I owned a gun, very briefly, when I was twenty years old. My ex-wife’s father bought it for us, a diminutive silver pistol ensconced in a gray plastic case. At the gun range I was surprised at the recoil. You wouldn’t think such a small device could snap with such sharp force.
The idea, I guess, was that it provided some kind of “protection.” Protection against what, I’m not sure, because we lived in a pretty nice apartment in a Ft. Collins suburb that reeked of safety. The roads were wide, the lawns were landscaped, fathers rode bicycles with those baby-carrier trailers behind them. We’re talking Safe City, USA, where a few frat boys lighting a couch on fire makes it into the evening news, and people lounge unafraid in city parks at two in the morning.
But still! Protection! Because, you know, bad things can happen. Don’t you watch TV? Bad things happen all the time there, unless you stop them from happening by shooting them with a gun. I mean, how many times did Scully save Mulder’s ass by putting a slug into some sewer-traveling monster? Do you want to get your face sucked off by a sewer monster? No!
Okay, that’s silly. But bad shit does happen, for real. Watch the news, you’ll see. Men shoot people over drugs, money, transgressions real and imagined. Men go crazy and shoot their wives and children and themselves. Men walk into crowded restaurants, and movie theaters, and schools, and open fire with assault rifles and multiple handguns with extended clips. Whole nations go crazy, sometimes, and thousands of men shoot each other – and women too, of course, children, whoever happens to be around – over money, territory, transgressions real and imagined.
And this, this will protect you, this contrivance of steel and powder bucking in your hand. You will face up to that sewer monster, that madman, those soldiers, and you will shoot them down. You will stand triumphant over their bodies like Russell Crowe in that one gunfighter movie. You will cruise down the halls in strangely smooth movements mowing down demons with your chain gun, you will say “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker,” as the top of the building explodes.
But meanwhile the gun will wait in your bedside drawer. If you’re really paranoid, like my dad, you’ll keep it out of its holster, fully loaded, on top of the nightstand, in case someone tries to steal your TV from you in the middle of the night. The gun will wait, but you will know it’s there. You will tell yourself it’s a last resort. You will feel that now you are really a man, because you hold the power of death in the palm of your hand.
And you would never hurt those close to you. That’s not what it’s for. It’s for all those jerks out there who do want to hurt you, who might cut you off in traffic, and you both start yelling, and then he fires a gun. You would never fire first, unless he had his gun out already. The scenarios are endless. They run constantly through your mind. You’ve seen them before, many times, mostly on television. You never know when you’re going to be attacked. That’s why it’s important to always have the gun with you, in your shoulder holster or glove compartment.
And you would never hurt those close to you. You’d have to be really fucked up, on booze or drugs or something, to even think of that. But you do think of it, one more scenario at the edges. It does happen. Like I had a friend who threatened his wife with a gun one time. They had a pretty negative relationship, seems like. Not like mine. I hardly ever lash out in uncontrollable rage, at anyone. Maybe he thought it was the end of the world, for him. Maybe he craved a sharp climax to a life that made no sense, at the time. Maybe he thought he was the messiah, like a lot of these guys do.
So the gun will wait. It will lie in its dark drawer and when you think of it your thoughts will be dark. You will dream of shooting and being shot, because a gun is a very common, nearly universal dream image, an archetypal symbol of sexual aggression. You will talk with your friends about it, and agree that guns are just cool, and ignore the dark thoughts of gore and unhappiness eddying through the corners of your mind.
Because what else, after all, can you do? How can you give up this perceived if extremely uncertain defense against the possible aggressions of your own neighbors and countrymen? How could you live so defenselessly?