A Little Story
Years ago now, Miss O’ was visiting friends in Central Virginia for a holiday party. After a delicious dinner, as the guests—all of whom (save Miss O’) were just to the right of Reagan—adjourned to the living room for coffee, one guest said to our host, “I’ll show you the gun we got for Lex’s Christmas present.” He returned from his car with a handsome wooden case about 14" long, opened it, and displayed a stunning gun—I don’t know the make, but I know it was some type of handgun or revolver that shone brightly in brass tones and blonde wood, and the velvet upon which it rested was golden brown. The proud father-giver saw me looking at it and quickly said, “Now of course this wouldn’t interest you,” and he moved it out of my view. I was startled by his prejudice, his assumption that because I leaned left politically I must de facto oppose all gun ownership. I then heard him explaining loudly (for my benefit?) that he was getting his son lessons in how to properly handle it, and that he himself was licensed and the gun registered, though all anyone really wanted at that moment was to admire its beauty, something of which I was believed not to be capable.
I could not help noticing the apology (was that it?) in his voice, combined with a dismissive quality, when he said, “Now of course this wouldn’t interest you.” When I was a kid—and this would have surprised him if he’d ever wanted to have a conversation—I played Guns all the time. Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, “Bang! Bang! You’re dead, fifty bullets in your head, you can’t get up till you count TEN!” Cap guns, water pistols, Western-style revolvers, toy rifles made of metal and wood—we kids played with ’em all. As adults, my brothers and I do not own guns (as far as I know), and neither did our family, though I vaguely recall an air rifle—not sure where that came from, but I kind of think it was our mom’s (she’d been a naval officer, though I don’t know if there is a connection). In the home, we had a decorative “colonial” “musket” from Ethan Allen Furniture hanging over a door in (what we called) the playroom, and our dad had a hand-carved wood gun his Uncle Art had made for him as a child, so he could have a toy gun (which his parents could not afford). Neighbors on either side of us were hunters and had gun racks in their living rooms the way you’d have pool cues lined up in a game room. Friends in the country always had a gun hanging over the hearth. Guns just were, is what I’m saying. I never thought about it, except to realize I had no interest in shooting a real one.
Here is the first time I got upset about guns: The third year I was teaching in Central Virginia (my first teaching job), I had moved from a tiny apartment over Edna’s Beauty Salon in the short stretch called “downtown” out to a rented 150-year-old former school house with a wood stove. The owners, a delightful retired couple, had a lovely brick home up on the hill, but my cute house was situated beside a gorgeous pond and surrounding woods, as well as a rust-coated shed that was once a delivery van for Schlitz beer, sans tires. This particular weekend, my landlords were having a lot of company—nieces and nephews, and their children. I was in my living room reading when I heard a lot of happy voices heading toward the pond, and then, soon after, a series of violently loud pops, as from the machine guns I’d heard in war movies and on TV news during Vietnam stories. It scared the shit out of me. When it stopped, I looked out my back door. There stood a man holding a machine gun (“assault rifle” or “automatic rifle” is, let’s face it, euphemistic). His children were holding nets, scooping up floating fish bodies atop the pond’s surface, or at least the ones that were the most whole, leaving dozens of floating carcasses where they’d died. (In the days that followed, the stench was unreal.)
They’d gone fishing, you see.
The entire episode lasted maybe five minutes. They then walked up the hill with their “catches.” Later, my landlady, Mrs. S., came over to apologize. She was disgusted, but had said nothing. She didn’t want to offend her nephew. “But that’s not fishing. He’d told me he wanted to fish…”
Actually, that was the second time I’d been upset by guns, now that I think about it. The first time occurred the first year I taught there, sophomore English, when I’d done a lesson on Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” (I didn’t know that, at that high school, I wasn’t supposed to teach black writers, even though the school was 40% black.) Two white boys came up to me on their way out of the room after the bell, demanding to know what the hell was going on. “You called Martin Luther King a great man,” T.G. said. “You know who is really a great man? George Washington. Why didn’t you talk about George Washington?” His buddy M.J. poked me above my sternum, “We don’t have to listen to this.” He looked at T.G. “You know, Ms. O’Hara, huntin’ accidents happen.” T.G. said, “They sure do. All the time.” They walked out. (These same boys used to spend weekends walking the mall in Lynchburg carrying semi-automatic guns over their heads (at age 16), ammo strapped across their chests Poncho Villa style, just because. “The law cain’t do nothin’ to us,” they’d crow. And at that time that was true.)
At some point back there, M.J. had put his index finger in my face, and I’d batted it away. Later, the assistant principal came to my door and told me that this student had charged me with assault. I explained. “Oh, he touched you first? Okay, then, I’ll talk to him. But what’s the matter with you? His father is furious. Are you trying to get yourself killed? Teach something else.”
The year was 1988.
And I taught “I Have a Dream” every goddamned year of my teaching career ever after. Showed the video. Set the volume on high. Dammit.
According to the majority of Americans, T.G. and M. J. of rural Virginia are just the sort of men they’d like to see running the United States of America. These young men have become the modern guideposts for interpreting the most important law of the land, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Let’s look up the amendment, shall we? (I have two copies of this document in pocket form in my home. Do you have access to one? If not, I’d say that every citizen should have a copy handy. You can get a free one from the A.C.L.U.)
To Review: The Constitution begins with a preamble (“We the people…,” which many of us can sing, thanks to ABC’s “History Rock” during cartoon Saturday mornings!), seven Articles (each with multiple sections), followed by Amendments (currently there are 23, the latest to do with Congressional salaries). (The Constitution was designed to be a living, amendable document, because the understanding the crafters had of life in general was that while not only are we born not knowing everything and often die knowing even less, yet we can still try to make life in our nation better.) Following Article VII are the signatures of the crafters. What follows those are Amendments, the first being:
Freedom of religion, speech, and the press; rights of assembly and petition
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Here is the second:
Right to bear arms
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
And the third:
Housing of soldiers
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner prescribed by law.
An Amendments Discussion
Amendments II and III, which are to do specifically with war and defense, came about for interesting reasons: In the case of arms (the second Amendment), the standing Militia of the time belonged to the King of Britain and served at his pleasure. In the American colonies (and that term is still how you find U.S. history when looking it up at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, by the way), there were no militias that were not the king’s. In order to fight a war, colonists had to form their own town militias to defend themselves against British forces. The first four words of the second amendment, “A well regulated Militia,” make clear that the writers’ intent was to secure a people’s army, regulated by the government, and not owned by a king. By extension (and here's where it gets ambiguous), the people have the right to keep and bear arms to secure the liberty of the State. (Hunting is not discussed, but then hunting is not "bearing arms" in terms of war; hunting had ever been an accepted part of human life, but shooting was not the main method, since most colonials didn't have guns. Most hunting, as far as I can find out, was subsistence hunting, such as snaring rabbits.)
The third Amendment, by contrast, seems quaint now, but it was serious business at the time it was written. The tradition up to that time was that the British king could demand that citizens house, feed, and otherwise care for soldiers in the king’s Militia, at the citizens’ expense, and if they refused they could be imprisoned (or, possibly, hanged). This practice meant that the king did not have to financially support the standing army. Because the soldiers were armed, they could, presumably, demand to be fed even if you yourself didn’t have enough to feed your family.
So you see how Amendments II and III would really matter to the early colonists.
What has happened in the last three decades in this country has been a startling reinterpretation of the second Amendment, one that moves far beyond the “well regulated Militia,” to extend unlimited private gun ownership of most any manner of handheld weapon invented, to any person who wishes to purchase the weapon and any accompanying ammunition, without government oversight, restriction, or regulation, which weapons the owner may use as he or she sees fit.
If that weapon owner sees fit to kill human beings who are determined not to have been an actual threat to the user of the weapon, the State has the right to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to prosecute, incarcerate, and pay for any subsequent verdict appeals of the perpetrator.
This has been the accepted agreement between the U.S. government and the majority of American citizens (some Northeastern states, for example, excluded), unquestioned in earnest for at least the last two decades, as far as I can tell. Insomuch as we have experienced four large-scale massacres in vastly different public places in five years—Virginia Tech (2007, college campus academic building), Ft. Hood, TX (2009, military base), Tucson, AZ (2011, shopping center parking lot, political gathering) and Aurora, CO (2012, movie theater)—and a variety of prominent prejudicially-motived killings of single humans (Matthew Shepard (gay male, 1998, Laramie, WY; though to be clear, he was only threatened with a gun and was, among other tortures, pistol-whipped rather than shot before he died of his injuries) and Trayvon Martin (black male, 2012, Sanford, FL) among them); and since after each such massacre the People have cried, “Gun control is off the table”; and since, when some of us have suggested gun control should be on that table now more than ever, we have been shouted down, “It’s too soon! Where’s your humanity? Where’s your respect? We have to bury the dead!” (such cries to be followed soon after with, “Oh, look, voting rights are threatened…,” thus ensuring that these gun questions are never to be brought to the aforementioned political table), Miss O’ would like to offer this to her dear readers:
A Modest Proposal in Response to Large-Scale National Media Coverage of Random Regional Machine- and Hand-Gun Massacres in the United States of America.
Let us look first at the pattern of gun violence and response, which pattern was succinctly articulated in a recent email by Tom Corbin, Miss O’s senior English teacher and later department chair when she taught at Luxe High School (the massacre at Columbine in 1999 occurring in the middle of Miss O’s tenure), after she shared her modest proposal with him:
The new American ritual of mass shooting - pick one - high school, college, army base, church, political rally, movie theatre - total media coverage including almost immediate interview with the child, spouse, parent of a victim - flags at half staff - outcries from all politicians - President visits hospitals where wounded were taken - memorial at a stadium, convention center, large auditorium - then business as usual.
Herewith, The Proposal
To All American Citizens in the Aftermath of a Gun Massacre:
Turn off the cameras, shut off the microphones, and let’s just admit that it is better, freer, and more thrilling to live in a nation where one can be a victim in a hate killing or mass murder at any moment than to risk having a substantive, meaningful, and effective conversation about gun control.
Miss O’, you see, has had it. She has had it with the young male loner/mentally ill suspect with the legally obtained weaponry who goes batshit and blows away people either known or unknown to him, to be followed by the weeks-long media circus surrounding the scene of the tragedy: Photos of the faces of the victimized contorted in unspeakable grief; the on-air pundits blithely politicizing the second Amendment and the de-facto response from elected officials, “Gun control is off the table”; to be followed by the Liberal apology, “Of course, it’s too soon, oh, look, a bank crisis!”
Miss O’ is done. Miss O’ suspects that you are done, too. So let us agree: Random gun massacres are the price we pay for freedom. Enough with the tears, the gnashing of teeth, the beating of breasts: Embrace the possibility of random shootings with automatic weapons as you embrace the possibility of dying on the highway every day in your car, which is, statistically, far more likely, as gun defenders take pains to point out at the least opportunity.
If this is the world most American citizens want to live in, if death at the hands and guns of young males who enjoy unfettered access to Internet procurement of weapons and ammunition to use at their discretion whenever and wherever they wish to, is your definition of what it means to live free and easy in the U. S. of A., who am I, Miss O’, a mere blog cog in the American media wheel, to say otherwise?
Whereas grieving the fallout of gun violence has become America’s national obsession; and whereas Americans have shown themselves to be addicted to the images, sounds, and perpetrator backstories that accompany the aftermath of mass killing in somebody else’s backyard, “the yard over in that state, not mine”; and whereas the gun loving Americans are celebrating their freedom to kill and be killed, getting off on their addiction to watching the grief of others play out through nationally televised on-the-scene reportage and Internet slide shows: Let it be hereby pronounced that I, Miss O’, am losing my freedom. This Modest Proposal is about Miss O’ and her individual needs. The freedom NOT to see such massacres, which I, Miss O’, would prefer to come in the form of gun control, must needs be met in the form of Media Blackout.
Miss O' humbly proposes that when the next gun massacre occurs in the coming year—and it is only a matter of a year, statistically speaking—please, allow Miss O’—who, while not opposed to gun ownership per se, is not in support of unfettered access to automatic weapons and unregulated, unmonitored gun purchases—a great good courtesy, and, please, SHUT THE FUCK UP. No cameras, no reportage, no relentless coverage on the Web. Certainly, because of the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Miss O’ cannot stop you or the press from ejaculating your outrage onto the airwaves or social media, but she can, in any event, humbly, modestly request that all of you gun-adoring mourners out there shut your goddamned mouths.
Let’s face it, shall we? As to the far-reaching implications of gun massacres, the national consensus seems to be, “Who gives a shit?” It’s becoming like blizzards in the Rockies, isn’t it, these rampages? It’s boring, in the end. Since no national conversation is to be allowed to occur on the subject of unregulated access to money-making arms; since gun control laws in the United States are never to be on the American Corporate/Congressional table, Constitutionally speaking or otherwise; and since the first four words of the second Amendment, “A well regulated Militia” have fallen off the Constitution like so many spent casings from a machine gun magazine—and though not to regulate arms is tantamount to treason—Miss O’ realizes she is powerless to stand in the way of the irrational Will of the People.
Thanks to Amendment I, however, she can speak her peace. At least until “We” the Profit-Mongering People of the Corporate United States reinterpret that amendment for us, too.