toys to be played with.
When the AR-15 became available to purchase, someone at his gun club asked him if he’d be getting one and he responded dryly “Why would I do that? I’m quite comfortable with the size of my penis.” But on the ride home he said to me “That rifle isn’t designed for self-protection. It isn’t designed for hunting. It’s designed to kill as many things in as short a time as possible. No one outside of a warzone needs to own that.” When he saw the photo of me firing one it upset him greatly.
I own firearms. I compete in sporting clays and other target based competitions. I’ve always believed that as a responsible gun owner I was ok. But in both these recent cases, the guns were legally purchased and owned but were stolen by the shooters. Could that happen to me? I’m even thinking of changing my AS avatar.
I’ve come to realize that most of my feelings and beliefs about firearms stem from my Dad. We talked a lot after Columbine and recently, the Trayvon Martin shooting. But my Dad died last week so I’m left to process this one on my own. But I can hear his frequent response to this sort of thing in my head “Sometimes the answer is there is no answer. Sometimes it just comes down to the act of a madman.”
I have much to think about.
Tell us about your own background with gun culture. How were guns regarded in your home growing up? Was this inline with the regional culture or were your family’s views unique? Are guns part of your life as an adult? How have your experiences shaped your current feelings about guns, or did they?
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.