When I was a kid in Texas, summer vacation meant more than the parks, pretty girls, and family reunions the Fresh Prince rapped about in the ’90s. Every summer, kids killed themselves or others with firearms they found in their homes during what should have been innocent summer play. This summer is no exception.
My carefree memories of summer vacation in Texas coexist alongside daily news stories about shootings, both accidental and intentional. Shootings were – and are – a year-round occurrence, but the summertime is different, or at least it seems that way. The heat that cooks anger until it overboils; the kids who are unoccupied at school and find guns. Both abetted by the reverence for guns that is so deeply embedded in our Lone Star DNA.
A few days ago, Christy Sheats, a mom in a lovely, middle-class suburb of Houston shot and killed her 17- and 21-year old daughters in the street in front of their home. Her estranged husband reportedly escaped the same fate only because the police shot Christy before she had a chance to reload.
In a bitter and tragic irony that is not surprising to this Texan, Christy Sheats was an outspoken advocate of the unrestricted right to own and use firearms to “protect” her family.
“It would be horribly tragic,” she wrote on Facebook in March, “if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away, but that’s exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semi-automatic handguns.”
She argued that she needed to “protect” her daughters from riff-raff and liberals (code: minorities), in case the suburbs were not sufficiently insulating – but in a profoundly tragic irony, it was she from whom they needed protection.
Which is hardly unusual, unfortunately. In both Newtown, Connecticut, and Orlando, Florida, it was not the wielders of semi-automatic weapons who needed guns for protection, but their family members and strangers who needed protection from them.
The significance of guns in Texan culture is not a cliché. Though my yellow-dog Democrat parents were advocates of gun control and, as senior citizens, marched in anti-Iraq war protests in Dallas, my Dad owned pistols and a Remington shotgun. A proud Black man who survived Jim Crow-era segregation in Texas and earned a marksmanship medal fighting in Europe in WWII, Daddy regularly declared that any dude who dared to roll down our street in a sheet would end up with a lot more than eye-holes in his Klan cape.
It’s true that at almost 80 – and beating the odds on how guns are typically used – Daddy foiled a robbery at his retirement job as a pharmacy manager by drawing the pistol he carried to work every day in a cigar box on a thief. But it’s also true that our family’s college-educated, middle-class sensibilities and safeguards didn’t prevent my nephew from being shot and killed by his stepfather during an argument. The mere presence of guns in my half-sister’s house for “protection” turned a shouting match into a fatal shooting.
It’s promising that at least some Texans, like my family members, support reasonable regulations on firearms. And the excesses of some gun rights advocates – such as the dudes who insist on flaunting their open carry rights by strapping on automatic weapons while they eat lunch at Chipotle restaurants in my hometown – have proved so frightening to some Texans (mostly mothers of children who found it frightening to sit next to gunslingers during lunchtime playdates) that the seeds of gun control advocacy have at least been planted within the State.
But of course the NRA and the GOP have continued to ignore unfettered access to firearms as a part of the problem. To the extent they weigh in on the Sheats shooting at all, they will focus only on the need for greater mental health awareness and resources (though they will resist funding for them). They will latch onto the fact that Sheats had a history of mental illness as “the cause” – despite the fact that people with mental illness are more likely to be victimized by violence than perpetrate it, and without addressing the reality that her ability to easily possess deadly firearms was a centrally contributing factor in the level of violence that resulted.
Donald’s solution, meanwhile, is to simply arm everyone. Turn every backyard, school yard, movie theater, shopping mall and nightclub into a potential shooting range where somehow the “good guys” will always miraculously prevail. No wonder the NRA is picking up the tab for more than $2 million of advertising for Donald. (I wonder what kind of “amazing” deal Donald has made with the mouthpiece for the large gun manufacturers.) We know how much they will benefit from unfettered ability to flood our homes and streets with firearms. What price will we pay for their profits?
My glimmer of hope is that the woman who will be our next president understands and empathizes with stories as divergent as mine and Christy Sheats’. Hillary has taken on the gun lobby to fight for the kinds of common sense reforms that will save future young people from becoming victims of gun violence like my nephew and Sheats’ daughters – and that is one of many reasons #ImWithHer.