Leading up to this trip, I had so many people ask me this question or, even more presumptively, “what sort of gun are you taking?” The question itself presumes a lot, doesn’t it? It presumes a certain type of disposition about America, about its people, about its ability to resolve conflict within the bounds of normal law as well as extrajudicial law. But mostly it presumes—maybe assumes—that I am Chuck Bronson, who I am not.
My usual out—because I have very strong feelings about the second amendment*—is that I say we are traveling to Canada and across many state lines. Take a handgun in your glove compartment onto Long Island and get pulled over, see how much you back the blue then. If you’re a handgun lover and break the law, we’ll see how much you believe in law and order. The border crossing response usually takes care of the question and then I tell people that we carry bear spray (which, yes, would also work quite effectively on humans and for some reason does not have the same border restrictions as mace spray. Go figure.).
But mainly I don’t have a gun because they are instruments specifically designed to kill people. At this point in my life, if I were to subscribe to any religious ideology, it would probably be Quaker. I agree with the Religious Right that killing people is bad. That’s it. That’s the argument. I won’t make exceptions for the death penalty because that’s killing people and that’s bad. I won’t support war because that is killing people and that’s bad too. (Profiteering off war is doubly bad, by the way. I’m looking at you and your defective raisin of a heart, Dick Cheney.) Refusing medical care to poor people is not necessarily killing, but I’ll take the extra baby step to say, yeah, letting people die because they have fewer dollars in their bank account is probably also bad.
But back to me not being Chuck Bronson: I’ve shot a gun, mind you. But I won’t pretend to be any sort of Annie Oakley, but I’m a pretty decent shot. And in an emergency situation, I’m fairly steady. Working in a group home for teenage boys will help develop some of those reflexes. Still, I wouldn’t trust me with a gun.
I think the main thing people overlook when they make the good-guy-with-a-gun argument is that people are not conditioned to kill. An active shooter is not something you can really train for. Even active shooter drills suppose that it is a drill, not the real thing. Someone saying, “yeah, I spend a lot of time at the shooting range” is a far different scenario than someone walking into a nightclub with an AR-15 and pumping out sixty rounds while you’re ordering your second drink of the evening. Even the police, who go through the most intensive training for these scenarios are met with one key difference: watching someone die in front of you. I mean, imagine it: you’re in church with your loved ones—your spouse and children; your friends are near you and you’re listening to the preacher preach when some psychopath (who probably legally obtained their firearm, by the way) opens fire. A bullet blows through the wood of the pew. The noise is phenomenal and keeps growing because people are running and screaming and bleeding. You don’t know if any of your family has been hit; all you know is that there is blood and now smoke. Because you live in a stand your ground state,** two or three good guys now have their guns out.
Only in this moment do these dudes with their 9mm of masculinity come to the realization that they are indeed no Charles Bronson and they are not able to spring into action with impeccable judgement and accuracy. This is not the shooting range or whatever pay by the minute fantasy they bought with their buddies as a Viagra substitute. They had not considered that the sight of humans being killed and maimed in a flash right before their very eyes might maybe impact how they operate as humans. There’s no script for the shooting and the good guys aren’t wearing white hats.
What always strikes me as odd is that I have never once met a bad gun owner by their own admission. Every gun owner I meet brags about his (I mean, they’re mostly men) prowess with the firearm, how cautious they are. People will admit to being bad drivers or at least poor parallel parkers. “I don’t like to drive after dark or in the rain,” they say. “I’ll circle the block before trying to park there” or “Driving in rush hour is insane.” But then they can operate a firearm. I’ve never run into the gun owner who says, “You know, I’m not really very good at gun safety” or “I’m an okay shot.” All these guys are super safe, super accurate. Impeccable shots. Chuck Bronsons.
Which is simply not true. It’s easier to get a gun than get married in most states. You have more hoops to jump through to obtain a driver’s license. Most idiots can legally own guns, which explains accidental shootings and some of dumbass headlines that pop up. And frankly, the bigger the gun, the bigger the idiot the owner tends to be. Here’s a simple test: Name all the times the good guy with an AR-15 saved the day. Now name all the times some asshole with an AR-15 went into a movie theatre, a school, a church, a synagogue, or a country music festival and there were surprisingly no Chuck Bronsons—just a bunch of scared people. That’s the reality.
And the reality is this: last Tuesday an 18 year old man took an AR-15 into a classroom and murdered 19 people—17 of them children. It was the 218th mass shooting in our 144-day-old year here in America. Not all of the victims died instantly. Some of them bled out and were in pain for some time. Their friends watched them die and scream out in pain for their parents. A little girl called the police called the good guys with guns for help several times to no avail. They were hospitalized and their loved ones watched them die from gunshot trauma. No one will know if that is more painful than the parents who came to the school wondering if their child had been murdered while learning basic geography and then found out, yes, a man walked into the classroom wearing tactical gear and pointing the AR-15 while the teacher tried fruitlessly to defend them and a bullet blasted through that child’s skull and ended her life. Likely, the teacher cried and pleaded and screamed before being murdered. Any number of people could say, “If I was there…” but the reality is you are no Chuck Bronson.
*The second amendment is outdated, folks. I remember being shaken to the core, feeling absolutely hollow inside, scared and dumbfounded when the shooting in Columbine High School occurred. I was in eighth grade and the news coverage was rapturous. Two boys did the unthinkable and the media outlets covered each and every aspect of it—a virtual play-by-play. They interviewed (and retraumatized!) the survivors and parents. Then Paducah happened. Then another one. And another. I read to my stepdaughter’s second grade class the day Sandy Hook happened. The teacher had been sitting at her desk while I read to the children. It was the last period of the day. When I finished reading, I realized the teacher was nearly crying. The policies of the school were that unless notified ahead of time, all children had to ride the bus. I hadn’t notified them that my stepdaughter could ride home with me. But the teacher said, “Take her.” When I got home and checked the news, I understood why.
Then the Dayton shooting happened, eight minutes from my home and within less than 24 hours from the previous shooting in El Paso. The fabled good guys with guns—police officers—were literally outside the door of the bar where the shooting happened. Multiple cops with tactical gear within fifty feet of the shooter and yet nine of people were still murdered using an instrument whose sole purpose is to kill other people.
And then just a couple days ago in Dayton an inmate stole a gun from a security guard (also known as a good guy with a gun) and killed the guard before shooting himself. The damages could have been much worse had the irony of the bad guy with the gun ending the killing not been the case.
People who are sworn to defend the Constitution or uphold the Constitution and continue to buy into the gun rights are the ones who make me the most upset, mostly because they lack the basic understanding of the thing they support. The Constitution was poorly written. That’s not my hot take; that’s what the framers thought after it was drafted. (Oh, and the framers had a 12-year-long failed American government before the Constitution. So, no, they were not somehow blessed from above with a perfect form of government.) That’s why we have the Bill of Rights—a document that has been changed numerous times because, one would hope, with the passage of time, we become wiser. Women can vote; we’ve limited presidential terms; we’ve outlawed alcohol; we’ve given women the right to vote; we’ve repealed prohibition. The Bill of Rights is made to be changeable because the Constitution was too vague. So, sure, defend the Constitution, but please, for the love of god, for the love of schoolchildren who are regularly traumatized by the dick-measuring Chuck Bronson fantasies of little men, don’t conflate the Constitution with the Bill of Rights. Change the Bill of Rights.
**Has there ever been a more anti-life law than stand your ground? I mean the religious right wants to scream and yell about abortion all day long, but then they line up behind something called stand your ground, which is a law that specifically allows you to kill another person over property. Don’t come at me with the “what if your life is in danger? What then, huh?” We already have laws for that; it’s called self-defense. If your life is in imminent danger, you have the right to defend yourself with lethal force. It wasn’t like that right didn’t exist pre-stand your ground. Stand your ground is designed to protect your property. Even more disgustingly, it allows you to shoot a retreating suspect.
No, stand your ground is a law that says that human lives are less important than property, which is contrary to all the right to life rhetoric. If a man comes to my house to steal some tools out of my garage, I now have the right to act as the police, the entirety of the judicial system and the hangman himself by simply shooting the trespasser—even if the trespasser retreats without any stolen items. To be absolutely clear, stealing and trespassing are not capital offenses. Neither one warrants the death penalty if you press charges and go to court. What stand your ground does is allow you to enact what many Republicans clutch their pearls about—Sharia Law. Yeah, administering the death penalty for stealing when your life is not in danger is some of the same stuff Herman Cain (rest in COVID, shucky ducky), Rick Perry (the guy from Dancing with the Stars), Rick Santorum, and Sean Spicer (the other guy from Dancing with the Stars) all worried about at one point or another. (And, if we’re honest about it, all these snakeskin oil salesman / future Fox News hosts did, was hinge their fears on ethnocentricism. The part that gave them all a hard-on was calling the protection of property “the castle doctrine”—which has a deep misunderstanding of what is different from a castle and a house. Hint: a castle was a settlement where the person in charge had to protect its citizens. It was about communal living… Really, the thinking is from the Dark Ages. So instead of perpetuating their fear of non-Christians, I’ll just call it Dark Ages thinking.)
I love my bus. I really do. But I would not kill another person for my bus—to get it or save it. I don’t believe that my bus is more valuable than any human’s life. I have no religious or spiritual faith that tells me that; I’m simply a person who believes his life is worth more than an object. It’s called empathy—an ingredient that is missing from the Dark Ages-infused stand your ground laws.
Now there’s always some bellicose flag-waving idiot who’ll think they have me with this brilliant turn of argumentation. “What if I hijacked your bus? What then? Bet you will wish you had a gun then, pal.” And honestly, no, I’ve never wished I had a gun. They’re dumb and dangerous. If I am hijacked, I would do what we’ve been doing with hijacks for a long time: I’d hand over the bus. I’d break my heart, but I’d do it. Because in the heat of the moment, the worst thing I could do with my wife and dog in the car is add another gun to the equation. I’d rather no one gets shot over the car, including the hijacker. On my way out of the car, I might hit the hidden kill switch. I’d definitely report it to the police and VanAlert (which does a great job recovering stolen buses). And I would give the hidden GPS tracker code to the police so they can watch it move in real time. I’d press charges, sure. Because that’s what people do about property in a civilized society.