years ago my precious cousin kindra told me she wished i would write a blog titled “what i would write if i were not afraid.” she said that she felt such a title might give me internal permission to write with less care about what people might think. kindra...this is a post for that blog.
i’ve experienced a lot of internal conflict this week and it is only tuesday.
it all started on sunday when a friend’s fiance invited me to her birthday party. i am big on celebrating people so i accepted the invitation without much thought even though the gathering included a round of lazer tag, an activity i have consistently avoided. i talked to myself while i drove to “ultra zone.” surely i had overreacted all those years ago when i declared that i would “never, ever run around in the dark shooting at children who had been amped up on birthday cake and coke” and expressed concern regarding the wisdom of frequenting such places altogether. i went on to justify my participation by reminding myself that i would be shooting people with what boiled down to a presentation pointer in the casing of a glorified squirt gun in a room filled with black lights and the sounds of 80’s music. “stop being so ridiculous and intense.” i told myself. “lighten up.” minutes later, vested up and emerging from the dark staging room with my 7 friends and 30 children we didn’t know, the red team posed for a picture. what stuck with me all day was not the weighty vest, the awkwardness of running around in a small space with people i didn’t know, or the “hot kid” smell. what stayed with me was the pose i struck when holding a gun in front of a camera. “tough” doesn’t quite cut it. “bad ass” might just say it best. i was uncomfortable before i saw the photo published on instagram. after seeing it, i squirmed.
a day later, late at night and too tired for rational decision making, i clicked through news stories about the shooting at seattle pacific university where several of my children’s friends attend. i have a thin skin when it comes to these events. while the homicide in my own family happened nearly 19 years ago, it left my sister in law and three nieces dead and my mother in law, who witnessed the killing, severely traumatized. one of my nieces was five months old when she was shot by her father. it’s hard to not feel weak in the knees when you know that some other family, maybe one much like your own, is being told that their loved one has died at a crime scene. not quite tired enough to actually sleep, i foolishly navigated to video coverage of an “open carry” event that had happened earlier in the day in another part of the country. people of all shapes and sizes were shown milling about public spaces of all sorts with their “long guns,” rifles, and hand guns slung over their shoulders or clipped to holders on their belts. a young man who was interviewed claimed that “defending [their] right to carry [their] weapons [was] the MOST IMPORTANT THING.”
i went to bed feeling sick. it wasn’t so much my political position on guns that created this reality. it wasn’t even my passion for non violent communication or my personal history with gun related human death. what made me squirm was how i, myself, had posed holding that stupid lazer gun the day before.
things didn’t get better when i woke up this morning and learned that the police from my own city were headed to a school where an active shooter had not yet been detained. the images from the “carry in” mixed with those of the parents who were waiting to hear from their children in my mind. then i thought of myself, holding that stupid plastic gun, and realized that even i have, at some level, bought in to the idea that a gun makes me cool. it may sound like a stretch, but, trust me, i’ve never struck that tough a pose while holding anything else in front of a camera.
what is it about guns that makes us feel powerful?
something needs to change. just because we can carry guns doesn’t mean we always should. when any persons’ life has been ended by violence perpetrated by a person with a gun it seems to me that one of the least empathic responses would be to organize a mass display of weaponry in casual and proud ways. guns, in and of themselves, cannot be bad. they are simply objects. when, however, we become inoculated to their potential, calloused to the reality of the impact that those that shoot them can create, or blindly accepting of all types in all places, i believe we need to think more deeply. struggle. reason. understand. and act.
i have watched mild mannered, mature adults as they have scanned their screens while gaming, pushing buttons to release digital ammunition, and marveled at the intensity of their focus and animation as they engaged their targets. i’ve observed whole-house nerf wars in my own home and wondered what it was about popping out from hidden spaces and shooting someone that elicited glee in individuals who rarely emote openly. i took in the recorded images of adults milling about big box stores and coffee shops with guns and wondered what it might feel like to be among them. while i think i would likely feel fear i know that i would also feel anger and this anger would not be simple. it would be complex and multi-faceted and loud and confusing and, very likely, ugly.
it’s exactly these kinds of complex and difficult feelings that all of us face from time to time. these feelings make us feel powerless, marginalized, mis-understood, alone, and far from bad ass. some of us more than others. i have to imagine that most individuals who choose to turn a gun on a person feel them in a unique and difficult way. some times we turn to habits to help us through such feelings, some times substances, at other times we internalize the difficulties and hurt ourselves with ruminating and depression and anxiety. some people confront the complexity with words, some with actions, some with passivity, some with denial, some with escape and some with guns.
in my opinion, guns will never work as a method of finding personal power.
we must spread this message. we must spread it in a multitude of ways in a multitude of settings. we must spread it with our choices regarding our children’s toys and games and with what we choose to become comfortable with in the way of play. we must spread it with how we model and engage conflict resolution. we must spread it actively and passively, with words and actions, with those we know and those we don’t know yet. we must spread it in our homes and classrooms and, yes, i believe, even in our courtrooms because power comes from who we are inside and not what we carry and there is no human dilemma unsolvable by personal power channeled appropriately rather than through the trigger of a gun.