One morning last week I was sitting in Starbucks reading the news and I looked up to see this dude, this kid, this kind of doughy oaf I’ve seen in this Starbucks many times before, wearing his usual outfit of a polo shirt, Tommy Bahama flip-flops, and madras shorts with an automatic handgun tucked into the waistband. It’s always creepy to see someone exercising the right to walk around strapped, but that morning it was particularly jarring. The gun wasn’t even that securely tucked into the guy’s shorts, it was kind of dangling, like he’d grabbed it as an afterthought on his way out the door. There were children running around, to the display case full of cake pops and back to their parents, sort of dodging around the oaf’s legs.
And real quick, before you claim that not every gun owner is so careless or whatever, it wouldn’t have been any better if the oaf had brought the gun into the store enclosed in a big iron safe with a time lock and a laminated certificate of gun safety expertise hanging from a lanyard, not when there was a picture on my laptop screen of a cordoned-off church, not when (at the time this was happening) a demented nerd who had turned his head full of garbage into an act of mass murder was still on the prowl in South Carolina.
I almost wrote “an act of unimaginable violence” in the last sentence of the above paragraph, but stopped myself, because obviously walking into a church and murdering nine people is no longer unimaginable. Prediction: that once-common phrase will soon completely fade from the lexicon.
So, I started imaging what kind of conversation I might have with this oaf, this fat fuck, this preppy dope prancing around with a murder machine in his pants. I imagined that if he was able to make coherent points that they’d probably be talking points, the stuff the NRA website advises gun-fucks to say, stuff designed to shut down conversation. But instead of replying with the things progressive websites advise one to say in the face of that shit, instead of buying into the same lifeless discourse mass murders tend to provoke—and how exciting is it that we’re at the point where mass murders provoke nothing better than discourse, and that it’s now a tired, predictable cliché—I tried coming up with new responses. Things that I feel express my feelings better than facts and figures and illustrations of how fallacies work. Stuff that’s ultimately about as meaningful as the shit that spews from these gun-fucks’ filthy maws.
“An armed citizen can prevent a mass shooting”
Spit in this person’s face. Aim for their eyes. Ask them, Why didn’t you prevent that, then? When they open their mouth to respond, spit in their mouth and point out that bullets come faster than saliva and do much more damage.
“Proposed gun laws will put us on a slippery slope”
Shove this person down the nearest actual slope.
“We should arm teachers”
Pour maple syrup in this person’s hair.
“I am a responsible gun owner and firearms are an important part of my heritage”
Take this person’s hand and squeeze it tight and tell him he won’t be a man until he stops searching for a father.
“The real issue is mental illness”
Drop a copy of the DSM on this person’s foot.
“They should ban violent video games”
Make a big pile of old Atari games on the hood of this person’s car and set it on fire.
“I have the right to self-defense”
You could ask this person why they think it’s fine that their sense of safety should come at the expense of everyone else’s, but how about this instead—take this person in your arms. Hold them as you would your own brother or sister, one you haven’t seen in too long. Tell them, I know you are afraid, but rhetoric doesn’t kill fear, it cages it. Cage your fear and you’ll spend the rest of your life in service to that cage, fretting over cracks and rusty hinges. I know the emptiness you feel, too, but emptiness cannot be filled with ideology. Ideology echoes in the emptiness and becomes deafening. Kill your fear by allowing the emptiness to grow until fear tumbles into the chasm, then accept that the journey of your life is to fill that chasm anew every single day. It will be incredibly difficult. There will be times you think you’ve finally got enough to stay topped off only for the source to fade, there will be times when you think you’ve filled it in only to discover it goes deeper than you ever imagined. But you have to keep trying, because trying is the point and you’re winning as long as each evening as you settle down to sleep you ask yourself, What kind of person do I want to be in the morning?
Say all that, and if the person comes back with something like…
“An armed society is a polite society”
Tell them to go fuck their mother.