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If I Had a Gun

PHOTO: Public domain from Pixabay.

PHOTO: Public domain from Pixabay.

Listen to Jeronimo Yanez‘s voice after he shot Philando Castile. Here's what I heard: The voice of a man who hoped to be the good guy with the gun, being confronted with the fact that he might be the bad guy—the fearful guy, the boy who protects himself against the dark, and is not protecting others from an imminent threat, as he may have imagined himself doing as a police officer.

Or, at a minimum, I heard in his voice the realization that shooting a man with a woman and child in the car is villainously terrible, and not at all heroic. To my ears, there was nothing but pain and fear in his voice.

I've also been thinking about Castile. He carried a firearm because he imagined it might keep him safe. Perhaps he too had fantasies, or stories he told himself, of using the firearm to protect the people he cared about. If neither man had had a firearm, Castile would be alive, free to keep making mistakes and loving and hating and growing, Yanez would have already forgotten about that ticket he wrote for the broken tail light, and Diamond Reynolds and her daughter would not be plagued by nightmares for the rest of their lives.

I've been thinking about all the times violence has swept into my life, and mentally inserting a gun into my hand. A couple of weeks ago, my son and I saw a man attack a woman on Telegraph. I jumped up and said something stupid like, “Hey, stop, that's not right!” That broke the spell. The guy looked at me, blinked, and walked away. Then he came back and apologized to her and to me (in a weird screwed-up way, but that's another story–and yes, I did call the police, or try to–but again, that's another story). What if I'd had a gun under my jacket? My hand would have gone right toward it. The presence of the gun may have led to tougher, more confrontational words. My son may have ended up seeing me shoot that man, or shoot a bystander. Or I could have even shot my son, if something had gone horribly wrong.

But none of that happened. Everyone lived. When I think about the times I've been attacked or threatened or I've seen violence, I can't think of one instance when a gun would have improved the outcome. Which is not to say that there will never come a time when a gun might help. But my experience tells me that this time will be the exception, not the rule.

Over the weekend, my partner and our boys walked past a store that sold weapons. Of course, the boys wanted to go in and gawk at the swords and knives and guns. I understood: they've been fed images of good guys with guns for their entire lives, and they wanted to slip into those fantasies for a moment. I have little doubt that Jeronimo Yanez and Philando Castile were once just like my boys.

Bored, I looked at the signs being sold on the walls of the store: Keep out! Owner is armed and dangerous! Gun control is being able to hit your target! Everything said fear and isolation. Nothing said: Breathe and count the good things in life, and remember that we're all fallible and precious.

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