handguns vs. rifles, and other sundry thoughts

Man, this has been a … weird month. All uneven and full of stops and starts. Strangely exhausting. I think what happens is that all through the holiday season, I keep telling myself that in January I am finally going to relax and de-stress, and somehow I always forget that January is still stressful.

It’s stressful on a few fronts: First, the holiday season usually ends up dipping into our meager savings and stretching us a little thinner, financially. In the past two years, we’ve also done some extensive out-of-pocket charity that strained our resources further. As a side note, I’d really prefer stronger social welfare programs funded by community tax dollars. It would be a much more efficient means of assisting low-income friends/ family who’ve fallen on hard times than forcing them to rely on a hodgepodge network of people who are living comfortably within their means, but perhaps lack the resources to take on entire extra families. But I digress.

The point is, the holiday season financial strain usually extends into the first quarter of the year, and I always seem to forget this. Then, it’s exacerbated slightly by the two birthdays we have in the first quarter of the year; mine and Kidlings. And of course, there’s the emotional stress of ongoing party planning and socializing (due to the birthdays), gift planning and purchasing and preparation, and not having any time to recover from the holiday strain you’ve been wearing yourself thin over for the past few months.

So now it’s almost February, and I am still feeling asocial and exhausted and stressed. It’s difficult to find time for myself. The skies are grey and cloudy. I live in a beautiful state that I love, but this is a difficult time of year on every level — emotionally, psychologically, financially. It’s just draining, and that’s why I haven’t been blogging very much at all throughout the holiday and post-holiday season.

Anyway, I was writing this comment on FB, and it was getting long(ish), so I decided to bring it over here instead. Basically, John and I were having a conversation about guns last night that really got me thinking.

Now, I tend to be pro-gun control, which a lot of people interpret as anti-gun. Since I’ve never been particularly interested in owning a firearm, that definition is neither here nor there for me. My biggest concern when it comes to firearms is not the weapon, but the owner. I don’t care if someone owns a firearm, I care if that person is responsible and sane.

Like, there is this family in the neighborhood that owned guns. We’ll call them … Dotsti and Brennen, and they have two sons who are about Kidling’s age. They own guns, and they are not what I would call responsible gun owners.

I should probably clarify at this point that Brennan is hardly the first gun owner I’ve met. My brother is in the military, as was my father-in-law. My brother-in-law is a parole officer. Many of my close friends and casual acquaintances alike own firearms and are gun enthusiasts. I live near a military base. My dad grew up on a farm and used to hunt, for chrissakes.

It’s not that I’ve never been around guns, it’s just that my mom was a bipolar woman who was terrified of the temptation a gun offered to a person who went through suicidal swings, and I definitely picked up on that distaste. I see guns and I think of death, and all the times I’ve wanted to die. Hell, we were loaned a handgun by a close friend in 2007, after our house flooded and looters were overrunning the town. I tried to kill myself with that gun. Luckily, my knowledge of guns is so miniscule that I couldn’t figure out how to take the safety off.

Anyway, so Brennen is the type of gun owner who picks up on someone’s discomfort, and finds it amusing. He would make a point of pulling out the guns and cleaning/ handling them in front of me when I visited. As in, I would go to the house, no guns would be out, and within 5 minutes of my arrival Brennan would decide to bring out all his guns and start cleaning them. He had guns laying (loaded) around the house. A lot of his stories involved drinking and gun mishaps. Once when I was at their home, he fired a gun out their back bedroom window and into a tree to “feel” how it shot. He has a lot guns and he thinks they’re quite fun, and thinks it’s funny to intimidate people and make them uncomfortable by pushing his enthusiasm for murder weapons in their face.

As it happens, a little under a year ago, Dotsi’s sons made some verifiably false claims about my son to try and get out of trouble for beating my son up, and we no longer associate with their family in any way whatsoever. About a year prior to our falling-out, however, I had forbade my son from going into their house because Brennan’s irresponsible and immature attitude toward guns disturbed me so much.

I was (and am) certain that their home is the scene of a gun accident waiting to happen. I keep expecting to hear that their kids took a loaded weapon to school, or that Brennan shot Dotsi during an argument, or that a visiting friend/ cousin/ nibling found one of the loaded firearms Brennan has lying around “in case of burglary” and accidentally shot someone.

Now, I don’t have a problem with my son going to his uncle’s house(s), or most of the other gun owners I know. Most of the gun owners I know are responsible, and keep their weapons unloaded and locked away. They don’t intentionally flaunt them for laughs. However, all those responsible gun owners don’t make up for the small percentage of super-irresponsible ones like Brennan.

On top of that, even responsible gun owners have bad days, lapses in attention, and basic human fallacies. Examples — one, that handgun lent to us after the flood? When the owner was showing John the safety and firing mechanism and how to chamber a bullet, he (the owner) accidentally fired a shot in the house. He was aiming the handgun at the floor and pulled the trigger to show how the bullet was not chambered … except that it was, and it fired a bullet into the floor. This is a guy who is a gun enthusiast, who has taken (and taught) gun safety classes, and who is a generally responsible person. He’s not a crazy person who likes to intimidate people for laughs. He’s just an ordinary man who had a slight lapse in judgement.

Another example — before I met John, I briefly dated a very sweet guy who was into hunting. About a year after I married John, I heard that my ex had died in a tragic hunting accident. He and his brother were hunting together, and hopped a fence to follow a deer or something. My ex hopped the fence first, and his brother hopped it right after him. As his brother hopped the fence, the loaded rifle went off, and the misfired stray bullet went into my ex’s head and killed him.

Again, these were responsible guys who’d been on hundreds of hunting trips together. They grew up with guns, they were familiar with gun safety, and they weren’t the type of people to flaunt their love of firearms. In fact, I didn’t even know he owned a firearm during the short time we dated! I learned about his usage of firearms and history of hunting at the same time I learned about his death!

Hunting, though, is interesting. It’s the only area of gun owernship I’m super conflicted about. Handguns and the like, I see no real need for the average citizen to have. All the statistics and information have shown time and again that it’s a deadly and murderating tool that is prone to misuse and tragic accidents. There’s really no need for a handgun in a civilized society.

Rifles, though … well, the other day I was talking to my dad, and found out my dad has something he calls a “30-aught”. I mentioned to John that it was freaky to me that my 70+ year old dad who has vision and hearing problems owns a firearm, and John asked what kind of gun my dad had. When I repeated the information my dad told me, John said, “Oh, well that’s a rifle. It’s just for hunting. That’s different. Only the military uses rifles for hunting people — anyone else who owns a rifle tends to have it for hunting animals.”

He further pointed out that a responsible, normal hunter would have no need for their rifle to be laying around the house loaded, since it only needs to be loaded while actively hunting, so I probably didn’t need to worry about my son’s safety in visiting his granddad (at least, not in regard to firearms — my dad’s driving, on the other hand …)

The more I think about it, the more I think I might be on board with rifles and hunting. Because we “hunt” (in a manner of speaking) with dipnets and crab traps and shovels and fishing poles for crab, clams, and fish. And I like it.

I like gathering as much as we want to eat, no more and no less, from our local resources. I like knowing that our wild-caught crab was ethically sourced and didn’t involved worker exploitation or animal abuse at any point. I like knowing that my husband uses humane quick-kill methods. I like that we are concerned both for the well-being of the local crab/clam/fish populations and for the benefits of ethically feeding our family.

I think would be down with hunting. I think that if we got rifles and did that whole hunting thing, I could really get into the using-the-whole animal gig with the skinning and the butchering, and it would certainly ease my mind regarding factory farming. If we were shooting and killing our own meat, and processing and butchering it, then yeah, it’d be more effort … but it would also be the peace of mind of knowing that we did not contribute to the animal rights violations that are endemic in the current meat industry.

I’m still pro-gun control. I feel strongly that our current gun laws are deeply flawed and contribute overwhelmingly to the gun violence plaguing our nation. But I might be a little less anti-gun than I have been in the past. Ironically, my research into gun legislation and my pro-gun control stance may have led me to a place where I am willing to (under very restrictive circumstances) allow a firearm into my home, and perhaps even own one myself.

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thoughts on accidental racism and passing as “normal”

Someone in my FB feed posted this Sun Magazine article, “Some Thoughts on Mercy,” by Ross Gay. It’s a poetic and gripping read; both relatable and thought-provoking.

I especially like his points about how suspicion — of ourselves, of others — taints our daily interactions. He calls it suspicion, I think of it more as the white fear of accidentally appearing discriminatory — the microaggression perceived, rather then intended. What is interesting is that he points out that this suspicion (of self, of others) seems to be pervasive in all interactions, regardless of skin tone.

For example, when we lived in Centralia, there were a series of robberies. During that time, John and I went to the reservation store to buy smokes (because cigs were cheaper at the rez). While we were at the store, John and the cashier were making small talk about the robberies, and John made an off-handed comment about, “Well, what else do you expect around here?”

The cashier slammed the cigarettes and change down on the counter and snapped, “The robberies were committed by white guys.”

John blinked, confused by her sudden change in demeanor, took the smokes, and walked out of the store with me. As we got in the car, he wondered at her sudden bad attitude, and we realized she thought when he said “around here,” he meant specifically the reservation (and the Chehalis tribe residents). In fact, he meant the predominantly poor white tweakers that Centralia is sort of infamous for.

That’s the type of situation I call “accidental racism,” and I believe it occurs because we live in a cultural moment that — as this article explores — perpetuates suspicion of ourselves and others.

I do not have a solution or idea on how to address this. I wouldn’t for a moment even dream of suggesting that people should “just stop being so sensitive.” It is absolutely necessary that we speak out against discriminatory language and behaviors, even the ones that are often performed by rote and not out of a desire to be discriminatory. I mean, if we didn’t point out and object to discriminatory language and behavior, things would be a hell of a lot worse in our society right now.

Btw, I know some people complain about this change in language as too “p.c. (politically correct). I’m always amused by that, because as far as I can see, so-called “p.c.” language is just polite language. It’s a teensy bit like how I don’t see any problem with swearing and I think religious strictures against it are childish and silly … but I am still respectful to my religious friends and family who abhor swearing by choosing to abstain from the language they deem offensive while in their presence.

Anyway, back to accidental discriminations … I may enjoy the privileges society affords cis-gender straight educated white women, but I have also run into my fair share of stereotypes. After all, I am still a woman, and I did grow up diagnosed as having bipolar (and being treated for it).

I’m lucky. All I have to do is cut my hair and shut my mouth, and I start to disappear into the crowd, androgynous and unnoticeable. Small-breasted and short-haired, I am often mistaken for a young man. If I keep quiet and keep my head down, I don’t get hassled for being female, or for being a mental health ally. I can glide through life almost invisible, untouched by the stereotypes that swirl around about women and mental illness. On my motorcycle, with my full-face helmet, gear, and tall frame, I am even more androgynous. I can hide in my blandness, however temporarily, escape the stereotypes that define women and the mentally ill.

I do not wear cultural markers of “otherness” in the texture of my hair and the color of my skin. A cop will not pull me over for being bipolar while driving — a cop will not even realize I am bipolar. I have this respite from the discriminatory beliefs our culture still holds about people like me. Yet the tastes I have had of being stereotypes and “othered” have allowed me the space to imagine and empathize how awful it would be to deal with that every single day; to expect it. To have it be so common that it becomes a default understanding of the world, read even into neutral or benevolent interactions.

More times than I can count, I learned that if I shared my family background with mental illness, I would be told that mental illnesses aren’t real. I would be told to just focus on being happy, to sleep more, to eat right. To go on a strict fruitarian diet. To buy lights that mimic the sun. I would be told that medications and therapy are useless, that it’s all just a state of mind. Implicitly and explicitly, I would be told that mentally ill people are weak and selfish — that my mom, who was the greatest mom ever, was a bad mom. Weak and selfish for having bipolar, for committing suicide, for giving in.

When mom was alive, she told me never to tell anyone I was diagnosed with bipolar. She said people wouldn’t understand. She said they would treat me differently. She was right, but I didn’t care. I figured it was a test. Anyone who learned mental illness ran in my family and shunned me for it wasn’t someone I wanted as a friend anyway.

I didn’t learn to shut my mouth about bipolar until my mom died. I can handle the slings and arrows and suspicions when they’re hurled at me. But there’s no cause, no reason, no heart in speaking ill of my mom. She suffered enough. We suffered enough. There’s no need to hear people call her weak, call her selfish. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She battled bipolar for 20 years. She was amazing.

All I have to do is shut my mouth, and I don’t have to hear it. I listen, I observe, I decide if the person to whom I am speaking is compassionate about mental illness or not, and then I can decide whether or not to risk it. Whether or not opening up will result in being lashed at with idiocy and discrimination, or met with compassion. It’s like my own version of a closet. I pull the door shut time and “pass” as normal for a little bit, just long enough not to deal with uneducated bigots.

But people of color, they don’t have a closet to hide in. They can’t pull down their melanin and shake their hair free of texture in order to slide by uneducated bigots. They have to face it all head on, the bad, the neutral, and the good. And I know I have a hard time reading neutral or well-intended jokes/ sarcasm as harmless or teasing when I’m having a bad day. When my period cramps are acting up, and I’m on edge from noise, and I just want the world to recede for 30 goddamn minutes, but I have to go to the store to get this stupid thing I forgot. I can only imagine what it would be like to be having an already fucking shitty day, and then you go to work and some white guy makes a crack about crime in the neighborhood … yeah. I can see how sometimes when the world sucks balls, miscommunications like that happen, and its no-ones fault.

All I know is that sometimes I spout things without realizing possible alternate interpretations, and that I am grateful when grace and understanding is extended to me — so I feel it is only right that I extend grace and understanding when I speak clumsily or in ignorance and am met with frustration and anger.