Thursday, May 31, 2012

the guns

Our city is in the midst of a huge, disturbing spike in gun violence and the past week has been particularly brutal with several lives lost to senseless shootings. The first hit especially close to home when last Thursday a man driving his car was hit by a stray bullet during an altercation on the street. His two small children were in the car with him, and he died on the spot. Andrew, the girls and I were at a park three blocks away when it happened. It was the middle of the afternoon, and reminded me very much of our experience one year ago, but with much more serious consequences.

In our neighborhood the conversation and assumptions around shootings are always racially charged. The neighborhood chatter assumes the incidents are gang related, that the perpetrators are young black men. They're right a good percentage of the time. Sometimes I feel like there is a narrative in our town that only the brown poor people deal drugs, and shoot people, usually each other. But it's not true, as yesterday's horror story played out in primarily white neighborhoods when a white man shot several people in a northside cafe and proceeded to kill someone else downtown while stealing a car before being barricaded into a house by police and ultimately shooting himself. 

The girls chose to keep each other awake instead of napping yesterday, resulting in an early bedtime for them and a quiet dinner together for Andrew and me. We talked about the shootings, our city, how the whole thing makes us wish that nobody had guns anywhere, ever. We talked about the narratives already forming in the media, and being put forward by the police. And we have our own narratives. 

I think about the two shooters. We don't know anything about the person whose bullet killed the father driving his kids to swimming lessons last week, except that he is likely an African-American male. Even if he is found, tried, convicted and punished he will never get the media attention that the shooter today will receive.  The white man who went on an intentional rampage yesterday before killing himself will have several pages of  media looking into his background for mental illness, repression, bad parenting, anything to explain how or why a white man could act in this reprehensible way. But we don't need to explore the story of last week's shooter. We already have a story for him. With both the temptation will be to dismiss them as random, aberrations, not something that is "our" responsibility. Yet the disenfranchisement of young black men and the cutting of social safety nets for the mentally ill is "our" responsibility. As is the presence and availability of guns.

 I love our neighborhood, I love our city, and as one of our fellow building residents posted on her facebook yesterday, I refuse to give in to fear.

But I tell you what, I hate guns. I don't hate the shooters - while they are definitely culpable for their actions they are also caught in systemic webs of oppression, mental illness, and disenfranchisement from society that we all participate in. But I hate, I hate guns. It is hard to accidentally kill an innocent bystander while in an altercation using a knife. Or fists. We will eventually find out that yesterday's shooter obtained his gun legally.  And while last week's gun was probably not legally obtained someone at some point did buy it or make it. If our culture did not worship the "right" to carry devices whose only purpose is to kill people without touching them, I wonder if that illegal gun may have been harder to obtain. I wonder if the young man shooting it would have done so so casually, in the broad afternoon sunlight. Guns are cowardly weapons. I hate guns.