In her speech addressing the massacre in Orlando, Hillary Clinton proposed the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which would get “weapons of war” off the streets. As someone who is not part of the gun culture, and has no desire to be, that made me very happy indeed.
Although it’s impossible to know exactly how many guns there are in the United States, by some estimates, there are more guns than there are people. That number, of course, is not because every adult and child in the country owns a gun; it’s because the people who do own guns tend to own a lot of them.
As of last year, the average gun-owning household owned 8 guns. And, naturally, many gun-owners own only one gun: The number has been driven up by stockpiling.
For a long time, assault weapons – the sales of which are booming, partly because they are a favorite of people with large personal arsenals – were banned. Then the ban was lifted, allowing men intent on doing the maximum amount of damage in the shortest amount of time to do precisely that.
In her speech on the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub, Hillary Clinton said: “In Orlando and San Bernardino, terrorists used assault weapons, the AR-15, and they used it to kill Americans. That was the same assault weapon used to kill those little children in Sandy Hook. We have to make it harder for people who should not have those weapons of war.”
Which, if we reinstate the assault weapons ban, means everyone who isn’t actually waging a war as part of the US military.
And that is music to my ears. Because I am deeply uncomfortable with anyone who passes an insufficient background check being able to legally acquire this sort of deadly weaponry and being able to publicly display these guns in a number of states.
I have heard gun-owners tell me about their right to bear arms, all kinds of arms without restriction, and about their right to be able to walk around in public with them. And now I would like gun-owners listen to me tell them about my right to not be around guns and my right to not get shot by someone holding one.
For many Americans, gun ownership is utterly natural. And it’s so commonplace that everyone knows and understands the phrase “gun culture.” There is abundant public conversation about the right to own guns.
What we don’t have words for are the experiences of people for whom gun ownership is not natural. Who didn’t grow up around guns, who don’t know how to use them, who are frightened of them, who have been turned off by guns because of a bad encounter with them. And there is very little public conversation about the right of these people to not be around guns.
I am one of the people from what I’ll call the no-gun culture. I wasn’t raised by parents who owned guns, and I didn’t grow up in a place with a thriving, visible gun culture. I had a couple of friends whose parents were hunters, and a friend whose dad was a sport shooter and made his own bullets, but that was not the stuff of kids’ lives. They were adult pursuits, and I never even saw their guns.
My formative experience with guns was my grandfather’s relationship to his gun, which he carried because he was a detective with the NYPD. I don’t remember my grandfather ever being cross with me a single time; I was young when he died, but he remains, in my memory, a constant source of love and laughter, whose lilting voice would go flat and stern if I got anywhere near the dresser where he kept his gun. Stay away from that dresser.
When he got home from work, he would unholster his gun and put it safely away in the dresser in the corner of his bedroom, and I was not to go near it. Ever. For any reason. He wanted me to be scared of what that gun could do in untrained hands, and I was.
My grandfather, I understood, did not love his gun. He respected it. It was a tool of his job, and I daresay he regretted it had to be.
My only other meaningful experience with guns was being threatened by one. It belonged to a boyfriend who hurt me, and I don’t feel inclined to provide any more detail than that. I remember him pulling the gun out from under the seat of his car and showing it to me, and how, as I looked at the glistening steel, my head got light and I had the curious thought that I was too busy trying not to faint in the presence of this weapon, this thing that could kill me, to be scared of it. It was his father’s gun. His father owned lots of guns.
The very existence of that gun, and the threats which accompanied it, made not just against me but the people I loved, hung over me for a very long time. It obliged me to him. I let myself be hurt again and again because of the fear of that gun and what it could do.
That experience did not endear them to me.
I understand, really I do, that there are people who grow up with guns and know how to use and safely store them and who like or even love their guns. I live in a community that includes farmers and hunters, who have practical use for guns, and lots of gun aficionados who keep them for sport or self-defense.
But I’m not a part of that culture. I have only the most basic familiarity with it. I’m not comfortable with it. And it’s not because I don’t respect guns; it’s because I do. I simply have a different relationship to them than pro-gun people do.
I really want gun owners to understand that there is an equally valid no-gun culture. It is okay for me to never want to own a gun, for self-defense or any other reason. It is okay for me to not want to have guns in my home. It is okay for me to want to go into public spaces without seeing unconcealed guns.
There has to be some sort of balance between the pro-gun and no-gun subcultures that coexist in the U.S. And I really believe that reinstating the assault weapon ban is a place to start.
If we can’t even agree on that, especially after the horrific shooting in Orlando, then this isn’t a conversation about guns anymore. Not really. It’s a conversation about power and control.
I suspect that it always has been, but I would be thrilled if gun-owners would prove me wrong.
(Photo: Hillary for America. Some of the text in this piece originally appeared at Shakesville.)