I don’t even remember the first time I was affected by gun violence but I do remember the most striking. I was young. Perhaps 8 or so. My parents were on the side of a rented duplex where many of my relatives lay celebrating in the summer months. My 90-something year old great, great grandmother was baking in the kitchen, her ears bad but spirits high. Many of my cousins were fairly young then as well, running around, tired and ready for bed. My parents, who had a tumultuous relationship back then, were on the porch engaged in yet another argument about God knows what. It was hot. A car full of young men arrived at the duplex in search of a rival gang member. My uncle, who misheard the young man’s request upon arrival, was struck several times at point blank by a sea of bullets. It devastated my family and it changed my father.
From that day on, my life was constantly disrupted in personal ways by guns. I saw a young man die on a sidewalk in Flint, Michigan. I’ve had community members cancel meetings after a sudden death of a brother, friend, cousin who was taken away by a gun shot in the summer’s night. I’ve had cousins subject to multiple gun shot wounds. I’ve had a female cousin get shot in the face within an inch of her life. I’ve had cousins imprisoned for gun possessions. I’ve had playground fun interrupted by gun battles. I’ve snuck out of basketball games early to avoid the inevitable gun fight that would follow. I’ve been in movie theaters where we were let out the side door, my father clinching tightly to my hand, eyes moving swiftly to scope out any threats.
I’ve lived with guns my whole life yet I had never seen one up close and personal until it was pressed against my brother’s face on a street sidewalk in the thick of summer. The perpetrator was a policeman.
I’ve always known that guns killed people. They killed children who would never remember their fathers. They killed spirits that never got to make it to 30 years old. They killed their victims, of course, but they killed communities. They killed scared boys hoping to become men. They killed the young. In fact, I learned that the old died of diabetes, amputated and gray and the young died from guns. Everyone else went to jail. Because of guns.
The guns that occupy my memory never killed squirrels.
I don’t hunt. I’ve never lived in an area where hunting was a necessity or owning a gun was a sport. Every urban center I’ve called home has seen guns as an immediate threat to humanity. Every place I’ve called home has seen what the destruction of guns can do. Every city I’ve called home has only seen guns in ‘the wrong hands.’ The neighborhoods I grew up in, the urban centers I later moved to, and the mostly minority communities I work in, have led me to the conclusion that guns are not only bad but have no place in the hands of human beings.
Because of who I am and what my skin color convenes to the rest of the world, I don’t feel safe walking around this country knowing that others are armed. We have seen time and time again, the reckless judgment of officers and everyday citizens who have killed their fellow man on behalf of some perceived fear. I’m often left with the lingering question: What if they were not armed? What if getting a gun was not as easy as getting a pack of cigarettes? What if gun ownership were not these highly and hotly debated topics for evening news’ partisan participants? What if we could honestly say that we wouldn’t have wanted to be in that movie theater, or school, or mall in any town across America? What if we could publicly acknowledge that there are people in urban centers all across the country who own guns, legally and illegally for the expressed intention of killing another human being? And that should not be subject to debate. And that people in Mackinac County, Michigan should not be weighing in on how we restrict gun access to people who’ve never even seen a deer let alone packed up an RV for a boys trip in search of some rabbits.
What if progressives could just come right out and say that we want a completely unarmed society? I don’t want to turn on the news and see another headline ripped out of a Law & Order scene of some 22 year old cop who was so sure this young, black boy coming from his 3rd day of 9th grade had a gun. When in fact he just happened to be 6 feet tall with peach fuzz and daydreaming in the middle of Bedford Stuyvesant. And respectability politics aside, we have become so engulfed with defending the Cosby kids and suburban schoolchildren against guns that we’ve forgotten how guns have a lasting effect on all of us. Whether we are employed or unemployed, whether we’ve been a perpetrator or a victim. Guns are not good for us. There should not be a gun under a pillow on the 12th floor of a studio apartment in Chelsea legally owned by a person popping meds for bipolar no more than there should be one pointed at a room full of kindergarteners in Greenwich, Connecticut. There should not be a gun riding on the A train with me. There should not be a gun visibly holstered on an officer at the supermarket with me. There should not be a gun at the scene of a robbery for tennis shoes. There should not be guns in urban centers where there are more people than animals to shoot.
Let’s get real about what’s happening here. Guns are killing people. They absolutely are. They are destroying our happiness. They destroy our communities. And there isn’t a gun alive that can protect me from feeling helpless every time I am destroyed by the news of another gun crime.