After an 11-year-old in Utah brought his gun to school because he thought that would protect him in some way from what happened in Connecticut, conversation amongst our staff immediately shifted to processing the reality of these children’s lives — everyone’s lives — and how easy it was for them to access these weapons; how easy it was for Adam Lanza to access his mother’s weapons. We talked about our own personal gun cultures — how we’d been raised around guns, or hadn’t; how our views on guns had been shaped by our regional upbringing, our parents’, their parents, our socioeconomic standings or ties to our ancestors; and how that past was now playing out in our present lives.
Because views on gun ownership and gun control and experiences with guns vary wildly by city / neighborhood / household, this conversation feels important in the attempt to understand where we’re all coming from. So that’s what we’re doing here, and we hope you’ll share your stories in the comments. It’s not something we really talk about.
Laneia, Executive Editor
Raised in Tennessee
Currently living in suburban Arizona
My stepdad was in law enforcement, so it wasn’t unusual to see his government-issued pistol in its holster on the coffee table or in the floor beside his chair. It’s still not unusual, only now his gun isn’t government-issued. He eventually went on to instruct firearms safety courses for the Middle Tennessee law enforcement agencies, so saying he knows “a thing or two” about guns is an understatement. He’s a serious hunter with an extensive collection of whatever it is hunters use to take down large beasts up in the mountains of South Dakota (rifles, scopes, reloading supplies, orange vests!).
Saying my stepdad knows “a thing or two” about guns is an understatement.
I grew up with his hunting and reloading magazines in neat stacks all throughout the house. His rifles were always “put up,” but I’m not sure what that really meant in terms of my inability to take one of them without permission, because I never wanted to try. When other kids came over, the guns were kept out of view and we never talked about it; in fact, I never really thought about them. I respected the severity of guns and it never occurred to me to do anything with them — they weren’t mine and I didn’t mess with things that weren’t mine. But now I’m thinking, what if I’d been a nosey clepto anarchist? Or depressed and homicidal? That kind of speculation is a lot like asking ‘what if I’d had a giraffe growing out of my head,’ since I’m pretty sure my entire world would’ve been different if I hadn’t been such a trustworthy, boring little girl who respected authority and was terrified of her own mortality. My stepdad would’ve gone to greater lengths to keep the guns completely away from me if he thought he needed to, but the fact is that he didn’t need to, is what I’m saying.
When my oldest son was brand new, I let everyone know that he was not allowed to play with toy guns, and no other children could play with toy guns around him, because I was a newly-minted dirty hippie pacifist and had read stories about how children growing up on The Farm hadn’t been allowed to play with toy guns and weren’t even allowed to use other objects in place of guns (like a banana, for example), and that’s what I wanted for my kid. But somewhere along the way, after years of standing up for this and that, I decided to fry other fish — I think it was the year a family friend gave #1 a wooden popgun and it just looked so nostalgic and harmless and I was tired of fighting — and now both of my kids have Nerf guns, as well as Nerf swords, battery operated light sabers, plastic daggers from pirate costumes, and one lone BB gun that I think I managed to hide all the way in the back of everyone’s subconscious/someone’s attic. We have rules about gun-play: no aiming at heads, no aiming at me (ever) and no realistic-looking pieces. #1 plays video games that involve shooting things and blowing things up, but he prefers Minecraft; #2 is always down for a Nerf gun war, but would rather take apart a model train or watch things explode in Little Big Planet. I really never thought I’d let toy guns or violent video games into my children’s lives, but I did. If it sounds like I’m a little confused about my own stance on gun culture, it’s because I am. I can justify these plastic darts and pixelated blood, because I’ve set certain limitations and I feel like I know my kids, but probably other parents feel like they know their kids, too.
I don’t like guns — they’re loud and they kill things — and I don’t understand the fun in target practice, but I can’t say that everyone who enjoys shooting things is somehow crazy or potentially homicidal, because I have my stepdad as a shining example of a sane person who is also a gun enthusiast. And I’ll be honest, this a really confusing place to be.
Kristen, Contributing Editor
Raised in suburban Vancouver
Currently living in Montreal
I had my only gun experience when I was eight. I had been rooting through my family’s filing cabinet when I came across my mom’s license from the 70s. Given that my mom is teensy and the most violence-averse person humanly possible, to say I had questions is an understatement. She explained that in Johannesburg, everyone carried guns for safety’s sake. She’d go to the disco with her sisters and they’d check their pistols with their coats. Apparently hers was cute and pink. It was mind-boggling then and it’s still mind-boggling now.
I have yet to hold a gun and I’m not looking to change that any time soon.
Raised near Chicago, IL
Currently living in Los Angeles, CA
Like most things in this country, violence only seems to matter when it happens to certain people and furthermore, who is “responsible.” I didn’t go to a great high school but it wasn’t like an episode of The Wire or anything. Our school was routinely put on lockdown and swept for guns and drugs and our bookbags were subject to random checks upon entering the building.
There were fights most days in varying degress of severity. I’ve seen people beat with wooden planks, potted plants, locks, keys, and bats. When someone had it out for you, you had a choice to make. You could either wear boots or gym shoes and that communicated everything we needed to know. We had a sick obsession. A fascination with violence. I think it’s because you have two options. Either be entertained or scared.
Multiple people in my life have been shot, one murdered. This in combination with a lot of other factors has made me extremely cautious.
As a result of our school being taken over by the state we had block scheduling which meant there was a down period between the end of school and athletic practice. We would literally motorcade to fights during this down time but even we had limits. The mere mention of a gun sent us scattering in every direction.
Multiple people in my life have been shot, one murdered. This in combination with a lot of other factors made me extremely cautious. I avoid confrontation with strangers at almost all costs because people are legitimately crazy. But that’s what scary about guns. No matter how cautious you are, if someone walks into a public place and starts shooting, there’s nothing you can do about it. I don’t have a drawn out argument about gun control because it devolves quickly into a dismissal of anyone that doesn’t understand the mix of anger and fear caused by gun violence. But we don’t have to feel that way as much as we do. We shouldn’t have to.
Lemon, Community Managerette
Raised in Texas
Currently living in Brooklyn, New York
Interestingly, my family — my dad in particular — hates guns. My brother and I were instructed not to talk about this in front of our friends when we moved to Texas so as not to offend anyone. My dad was raised in a very Catholic household in New Jersey. Traditionally, he told me once, “Catholicism values life above all else. No abortion. No death penalty. No guns.”
Nonetheless, we still lived in Texas and Texas still had guns. So it’s no surprise, I guess, that I have shot a gun more than once in my lifetime. And each time I felt a little uncomfortable, although it wasn’t a crippling feeling. I did, after all, want to know what it felt like. But It wasn’t until high school that I started to actually think about guns. In an effort to prove to my parents that I was “listening” to them, I chose to do an innoccuous report about newspaper columnists who wrote about gun control. By the end of it, I realized that I was actually terrified of guns. I started to write school paper after school paper on why we needed stricter gun laws in this country, partially because I wanted to be a contrarian and partially because I really was terrified.
Towards the end of my senior year in high school, the kid I was dating at the time took me into his dad’s closet and asked me if I wanted to see his shooting range. I thought he was kidding, trying to make some dumb innuendo. But sure enough he pulled back the shoe rack to reveal a large gray elevator that would deliver us to his underground gun palace. Or supposedly–I didn’t stick around to find out. We broke up a few days later because he was an asshole and I was gay.
These days I live in New York City and I don’t have to think about guns that often. At least, not until we all do.
Raised and currently living in Denver, CO
I grew up in Denver CO but spent a large portion of my life on the family ranch in teeny tiny town Chama NM. My uncle was an avid hunter and we ran a business doing this sort of dude ranch experience where we took city slickers out on hunting trips. Guns were always kept locked and children did not touch them till about age 13 or 14. By that time I was a vegetarian so never learned to shoot anyway. Guns were part of life on the ranch, shotguns for mountain lions and for taking down lame horses or steer (I know, seriously traumatizing). But yeah, even though there were guns they were always locked, only my uncle knew where the key was and kids weren’t even allowed to look at them. I’m not sure how comparable that is to other ranch kids lives — we were kind of the weird family in town and only on the ranch at certain times. Now I live in the city where mountain lions and coyotes aren’t a threat to my family’s livelihood, I don’t believe in keeping a gun. Guns are respected, they are a tool for life, they are not something for recreation and they certainly aren’t needed in city living. We were never taught that guns were fun, or needed for personal use, they were used for ranch duties only.
Cara, Contributing Editor
Raised in Massachusetts
Currently living in Boston, Massachusetts
I grew up the daughter of a pacifist pediatrician in a well-to-do Massachusetts town. My sisters and I weren’t allowed to play video games, watch the news, or sign up for riflery at summer camp. One time, during a heat wave, my dad surprised us with SuperSoakers, but my brief, thrilling tenure as a watergunslinger ended after fifteen minutes, when I hit my little sister in the eye and my mom put our new toys on the top shelf of the garage, where they tempted me forever. Although I mourned them, I regarded “real guns” as a completely separate ballgame, one completely outside my purview. I only remember thinking about them once: when I was in fourth grade, the class bully told the class nerd that he was going to bring his dad’s gun to school and shoot everyone. Word quickly spread, and the next day, when Class Bully carried a paper bag into the classroom, we were all terrified. Luckily word had hit the teacher as well – I found out later that the kid’s house had been searched that night, and the only gun there was a dead antique. The paper bag had a banana in it, and I think the kid ended up getting suspended.
When I played laser tag last year and the weapons were defanged air rifles with attached laser gizmos, I spent the whole time flinching
This lack of gun exposure has translated into extreme nervousness around them. When I played laser tag last year and the weapons were defanged air rifles with attached laser gizmos, I spent the whole time flinching (I also flinch at gunshots in movies, and when I see holstered-up security guards in airports). I recently read about Colonel Jeff Cooper’s Color Code, which describes the appropriate level of alertness in personal defense situations, from white (totally unaware and unprepared) to black (obsessive threat awareness, resulting in “catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance”). If I were given a gun to defend myself with, I’m pretty sure I’d jump to blackout-level paralysis instantly. I don’t know if it was my upbringing or just a natural distrust of small, powerful machines in the hands of humans, but I think I’ll always associate guns with automatic destruction, never protection, and I’m not sure what to do about that.
Next: “When I was younger, my dad used his moderate collection of unregistered guns to keep our family fed during the coldest winters.”
Sarah Hansen, Contributing Editor
Raised in Colorado and rural Nebraska
Currently living in Colorado
Guns are inherently a part of my family’s life. As descendants of Annie Oakley, we’ve always been proud of our heritage and have always owned guns for hunting or protection or fun at the shooting range. I can’t imagine growing up without guns, and I know that doesn’t make me a violent person more likely to commit a gun crime.
I shot my first gun when I was four years old, at a soda can in a field. My parents felt that if my siblings and I weren’t curious about guns, thinking they were mysterious or secretive, we wouldn’t play with them. They were right in our case — we never went looking for the guns we knew were in the cabinet above the fridge or our parent’s closet. I think this is a pretty common cultural viewpoint in Colorado and Nebraska. Growing up in a family of hunters and seeing dead deer hanging in the garage has taught me more about the violence of guns than any crime ever has.
As descendants of Annie Oakley, we’ve always been proud of our heritage and have always owned guns for hunting or protection or fun at the shooting range
I don’t personally own a gun now, but I’m not opposed to owning a small handgun. I think this surprises people because I don’t seem like the type to know about guns. I’m not afraid of guns and I know how to handle them properly (please, for the love of all that is right, never point a gun at a person ever ever ever, even if you’re just looking at it and it’s not loaded!). Even with my experience with guns, I am very pro-gun control with more restrictive gun laws. My upbringing has taught me that you can responsibly own guns for protection or hunting or sport, but there’s absolutely no need for civilians to own assault weapons.
Sarah Fonseca, Contributing Editor
Raised in Lincolnton, Georgia
Currently living in Atlanta, Georgia
My present day socialist tendencies and rural background consistently clash over the subject of gun control. I tend to excuse myself from the room when gun control comes up in conversation. More often than not, my hometown denizens speak in misinformed, big government-phobic absolutes while my liberal colleagues speak in obliviously privileged absolutes. For me, the subject is more grey than that, and it’s difficult for me to have these discussions without shooting myself in the foot. No puns intended.
When I was younger, my dad used his moderate collection of unregistered guns to keep our family fed during the coldest winters.
Even though I don’t participate in the culture, I hail from Bass Pro Shops, wild game supper, “camouflage in every closet” country. In my day-to-day, I frequently see Ducks Unlimited and Browning decals on cars, often right alongside sorority bumper stickers. When I was younger, my dad used his moderate collection of unregistered guns to keep our family fed during the coldest winters. When I go for trail runs in the fall, I wear an orange shirt and think little of it when I breeze past a guy in camo hunting doves on that same trail. I assume that he has a family to feed, too.
While I don’t agree with it, I understand why rural folks prickle at the words “gun control.” There’s an implication there that the government is not only going to compromise your one guaranteed way of securing food, but charge you money in the form of licenses and registration, too. And if you happen to be a rural Southerner, your regional history makes you put more investment in the Second Amendment than the founding fathers ever did.
I was seven when I fired a rifle for the first time. When the searing hot shell casing exited the gun, it became trapped between my arm and ribcage. I screamed for a minute straight, under the impression that I’d shot myself. My father—the same person who’d kept our family fed with guns— was the person who laughed and called me “chicken.” I think that memory has lingered because that was the definitive moment when I realized that guns—loaded or not, pointed at someone or not—were inherently threatening. This was a realization that I continued to have throughout adolescence; when my father’s tiny armory came to include several unnecessary sawed-off shot guns and an elephant gun, and again when my neighbors aimlessly fired into the air to scare mischievous kids off of their property.
I support moderate gun control because it’s 100% possible to keep your family fed with a weapon that is not a multiple round assault rifle. I also believe that gun abuse happens every day in less obvious, non-lethal ways.
Vanessa, Contributing Editor
Raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Toronto, Canada, and Newton, Massachusetts
Currently living in Brooklyn, New York
At first I was going to write about how I have never ever seen a gun in real life, like outside of the movies or a museum or something. Actually I did write that, I wrote “I have never seen a gun in person in my life except in a museum” but almost immediately I realized that’s not true, not at all. Honestly I feel like that would be sort of impossible, living in America and all.
What I meant was that I’ve never seen guns in a casual social setting, never seen my peers go hunting, never seen my parents keep one hidden in our home, have been lucky and privileged enough never to see them used in a violent situation. I have never been handed a gun, have never shot a gun, have never wanted one or wanted to know what it was like to shoot one. I think I would faint if anyone ever gave me a gun, even just to hold. Guns scare me.
It’s not like I thought the policemen were gonna start shooting me, and I know guns don’t just float in the air and fire themselves, but the idea of being so close to a thing that is designed to kill a living being was so scary.
I live in New York City now and I see guns in police holsters all the time. I feel particularly afraid when I’m on a subway with a group of policemen/women because the idea that there is this machine that kills people in a small enclosed space with me and that anyone could just take it and use it to harm lots of people and we’d have no where to go and there’d be nothing we could do is really terrifying. Once on my way home from the Met my friend Jess and I got on a subway train with 40+ policemen — I think there had been a parade of some sort and they had been patrolling — and I just sat frozen, so scared, trying to count how many guns were on the train with me at that moment. It’s not like I thought the policemen were gonna start shooting me, and I know guns don’t just float in the air and fire themselves, but the idea of being so close to a thing that is designed to kill a living being was so scary.
Maybe I inherited my gun-phobia from my mom. She didn’t let my brother and I play with toy guns when we were little and she didn’t like me watching violent TV shows, and to clarify, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. She believes that guns are the downfall of modern civilization. Both my parents are South African and grew up in South Africa but neither ever owned a gun even though it is somewhat normal to have one there. I texted my mom last night to double check this fact — “You and dad never owned a gun when we lived in South Africa, right?” — and she responded immediately: “Are you my child?! NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.”
I am indeed my mother’s child, and I have the exact same gut reaction when I think about if we need guns on this earth, in this country, within reach of so many hands. Can any reasoning possibly make the terrifying consequences worth it? NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.
Crystal, Music Editor
Raised in Australia
Currently living in Sydney, Australia
The fact that countries such as the US allow any citizen to possess a firearm leaves me totally dumbfounded. It’s probably partly because while growing up in Sydney in the late 80s/early 90s, I was never exposed to guns. Not at all. My family didn’t own any, nor did anyone else we knew. That’s not to say that there weren’t gun owners and incidences of gun violence, only that I was too young to really be aware of them at the time. In my tiny child brain, guns only existed in movies, in law enforcement or in the form of plastic kid’s toys (which I was never given) – they weren’t carried by everyday people in everyday life.
My total lack of awareness ended in 1996, when thirty-five people died in the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania and the whole country went into shock. In the weeks following, the government banned all semi-automatic weapons and pump-action shot guns. They also launched a gun buy-back scheme, which I remember so clearly because there was a never-ending advertising campaign instructing people on how to hand over their weapons. Prior to this law reform, there had been 13 gun massacres. In the 16 years since, there hasn’t been one. This fact alone has made it impossible for me to comprehend why countries that experience lots of gun violence and mass shootings aren’t willing to remove guns from people’s hands.
Raised in Berks County, Pennsylvania
Currently living near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
My parents owned a biker bar in a rural area of Pennsylvania. I lived above the bar when I was a toddler through about 8 years old in the late 1980s – early 1990s. Substance abuse and weapons were rampant. I remember searching for guns and knives after fights like a perverse Easter egg hunt. The bar was closed on Sundays due to the liquor laws at the time, so all the regulars got together at farms and showed off their guns. They fired round after round while drunk and high during what they considered a totally normal weekend barbecue.
I’m about 20 feet away from a handgun as I type this.
There was also a pervasive hatred of police. The bikers used me as a lookout while they were conducting their illegal business. I would sit outside wearing the little biker outfit and little cowgirl outfit they got me, complete with holsters and toy guns, and yell “pigs!” when I saw a cop car drive by. Sometimes I would point my toy gun at the car and pull the trigger as it passed. My dislike of police ended when I watched a state trooper at the scene of a fatal drunk driving accident beside the bar. I’m sure that incident has something to do with my choice to go into the law enforcement field.
I’m about 20 feet away from a handgun as I type this. Buying my personal firearm legally was disturbingly easy. All I needed to do to get a concealed carry permit was fill out an application that doesn’t even require a social security number, provide two personal references and pay $20. Clearly things need to change. Even as a gun owner, I readily agree that the assault weapons ban needs to be reinstated and high-capacity magazines need to be prohibited. But those changes aren’t nearly enough. I cringe each time I patrol by a child who play-shoots me with a toy gun. We live in a violent society.
Next: “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.”
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?
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