Raise your hand if you’ve ever said, “Holster your weapon,” and meant it because someone was aiming a loaded handgun at you, cocked and ready to fire? Now, keep your hand up if you were the “innocent party,” unarmed and minding your own business, say cutting okra in the garden, when you suddenly found yourself staring down the barrel of one of the three guns a man claimed, as he shouted at you, that he carried and was prepared to use because he was afraid of the 45 lb. dog by your side barking at him–the dog barking at someone, she rightly presumed was a trespasser (on clearly posted property), confronting her person from an ATV with threatening gestures and tone of voice. Any hands raised besides mine? What if I tell you the man was an off-duty cop, with a license to carry? How did (or does) this scenario make you feel about the right to carry?
By a lot of the logic flying around the US about guns and the right to carry, this off-duty cop was a good guy, protecting the blonde woman on the back of his ATV from a potentially big threat, a threat so big that it required him to carry three loaded firearms and a knife in his cargo shorts for a ride through the woods. This Weekend Rambo was actually, however, protecting no one, and was instead lethally threatening a 115 lb woman with pigtails wearing a pink tank top, shorts, and sneakers and gardening in the summer sunshine with her dog.
By the logic floating around, you may ask whether the man would have been justified in shooting the dog or me? Was the dog, or I as her master, a reasonable threat to the man or his girlfriend? Was he standing his ground? Never mind that it wasn’t his to stand, it’s probably safe to say that a slight white girl in pigtails and pink is nobody’s idea of an obvious threat. A barking dog, however, even a small one, can be scary, and my rescue pup can growl and bark with the best of them. Even so, the guy had options. First of all, if I can subdue a 45 lb dog, and even a bite from such a dog wouldn’t be the end of the world to me, then I’d bet good money that this guy, at six feet and close to 200 lbs, a trained law enforcement officer in his 20s, could take on my pet and win. Moreover, from the vantage point of a fully functioning ATV, with the engine running, retreat was an easy and obvious option.
By the logic flying around, I should also have been carrying a weapon to protect myself from big potential threats like large strange men, who emerge from the woods on ATVs and point guns at me and my dog minding our own business on family land. My father, who follows this logic to varying degrees, would in fact have been carrying a loaded weapon, had he been there, or would have tucked one under the seat of his truck just in case he “needed” it (in the most probable scenario, to shoot a poisonous snake).
I am no stranger to guns. I learned to shoot pennies off tree stumps with handguns and rifles on this same piece of property before I turned thirteen. As part of my obligatory weekly chores, my father once tasked me with sitting in my treehouse with a pellet gun trained on the garden and an order to shoot the pie plates waving in the wind to scare off the squirrels. He would have preferred that I shoot the squirrels directly, but I reasoned with him to reach this compromise to protect the garden from its furry thieves.
Yes, I am no stranger to guns nor to gun culture, but I do not and would not carry or own one. Moreover, given how frightened this man was of my dog and me, I hate to think how the situation might have escalated if I’d pointed a loaded gun at him in turn. My father said when I told him the story, as most self-respecting gun-owners in the US would, “It’s a good thing he got you and not me. I would have shot him.” Instead, the guy got off with a long-winded lecture about criminal trespassing, Constitutional law, and global gun policies. I tend to speak with remarkable and pointed fluency when threatened, (and it belies the misconception that small women in pigtails and pink can not be dangerous). Talk saved the squirrels, and talk de-escalated a stand-off with an off-duty cop turned Weekend Rambo, a stand-off that seemed headed directly toward, at minimum, the murder of my beloved companion.
From where I sit in Warsaw, talk has a lot more potential than current US gun and gun-related laws and policies to help us understand, nuance, and address big potential threats, and the news from the States about slaughter after slaughter seems not only tragic, but also pathetic. It makes me feel like I hail from a blindingly flawed idiocracy, one that raises sons (and daughters) to be cops and/or vigilantes who point (and often shoot) guns at unarmed innocents and conditions a general populace to respond with apathetic resignation. An idiocracy that raises us first to be afraid of the unknown, the novel, and the different, and then, to believe that personal weapons can instill power and ammeliorate fear.
By the logic floating around the US, there’s a time and a place for personal gun ownership, and that time and place is “protection.” Try as I might, however, I just can’t imagine a scenario in which a gun is a necessary or even a particularly appropriate accessory for safety. And, I’ve been held up at knifepoint in Jakarta by three men attempting to rob me and had a gun trained on me at home by a man who said he would use it if I did not comply with his demands. No, a gun is not for safety. It’s merely and simply a threat, a potentially and effectively lethal one.
The logic floating around the rest of the developed world makes this clear by employing an alternative logic to protect citizens more effectively. Here’s hoping, against apparently applicable logic, that my homeland catches up, that we find other ways to feel powerful. Personally, I recommend pink tank tops, braids, and critical thinking and communication skills (and possibly, a hoe if caught in a tricky spot with a poisonous snake). They work for me. But what do I know? I’m just a little girl who fended off three men with a knife by saying no repeatedly and who talked a man acting crazy with a loaded gun into submission, which must mean I’m just lucky.
End Note: “acting crazy” and mental illness are not the same thing, and I do not conflate the two. This piece targets the purportedly rational among us, whom I hope will stop acting crazy and embrace gun control in the US.
originally published in Michigan Quarterly Review Blog on June 11, 2014