Living in Florida, it’s impossible to go to a bar or restaurant and not hear someone talking about guns. As press captain for Everytown For Gun Safety, I’ve done community outreach and education. I’ve stood on the steps of City Hall alongside the mothers, survivors and victims of gun violence. Being somewhat of an idealist I think most people are set in their ways due to ignorance and misinformation, they just need facts. I realize 90% of the time it’s going to result in an argument but I have difficulty not calling people on their bullshit. Just like racism, it’s totally worth the fight. (I’m also banned from just about every dive bar in my town.)
Whether it be racism or gun issues, occasionally I’m rewarded with an elderly man admitting; “I never thought of it that way.” That alone makes the fighting worthwhile. Realistically though, most of the time that old guy just sees a pretty face, driving a nice car and wonders, what the fuck does she know?
Last friday, the LGBT group I belong to was asked to carry the American flag onto field during the national anthem for that night’s Devil Rays baseball game. We were chosen to represent our community and honor the victims of the Orlando shooting. After the noon rehearsal, I left Tropicana Field and headed to lunch where, like a hundred times before, two guys sitting next to me were discussing gun control.
One gentleman asked the other “Why ain’t cars illegal? They kill more people than guns.” I knew better than to assume any kind of respectable debate but still, I swallowed my bite of sandwich and answered his question: “That’s why we have licensing and seatbelt safety laws.”
The way he lost his shit and started screaming at me, you would have thought I said his mother was a whore who blows AIDS patients.
“Mind your own business Liberal cunt! What the fuck do you know about guns!? ”
After I threw my beer in his face and left, I got to thinking: What the fuck do I know about guns?
I was three when my mother explained to me the dangers of guns. She said if I ever saw anyone, whether it be an adult or one of my friends with a gun, to run away as fast as I could. So the first time I saw one close up, sitting there on the back of the toilet in one of my neighbor’s houses, I was terrified. I didn’t quite have a grasp on how a gun worked, the way I understood things, it was like a bomb, that just being in the room and making a loud noise would cause it to explode and kill me.
I stood there for a moment frozen with fear before I bolted to the living room and told my mother there was a gun in the bathroom. She smiled and calmly told me she was proud of me. After I realized the house wouldn’t blow up, I leaned over and whispered to her that I forgot to flush.
And also, I didn’t wash my hands.
My uncle Ric’s suicide was how I learned first hand guns were bad. My mother had also drilled into me that lots of curious children accidentally shot themselves and if I played with a gun, I would surely die. Until then I never realized a person would or could shoot themselves on purpose. His death was so confusing, I wanted to know, what he was thinking when he did it? Was he all by himself? Did he try to call grandma first?
I felt heartbroken, not only because I missed him but because even at six I had some understanding that you had to be very, very sad that do that to yourself. And when I would watch him shave in the bathroom mirror, where he also taught me how to wiggle my ears, he always seemed so happy.
When I was eight, my mother married a man named James and they had a fat little baby boy with big brown eyes. We moved to a farm in central Texas where we had chickens and pigs and a baby deer. We hunted our meat and grew our vegetables. There were three guns in the house including a shotgun and a rifle. I was used to guns, comfortable even. In my little girl brain, guns were totally safe, they only existed so we could hunt and eat.
A year after my brother was born, my step-father’s alcoholism and abuse became so bad, my mother packed us up in the middle of the night and we snuck away to the city. Eventually James tracked us down. Knowing my mother would never let him take my baby brother, he entered the house, pulled out his gun and pointed it at me. He told my mother either he was leaving with his son, or she was losing her daughter.
It took a long time for my family’s wounds to heal from that night but we survived and inevitably became stronger.
I don’t think my mother’s emotional scars ever healed. In 2007 she, like her older brother two decades before, put a gun to her head and ended her own life.
As it turns out, I know a lot about guns. I’m a “victim” of gun violence.
I know first hand that gun violence is indeed a mental health issue, gun violence is a criminal issue, gun violence is a public health issue.
Most importantly, gun violence – is a fucking gun issue.