The Tender Activist: You’re Not Responsible Enough to Have a Gun

By : Scottie Campbell
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In the aftermath of the June 12, 2016, shooting here in Orlando, my dad and I had a discussion about guns.

Like all of our discussions on that topic, nobody was swayed. I certainly didn’t help things when I had a knee-jerk reaction to a “the gun doesn’t kill people” bon mot he lobbed at me. Fresh off hearing Rick Scott regurgitate an impotent cliché for the national media about the Second Amendment itself not killing everyone, I snapped.

“You people,”—I referenced all gun owners as one cancerous lump, an excellent persuasive tactic—“need to come to the table with a reasonable plan for gun control or we’re going to take them all away.”

Here’s the best part: I summarized my feelings with, “This is the line in the sand, my friend.” Gold, right? If Charles Bronson and Mohandas Gandhi had a love child, this is surely how they would have stated their case.

Despite this evidence, I am still willing to have a discussion about gun control, though my true and solid belief is no human on earth is responsible enough to touch a gun.

Spiritually we know we are easily ruled by two emotions: fear and anger. Both are big business. It works in marketing: take this pill so you’ll no longer be fat because fat people die or, worse yet, people don’t like fat people! It works in politics: vote for me or the other person will eat your children! It works in our daily life: be on time, even though there is nothing that actually needs to be done precisely at that time, because otherwise I will fire you!

Science has studied this and has deemed it the “fight or flight response.” All animals are instilled with it. At one time it was particularly useful to humans because there were lots of things roaming earth that wanted to eat us. Now, centuries after we traded in our caves for condos, we don’t really know what to do with this physiological reaction a majority of the time and it manifests itself in ways that range from momentarily harmful—snapping at a cashier—to irrevocably terrible—shooting a gun in the heat of the moment.

When I was about 7 or 8, Dad did something any gun owner with young children should do: he taught me about guns. Before we got around to shooting the gun, he taught me how it worked and how it came apart. We dismantled bullets to explain how they worked. I was taught not point a gun at someone, even if it was my cap gun Winchester—which completely defeated the purpose of having the toy. Who wants to play Cowboys and Indians while shooting in the air?

While Dad was stationed in Michigan, I took hunting safety in middle school as part of a trifecta of essential pre-teen life skills, rounded out with boating safety and snowmobile safety. Once our science teacher, Mr. Spade, awarded our certification we were able to get a license and go hunting, which I did with Dad.

As a germinating gay boy, those hunting outings were wrapped in the same machismo I associated with playing sports or trying to learn how to fix a car. I was awkward in these areas, always intimidated by this sense that everyone around me had innate knowledge I did not. It’s possible that my perception of the hunting experience laid the foundation for my aversion to guns. It’s also more probable the seed was planted the day our family friend, John, told me and my dad to hold still then, from a distance of 20 feet or so from us, he shot across our path. I’m not sure what kind of rifle John was toting, but I do know the rabbit was headless when he retrieved the carcass.

It’s important for us to consider the origins of our opinions. I’ve considered whether my gun stance isn’t just a temptation toward discordance. I’ve always found myself leading the life of “the other” and I’ve spent time considering if these were reasoned choices or just an attempt to be contrary. I was a theatre major, despite eye rolls (and begging) from my parents to take a practical career path. While the world has made positive changes over my 51 years, coming out in the late ‘80s was hardly in vogue. Despite being raised in a Republican household, I initially registered as a Democrat.

Seeing too many news stories of children accidentally shooting each other while playing with their parents guns, resisting the instinct to go numb with each mass shooting, feeling helpless anger each time an unarmed person is shot or another gun goes off in a purse and kills—the list goes on. My stance is firmly built on blood and an out-of-control body count.

Eddie Izzard has a wonderful rejoinder to the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” cliché: “But I think the gun helps, you know?” Izzard’s boundless wit aside, the logic of the cliché isn’t wasted on me. I accept that a gun-free world is a fantasy, but I do not accept that America’s gun culture is immutable. We must address the “people” part of that equation. I’ve committed myself to finding ways of helping it change, without counterproductive lines in the sand. This is how I will honor the 49 and, whether he realizes it or not, show respect to Dad.

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