Something...Something About Guns
Or, how did I end up on trial for committing a crime with a camera?
These stories are all like onions. Or like the three types of secrets. Those being, the ones we share, the ones I keep from you and finally the ones that murderous and deeply disturbed dictator Hitler liked to call “about future events as yet unknown.”
Feel uncomfortable yet?
OK, well it was September in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Back in 1980. There was a midnight showing of The Clash’s film Rude Boy. I’ve written about this before and if you’ve read it you know a few things.
You know that after listening to The Special’s song “Concrete Jungle” 15 times to “get in the mood,” I decamped to the showing by myself, my date having stood me up. And my head was fueled with the eerily prophetic lyric “they throw a bottle straight at your face.”
You also know, if you’ve clicked the link and read the story above, that the evening ended with me in the emergency room, the cartilage in my left ear torn open by a broken bottle. But in the interregnum between me chasing the cugine bottle thrower back into the theater I had come out of (and rendering unto him a stomping he very clearly deserved) and the emergency room where a disinterested cigarette smoking doctor inexpertly sewed my ear back to my head so badly that at the time my ear stuck out like a wing, and even now I have trouble with this ear, I went home.
America has become one big abattoir and how and why we got that way seems so much less important than why we stay that way.
And this is where we get to the part of the story that I’ve never told anyone. I didn’t go home to get caught by my mother and my stepfather and taken to the hospital, which is what happened. I didn’t even go home to stay home. I went home to retrieve my High-Standard 12 gauge shotgun that I had hidden from my mother and my stepfather.
My intent? To drive back to Bay Ridge just to “scare” my attackers a little.
Now who would be irresponsible enough to sell a 17-year-old a High-Standard 12 gauge shotgun? I’ll just answer for you since you’ll never guess: a low-level mafiosi cat I knew. He had had a few and knew I was in the market for one since in the late ‘70s in New York anyone who had to spend any time actually out in the city, and had any brains, was in the market for one.
I was intercepted before my colossally misguided plan had been put in to play but I thought about this moment again recently when during an interview on the occasion of the release of “Killers Like Us”, a record by the band BUNUEL that I sing for (the other band that I sing for), I started catching a little…gun shade.
“So you made the controversial decision to put a gun on your record cover. Why?” All of which sounded, in translation, very much like not a question at all but more an accusation.
It was a Polish publication and while I gathered myself to answer I was remembering that the rest of the band had not wanted to use this cover as a cover. Moreover they were in no way convinced or mollified in the rightness of my idea by the fact that the gun was mine.
“Well it was my gun.” The interviewer was also not convinced or mollified. Nor, if truth be told, was my wife who TOOK the photo at our kitchen table and said at some point, “what is it with Americans and guns?”
I rolled out the shibboleths about freedom, and defense, even the fact that any Black person in America without one was making a poor tactical choice, and it all sounded almost OK.
Lyrically? A record called “Killers Like Us” required it. So that took care of the Polish interviewer. It just didn’t take care of the Polish wife.
[C]an you imagine what would have happened if Adam Lanza had raped 20 preschoolers instead of shooting them to death?
“You do realize that Poland had lots of guns on September 1, 1939 right?” The implication being that that still wasn’t enough to stop the German invasion. In fact, correctly understood, any/every country that lost any war at any time probably had lots of guns after the invention of guns and still…
People were getting shot in traffic, in church, while shopping, sleeping, eating, dancing, kids in kindergarten, kids at home, kids by younger kids, by accident, on purpose. Everywhere. At all times. America has become one big abattoir and how and why we got that way seems so much less important than why we stay that way.
Of course why we stay that way has everything to do with shootings in traffic, in church, while shopping, sleeping, eating, dancing, kids in kindergarten, kids at home, kids by younger kids, by accident, on purpose. Everywhere. At all times. We live in a dangerous place and to defend yourself from these dangers you must contribute to the dangers.
Moreover if you think about Poland in 1939, on a base level, they were not able to defend themselves because they didn’t have enough guns. But lest you think the number of guns is really the issue you should also note that Kennedy, Lincoln, Reagan, Lumumba, and George Wallace, for example, were not shot by many guns at all.
So if the issue is not too many guns, or not enough, maybe it’s just too much for people who can’t handle either too many or not enough.
“I don’t know what it is with Americans and guns,” I answered. “But my honest desire is that all guns in the hands of private citizens be made illegal.” She nodded in agreement.
“For everybody but me.” The agreement was short-lived. And though I agreed that America was sick with a sickness — can you imagine what would have happened if Adam Lanza had raped 20 preschoolers instead of shooting them to death? It would have stopped any “yeah, but” debate dead — I still clung to the fact that in the end I don’t believe guns made the slightest difference.
You see, it’s the mind that pulls the trigger. And I’ve watched Americans plow their cars into crowds. Blow up buildings with children in them. And shove people on subway tracks. For any and many reasons, none of which really make sense in the long view.
So, in the end I guess I agree with Pogo who had once famously said that he had met the enemy and “he is us.”
But how do we defend us from we? I don’t think I know really. However, I know the gun genii will never be put back in the gun bottle. So can we, at least, mitigate harm, even just a little, by controlling guns? I don’t know if I know that that works either.
OK, OK…Can we maybe just all agree to kill each other less?
Yeah: crazy, right? I mean why would we do THAT?