I’ve migrated this piece over from a former personal blog I once kept on Tumblr that I resolved to shut down a few months back owing to that service’s decision to demonize and ostracize sex-workers. (See? Ain’t my Good Guy Badge all nice n’ shiny?)
I wrote this essay during the winter of 2017, in the wake of Trump’s election, while in the throws of the most profound and gloomy fears for the future of my nation I can remember entertaining as an adult (fears that, unfortunately, have not abated, but only deepened further). The subject of the work seems newly apropos, however, following a vigorous Twitter conversation I had yesterday with some fellow radical Satanists on the subjects of violence, resistance, and reverse dominance.
Then, just this morning, I saw and shared this piece that provides a graphic-novel-style exploration of the popularization and commodification of symbols and signifiers of toxic white masculinity with clear connections to both real and fictive militarization and the idealization-cum-fetishization of paramilitary-style authoritarian police. Since my essay deals with my descent into gun fetishism and reflects a period in my life when I became personally familiar in a direct, experiential way with some of the ugly pop culture artist Nate Powell details, I just knew I had to share the piece on this blog.
Looking back on this time in my life a couple of years back, I view it as my own flirtation with toxic white masculinity, even though I came to that volatile and potent mix of emotions and actions from a radically different angle than the usual crowd. Still, true to script, I was convinced that our world had become more dangerous and threatening and that I, as the “man of the house,” had to learn how to protect my family to the best of my meager abilities. I found reinforcement for this view into which I had radicalized myself from the words and sentiments of the instructors during the licensure course I took to obtain my Texas LTC. The troubling grooves such beliefs had worn within me only deepened a bit when I went to try and sell my gun and its accouterments and heard the friend I had attempted to organize the abortive sale through asking with a cautionary tone: “Are you sure you want to sell this? Don’t you need it to protect your family?”
But, see? I realized after more than a year of carrying my gun everywhere and having to be both constantly wary of the signs businesses had the right to erect that modulated and impacted the legality of my choice to carry and completely sober when around friends drinking and discussing in establishments that derived less than half of their revenue from alcohol sales that I would rather be a drunk discussant than a sober, steely-eyed prepper. I would rather walk into the Asian grocery I frequent for low-priced Café du Monde coffee with chicory and massively outsized jugs of Sambal Oelek without worry or guilt over the fact that I had an illicit weapon glued uncomfortably to my impressionable hip. I would rather a society that looked a little less like the fantastic “Old West” with Glocks visible and roving amid the produce in the corner Tom Thumb. Oh, and I also realized that bringing an instrument of human death into my home (however securely I locked it away) would forever remain a far cry from “protecting the family.”
You see, most of all, I felt dogged by persistent thoughts of a father I had seen on a Dallas-area Rapid Transit train a few years before I went in for gunmetal myself. He was hoisting an infant while attempting to both wrestle a stroller and usher a trailing toddler down the steps to street level. As he did so, the man’s sweatshirt had come up in the back, revealing not just Dad-bod love handles but yet another Glock, this one tucked inside the waistband of his pants. In a twist on the phrase “going commando,” the man’s gun lacked visible support from a holster of any kind, a particularly dangerous arrangement given incidents like this one where another fella shot himself in the ass while tucking a gun into a similar spot, unholstered at his rear (such occurrences are, unfortunately, legion, as any Google search will quickly disclose). For a moment, I contemplated alerting a near-by police officer about the man and his weapon, but then I remembered a recent change in the law to the DFW suburb where I live and the fact that local police had taken to both news and social media to advertise that, now that more and bigger weapons were legally permitted for open carry, just seeing guns out and about was not sufficient justification for alerting the authorities. This was the new normal: dads toting tots and pistols and liberal Satanists like me casting their lot in with gun-nuts who bleed red, white, and blue, using the same justification of fear for safety, just with a different group of aggressors in mind.
I no longer carry my gun on me everywhere I go, and haven’t in quite some time. It remains locked quietly in a biometric safe in my bedroom, beside spare ammo, my “eyes and ears” for the range I used to frequent, and the custom Kydex holster I had made for it. My personal clothing choices, however, do still reflect this period: to my wife’s dismay, I always and only wear black 5.11 Tactical cargo pants and a matching short-sleeve shirt, my trousers held in place by a similarly midnight Blue Alpha Gear EDC or “Every Day Carry” belt. Mostly I think this particular persistence stems more from my personal indifference to fashion, combined with consistent miserliness when it comes to everything not food, booze, books, and movies.
Anyway, here’s my old ode to a personal and profound diffidence over strength and striving against strongmen, violence and vital living. I hope you enjoy it.
Finally Got It
After a half decade of living in the Lone Star State, I finally let the place sink into me this past March. I let dirty old Texas slip its calloused fingers, still slick from brisket grease, deep down past the rational restraints of my liberal mind and soul, until it got a hold of something hard and unyielding neither of us expected to find at my rugged individualist core, like the thick sedimentary rock of the Permian basin beneath the western half of the state, viscous crude running black as pitch in its dark veins. Maybe it’s my mid-life crisis at the age of forty, which has taken what some would judge a self-destructive turn, involving my definitively dropping out of academia and simultaneously taking up both karate and heavy metal guitar. Or maybe it was just this batshit recent election that unmasked Americans in states with a majority of electoral votes as clamoring with far more self-righteous anger than love of either their fellow man or democratic institutions. For the first time during my lifetime of living in this country, I feel irreparable fear for the uncertain future of our fragile, nominal democracy. And I let the crazy get to me, really get to me. So I did the only thing I felt I could: I got some training, mailed off my application, and received my license to carry (LTC) a handgun in the state of Texas. Then I bought a gun.
I make this whole process sound easy, but it wasn’t. Nor cheap. It began in early February with an Introduction to Handguns class taught by a smart-ass former cop and his son, both wearing cargo pants and those ubiquitous shirts every sport shooter or angler must wear—you know, the kind with vented backs, made from some slick synthetic parachute fabric in subdued natural colors like olive drab, dark tobacco, or desert tan. When it came time to adjourn the classroom portion of the course and reconvene at a private gun range to actually shoot some, our instructor’s wife was running the show, charged with helping us choose from a page-long list of possible weapons those six we wanted to fire that evening. And she knew them all: grip size, how they felt in your hand, what the recoil was like, whether they’d be small enough to carry on your person—you name it. Our head instructor told us before leaving the classroom that we should lay small wagers on guessing how many guns his wife was carrying on her person that night: apparently she always wears a minimum of three concealed handguns when she helps run things over at the range. If nothing else, gunpowder and target practice held this little family together.
When we got out on the indoor range and actually began loading magazines and snapping off shots with outsized bangs completely disproportionate to the flimsy paper targets we were aiming at, I felt at one or more points like I wanted to cry. My hands shook a bit initially as I handled the bullets, much larger and fatter than I had expected, and heavy in their shiny brass casings in calibers of .380, 9mm, and .40 S&W.
Previous to this, my only other gun experiences had been summer camp in northern Alabama, where we shot bolt-action single-shot .22 caliber rifles, and I was an anomaly for being right-handed but preferring my left index finger on the trigger. I had always played air-guitar backwards as well and really had to work at shifting out of that habit when I began playing a real guitar in the eighth grade. I now know both quirks resulted from left-eye dominance. Then there was the time my friend Brian and I went out late one night to the movies in my hometown of Columbus, Georgia. My family lived out past what was then the northern extent of the city—in “the country” as they say—where the forests off the side of the road teemed with white-tailed deer that never seemed to have gotten the memo about the dangers of the black ribbon knotting up their precious woodlands in a bloody valentine. I told Brian, “If you see a deer standing or running by the side of the road, you stop, let it decide what it wants to do and then do it, before you proceed.” He didn’t listen. The graceful creature we caught gliding alongside us like a fast fog turned into us, denting Brian’s fender and busting a headlight before being thrust by the forward momentum of the truck 20 or so feet away into a ditch, where it leaked blood from flaring nostrils and dangling mouth. Brian and I hightailed it back to my house, which was mercifully close by, and I asked my father for the ancient .38 revolver we had “inherited” from a elderly next-door neighbor my dad helped care for when we still lived in town. Back with the deer still trickling blood and breathing raggedly, I put two rounds into the poor animal’s head, scared half to death the whole time that the killing machine in my hand would explode rather than fire a bullet, leaving Brian and me crippled for life. But the gun did fire, sure and correctly. I remember being astonished at how small and clean the two holes I put in that deer’s sagging forehead were. You had to look hard to find them, almost like there weren’t even there. I thought of the violence and gore of the head shot allegedly from the grassy knoll in the Zapruder film—Oliver Stone’s conspiracy-theory-laden biopic JFK had come out a year or two earlier. This wasn’t like that at all.
And it wasn’t just the stress of handling the bullets, attempting to wrestle them into the tightly packed metal magazines even as I imagined they might be set off at any moment, ricocheting around the room to hit a classmate after they had maimed me, that had me stressed out and ready to tear up. It was also the noise erupting all around me from my fellow shooters in the confined, concrete-walled space of the indoor range. I thought of news footage of combat zones on TV, only here the shots didn’t sound far-off, easily mistaken for fire-crackers. Here, they shook me from the lane right next-door like cannon fire. I could feel the percussed air strike my cheeks. And I shuddered at first, each and every time a weapon sounded its harsh report. I can’t do this, I thought. I don’t wanna be here.
An incredible amount of the noise you hear about gun safety coming from pro-Second Amendment groups involves teaching it to kids. The indoor gun range I’m now a month-to-month member of even offers children’s birthday-party packages for youngins ages 8 and up. They get thirty minutes of basic safety training and handling instruction before being allowed to shoot a BB gun or trusty old .22 long rife for another half hour on the range, followed by a fifteen to twenty minute debrief for Q&A. Each little shooter receives a training certificate and a gift card good for one free hour on the range during a future visit. The key phrase here is teaching “firearm safety and RESPECT at a young age.” A link on the booking page takes you to this article on teaching kids gun safety in the online version of Field & Stream magazine. Assignment Number One in that article for the parent who wants to teach his or her children to be safe around guns is to demystify firearms, including letting kids handle your own while under your supervision, teaching them to check and verify that the chamber and magazine are empty and clear of bullets and never to touch a gun’s trigger unless they want the weapon to destroy something for them. In fairness, another link on that same party-booking page takes you to the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) kids “gunsafe” program featuring a “wing-team” of animated avian gun-safety advocates fronted by a plucky b-ball playing bald-eagle named Eddie. There, kids can watch a video and learn the lyrics to a gun-safety song that advises them to “Stop!, Don’t touch, Run Away, and Tell a Grown-Up” whenever they encounter a firearm out there in the real world.
I wonder if my irrational fear of the bullets and guns in class that first night might not have been damped down a bit by such demystification training had I had it as a youth. Other than old Mrs. Neal’s .38 revolver Dad kept stashed somewhere in his room, we didn’t have any guns known to me in the home—except, of course, for my plethora of toy ones. My brother—six years my senior—was a hunter who frequently went off with my uncle and cousin on the weekends to terrorize the local deer population, but I don’t ever remember seeing his rifle lying around anywhere in the house at any point. I do remember him getting a small bottle of deer piss as a Christmas gift one year, though, and being plenty proud of it, too, for some reason I couldn’t then fathom—and I still don’t, quite frankly, despite knowing what the urine was for. Neither Dad nor Mom ever purposefully bought or handled their own handguns that I know of. So I guess, even though I got the fear of guns alright, no one ever demystified them for me. To me, unless it was a toy, I reckon a gun always seemed like an unknown quantity: some kind of puckish, devilish thing that could sprout a mind of its own and go off without notice or intent on the part of the poor humans handling it.
Interestingly enough, when rifled guns of high quality became available in Germany during the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the accuracy of their shots seemed to astonished onlookers like just that kind of impish deviltry. In 1522, a necromancer in Bavaria by the name of Moretius declared that bullets from smoothbore rifles often flew astray because spirit-imps sat astride them in flight, steering them awry. Because bullets from rifled guns exit the barrel with a rapid spin, demons must not be able to perch comfortably on them and influence their trajectory. After all, Moretius reasoned, the earth—then thought stationary—supported imps and demons aplenty clinging to its benighted surface, while the heavens above, in their constant, roiling motion, spun demon-free. Competing metaphysical theories, though, held that gremlins could indeed set atop spinning bullets from rifled guns, and it was they who were responsible for the weapons’ uncanny accuracy. In 1547—during the month of March, no less—the Sharpshooters’ Guild of Mainz, Germany, put the two competing theories to the test, firing twenty regular lead balls followed by twenty specially made pure silver ones, marked with the sign of the cross and blessed by a priest in triplicate, from rifles at 200 yards. Nineteen of the twenty regular bullets found their target; not one of the sacred ones did. Demons must like spinning bullets after all, they concluded. So rifles were banned, and the citizenry burned them in the town square. Maybe there was something to my irrational fears after all.
At any rate, I learned to manage the fear and even ended up sticking around after the shooting portion of that initial class to pay a small additional fee and go ahead and knock out the range-qualifying for the LTC. We used full-size Springfield XDM 9mm handguns for that qualifying shoot. The target bore the ominous shape of the upper body of a human being, X marking the heart at the center of the chest, with concentric rings spread out around it, bearing numbers that counted backwards from nine. Top points went to any shot in the eight ring or higher. The seven ring—which encompassed the collar bone at top, ribs on the sides, and maybe the navel, or just below it, beneath—lost you a single point. If you shot the head, arms, waist, or outside the outline of the body altogether, you lost more points. We shot first from three yards away, then seven, and finally fifteen. My shot grouping ended up being the tightest of those on the range that night: I earned a near-perfect score. Someone said, “I want him defending me!” I felt like a proud papa, not for what I helped to bring into the world, but for what I could potentially take out of it. Strange what you can take pride in.
I returned for the classroom portion of the LTC course the following Sunday, mailed my paperwork in that next Monday, and received my brand new LTC in the mail by mid March. In Texas, your license to carry looks almost identical to your driver’s license, and they tell you: if you’re ever pulled over by a cop, to present both when he comes knocking at your window. If you don’t, the officer will know you have an LTC as soon as he returns to his cruiser and runs your ID, and then he’ll wonder why you didn’t tell him you had the license and what you might be planning to do. Not a good thing. The policeman who taught both my classes told us he always says to LTC-holders he’s pulled over, “Nice to meet you, so-and-so, and glad to see you have your LTC. Now, can we agree tonight that, if you don’t touch your weapon, I won’t touch mine?” He said you never verbally tell a police officer who’s pulled you over that you’re carrying a gun on you. Wait until they ask if you’re carrying and then be careful in responding and make sure only to refer to the weapon as it. That way, the rookie who’s flanking your vehicle in the blindspot on the passenger side and can’t quite hear everything that’s transpiring between you and his partner won’t suddenly catch the word gun wafting on the wind and think a shoot-out is imminent, which of course would motivate him to drawn down on you and remove the threat without a second’s hesitation. Also not a good thing.
And therein lies the rub in trying to carry a loaded, chambered firearm around with you everywhere you go: it brings all sorts of new challenges and complications into your life. And those challenges aren’t just meddlesome; they’re potentially life-altering, with the ability to end in significant legal action or, worse, death.
First of all, I have to remember that, whereas I can have the gun on me while waiting in the schoolyard for my kindergartner to come running into my arms at the end of her day, I can’t wear it into the buildings when I go to have lunch with her or for parent-teacher conferences. When I enter a place of business or a church, I have to look for what they appropriately call the thirty-aught-six (30.06) and thirty-aught-seven (30.07) signs—so named for their respective sections of the Texas Penal Code—advising me that I cannot carry either a concealed (30.06) or an openly displayed (30.07) gun into that establishment. Unless the place of business is licensed to sell alcohol, that is, in which case I must look for either the sign advising me that it derives 51% or more of its profits from liquor sales, such that the possession of any weapon there, whether I’m licensed to carry or not, is illegal, or the sign informing me that it is unlawful only for unlicensed individuals to possess a gun on those premises, which means the business makes 50% or less of its gross receipts from alcohol sales, and I can walk on in, strapped and all. As a result of all this extra vigilance, one thing I’ve noticed about the suburban area north of Dallas where I live is that most of the restaurants and grocery stores owned, staffed, and frequented mainly by Asian-Americans can usually be counted on to have one or more of the 30.06 and 30.07 signs posted at their entrances. That means I’ll never feel the butt of my Sig poking me in the gut or gently kneading my side while I enjoy a steaming bowl of vegan pho at Saigon Street. And when I run into the Korean H-Mart for some gochujang or a huge bag of the short-grained white rice I love for home-made vegan sushi rolls, I can have the gun hugged tight against my side, but must make sure it stays hidden beneath my shirt and doesn’t “print,” meaning that someone could see its outline through my clothes.
And all this talk of the weapon poking me in various personal parts brings up another complication: wearing a gun concealed in a proper restraint holster on your body turns out to be a surprisingly complicated endeavor. My YouTube viewing history now contains far too many videos imparting carry tips or reviews of holsters and holster set-ups. In the comments sections of those videos, as in discussion fora and chatrooms online, names for basic holster types—IWB for inside-the-waistband and OWB for outside-the-waistband—and common carry positions—AOWB (abdominal outside-the-waistband) and HIWB (hip inside-the-waistband)—can begin to seem like a Myers-Briggs style indication of personality type. Me? I’m an HIWB. I tried being an AIWB for a while, but my middle-age paunch won’t permit the weapon to sit at the right height while clenched tight against my abdomen. My overhang just pushes the firearm down until the muzzle is rooting around deep in my groin or the dark crevice where my leg and hip meet, like a bloodhound on a hot trail. The fact that a bullet is chambered and modern handguns often have no manual safety switches—my Sig P320 certainly doesn’t—means that having the gun barrel aimed directly at my junk, or else femoral artery, proves more than daunting as a proposition. In the case of a so-called negligent discharge—which is certainly not what teenage boys worry about resulting from their night-time fantasies but is equally mortifying to contemplate nonetheless—I will either permanently emasculate myself or else nick one of the major blood suppliers in the body and bleed out in a matter of minutes. At least with HIWB, the most I’m looking at, depending on the positioning of my leg and whether I’m sitting or standing, is a big hole in the fat and muscle not far from where the nurse likes to drive home needles when I go see the doctor with an infection or maybe just a graze down the outside of my quad. Both of those sound better than the other options, right?
As you can imagine, this whole “carry a round chambered or not” controversy is another thing you can find a whole heck of a lot of internet and YouTube squabble over. Precisely because of the lack of physical external safety switches and the danger of negligent discharge, some advocate not carrying a round in the chamber of a handgun you have holstered on your body. Others simply refuse to carry a gun without an external safety switch they can manually control. Still others, though, point out a few unavoidable truths that demand consideration by anyone seriously considering carrying a handgun for self-defense. One: Handguns are killing machines; that’s why you buy them, train with them, and carry them: you want to be able to kill bad guys before they manage to kill you and yours. Period. Two: A handgun without a bullet chambered or with an external safety engaged cannot be fired at the enemy until you disengage the safety and rack the slide, which takes additional time. Not much time, mind you, but time. Also a modicum of manual dexterity, something else likely to be in short supply in the event you actually need to use the weapon. There’s a particular YouTube video I enjoyed that was made by a husband-and-wife team who run a firearms training academy in my home state of Georgia. The wife’s a cute, shapely redhead who does other videos on such hot topics as how to carry concealed while wearing yoga pants (spoiler alert: you can’t. Thankfully, my physique and gender render that particular point moot). Anyhow, in this one video, the redhead attempts to draw a gun from a holster on her waistline while her husband is running up behind her from a distance of twenty-one feet in an effort to tap her on the back before she gets a shot off. In most every trial with no round in the chamber, the mock attacker is easily able to tap the gun wielder on the back before she can even finish racking the slide. In most cases, he’s tapping her either just before she fires or simultaneous to it. With a bullet in the chamber, however, the shooter is able to fire the weapon usually before the assailant has even cleared half the distance between them. Assuming these were real attacks with something deadlier than a hand, not allowing the enemy to close that distance would likely prove crucial to survival. As one other gun-loving YouTuber so eloquently phrases it, if you put your “booger-hook on the bang switch,” YOU. WANT. THE GUN. TO BE DANGEROUS. Lovely, isn’t it?
But what about all those Hollywood gun-grappling scenes? You know: where James Bond and the bad guy duke it out over a loaded weapon, and the gun just keeps getting tossed willy-nilly but never seems to accidentally go off? Simple revolvers shoot all over the place when dropped on old Westerns, but not so the modern, magazine-fed, semi-automatic pistols in present-day action flicks. That should bring some comfort, right? It’s true that there are all sorts of internal safeties and fail-safes that help prevent modern guns from discharging under any circumstance other than direct, rearward pressure of about six and half pounds intentionally applied to the trigger. The better the gun you buy, the higher quality and more secure these internal fail-safes are likely to be. So if you’re going to carry, don’t be a cheapskate: spend the extra bucks and get a weapon you can trust, because, trust me: when you have that thing strapped to your body as you get in and out of cars, hold hands with your kids while walking to and from the park, and as you’re jostling around other shoppers in the grocery store, you’re going to play those movie clips back in your head over and over, wondering: did Hollywood really get those details right? God I hope so.
Now you can understand why some anti-gun articles and advocates out there seem to suggest that just owning a handgun attracts the forces of death your way, as though the weapon were a giant magnet drawing the Grim Reaper and a thousand blood-soaked scenarios ineluctably to your doorstep. Who in their right mind would ever want to have to consider and put up with all this crap? As it turns out, a whole lot of people. And, to judge by the student bodies in the gun classes I took and the folks I see on the range where I practice, they’re a pretty diverse bunch, too.
As you might have guessed from the preceding, I’m not your average Second-Amendment type. I’m a political liberal of a rather rabid bent: I support LGBTQ rights, have no problem with immigrants or Muslims, want your Church kept clear of my political system, and think that thorough background checks should be mandatory for all firearms sales, period. I follow a non-traditional religious path and sport a shaved head and bushy, pointed goatee with accompanying mustache, looking vaguely like a pudgier, less cool version of modern Satanism’s founder and the author of The Satanic Bible Anton Szandor LaVey. Plus, I always wear all black, with a pewter occult sigil set against an obsidian stone hanging around my neck and a matching ring in silver on my left index finger. Wearing that necklace, I totally get now how some women feel when men train their gaze not on ladies’ faces but instead on their chests. I am forever catching people staring at the image dangling against my collar bone, which does, at first blush, have something of the overt form of an inverted pentagram. You can tell they want to ask me about it but are too timid to do so. I’m sure when I first showed up at the gun range, they took me for some cultist nut, maybe prepping for a suicide pact like the Californian UFO millenarian group Heaven’s Gate. Lucky for them, every time I rented a handgun there, I had to fill out a slip of paper, certifying that I wasn’t crazy or a convicted criminal. So they’d have my fraud on record if I were lying. Just how out of place I am in that environment is driven forcefully home to me every time I visit the men’s room. There, an old saw decorates the wall above the lavatory with the saying “Hell hath no fury like a Dad who’s missing his tools” painted in black on the blade. Right beside it hangs a large decorative cross. A sign near the urinal reads: “Shooters with short barrels or low muzzle velocity should engage the target at close range.” Cute. Mildly horrifying.
When I think of “gun people,” I form a mental picture of someone like this dude in a bowler hat whose YouTube channel is called “God family and guns” [sic!] and features an opening sequence with scenes of him shooting an assault rifle, as well as of an open Bible with his Sig Sauer subcompact handgun laid lovingly across its pages. All the while, the chorus of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 2009 anthem “God and Guns” plays in the background: “We might as well give up and run, If we let them take our God and guns.” If you haven’t heard the song or are unfamiliar with its point of view—and presumably that of most folks who actually enjoy listening to it—here’s an eye-opener for you. Certainly, the gun range where I shoot gives off this very same “God-n’-country” vibe. Yet so many of its patrons, like me, decidedly do not.
There was the proper British gentleman who came in to shoot a few weeks back, trading afternoon tea for a Glock 19, crisply enunciated with his Queen’s English and Upper Received Pronunciation. Then came the elderly German couple who brought their own handguns in little black cases and wanted to arrange for some private instruction. I saw a family of Chicano immigrants of mixed genders and ages ranging from late teens to mid-thirties, who wanted to share a single lane and shoot some AK rifle or other, all the while snapping selfies and posting them to social media. One day, an extreme-sports type came in, rocking a loose-fitting basketball jersey, board shorts, and flip-flops, hippie-style dreadlocks streaming down his tattooed arms and back. After he had handed the employee at the counter his driver’s license in order to secure a lane to shoot on, the worker noticed the name and asked whether the kid was any relation to a Dallas police officer buddy of his with the same last name. “Yep!” the dude shot back, “Sure am! He’s my uncle,” and the pair continued to reminisce for the next five minutes or so about their personal connection. I’ve seen a group of Indian men with corporate ID badges hanging from their belt loops come in to shoot together on their lunch hour, a couple of African-American women I’m pretty certain were lesbians there on Tuesday’s “Ladies Day” when handgun rentals to females are free, and plenty of straight couples: young and old, black and white, and every shade in between. Real cross-section of America type stuff, like the kind of moiling current of raw humanity you glimpse in the local Wal-Mart on Beltline Road: accents, languages, and skin colors eddying in kaleidoscopic swirls before your eyes. And every one of them wants to pick up a gun and shoot it.
The classes I took teemed with similar diversity. I met John, an elderly white gentleman in overalls and a cowboy hat whose left hand suffered from some sort of tendinopathy or severe arthritis that left it shriveled and cramped. Nevertheless, the old man could load a magazine and rack the slide with the best of us. Like me, John stuck around for the LTC qualifying shoot after that first class. There I also met a Latina mother-daughter pair who laughed and joked loudly together and put on quite an entertaining show to liven the long night. The daughter had served in the US Army, so she had some experience with guns, though only with rifles. Mom, who looked to be in her late fifties, wore a massive, jointed leg brace because she had torn the ACL in her right knee during a hard landing while skydiving with her daughter. That’s how gung-ho she was. In the LTC class the next week, I sat next to Rodney, an African-American gentlemen who lives in DeSoto, Texas, right near the Methodist Hospital where my youngest daughter was born. He had a job that kept him on the road traveling for much of the year, and both Rodney and his wife would feel safer, they reckoned, if he had a loaded handgun stashed alongside his briefcase and laptop in the car as he drove the highways, interstates, and backroads of America. In my Intro class, I saw a white, thirty-something insurance salesman who brought his own pistol and wore a cap and polo both emblazoned with the American flag, but also a Chinese couple who had trouble making themselves understood in English and a middle-aged Cambodian man who kept pointing his gun every which way but straight ahead during the two hours we spent in the classroom. His incessant muzzling made the two ladies seated next to him more than a little nervous and prompted the instructors to admonish him a couple of times. The first rule of gun safety they teach you is: always treat every gun as though it’s loaded; the second is: never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to destroy. So seeing the muzzle of a handgun pointing your way, even in an Intro class when you know there’s no magazine in the grip and the chamber is clear because you’ve just watched the guy visually inspect it, still tends to make you a tad uneasy. Or, if you’re the instructor, it makes you pissed.
There were some forty people in my LTC class for four hours on a Sunday afternoon. My Intro class a week earlier had held far fewer—maybe half as many—but that’s not for lack of interest. Rather the requirements of the course necessitated that we be able to sit in a large U with our backs to one another, so we could handle weapons and practice loading them with snap caps and pointing them toward the outer walls of the room without ever having to worry about muzzling our classmates—provided, that is, we’re not like that one guy. And as I mentioned earlier, this whole scene doesn’t come cheap. The Intro course alone cost over a hundred bucks, once you factored in both the range fee and and the ammunition fee on top of the class tuition. The LTC course ran another seventy-five dollars or so, but I got in on the cheap since I had just taken the Intro class from the same handgun academy. Then, assuming you’re not a veteran, applying for the LTC with the state of Texas will cost you one hundred forty dollars in licensing and FBI background-check fees and another ten smackers or so for electronic fingerprinting. Later, when you segue into actual gun ownership, a quality firearm you can trust with your life will set you back at least between four and six hundred dollars, and the cheapest solid-tipped full-metal-jacket target ammo I’ve found in 9mm will run you around ten bucks a box for 50 rounds. Hollow-tipped self-defense bullets can easily approach twenty bucks or more for a box of just 20 rounds. Most ranges let you rent handguns for between five and ten dollars a weapon, but they require you to purchase their ammo to fire in their guns, and they usually charge a decent mark-up for that. Gotta make money somehow, right? Then there are the fees you must pay just to use the range; where I practice, those come to twenty dollars per lane for as much time as you care to spend there on a single day. You can also choose to purchase memberships to cut down on range fees in the long run: I pay forty something a month for that privilege, so my lane rental per visit comes for “free.” All told, I figure I’m into this whole gun thing for around two thousand dollars so far. The other thirty-nine folks in my LTC class probably already were or were soon to be in that deep themselves. There’s obviously a broad interest in gun licensing and gun ownership in this state, attracting a highly motivated audience with money to put where their interests lie, despite the expense. Be it noted, however, that in the current Texas legislative session, at least one State Representative has proposed a bill to do away with the necessity for permits to carry a firearm, largely on the grounds that the current fee, among the highest in the nation, is onerous and not affordable for most law abiding citizens.
So now I’ve got my 9mm handgun holstered inside the waistband at my right hip in a custom-molded industrial plastic called Kydex made to accommodate not only the specific make and model of my weapon but also the particular laser/light combo I chose to mount on the Picatinny rail that runs along the gun’s polymer frame beneath the barrel. I’m scared by what I’ve seen of Trump’s America and increasingly alarmed at the similarly autocratic and nationalistic tacks European democracies from Poland to France either have taken or are poised to take, possibly all with a little helpful meddling from the Russian government. I reckon I wanted to send a clear and unambiguous message, if not to anyone else in this troubled land, then at least to myself.
I too will defend the principles of democracy in this country, with whatever it takes. Only, my version of democracy is an open, all-inclusive one: one for “the gays” and “trannies,” as well as straight folks like myself. The Mexicans and Muslims, too. Tough hombres, nasty women, and maybe even some of the “good people.” You just keep that in mind if you’re the kind of ignorant fuck inclined to storm into a restaurant or bar and blow away a hard-working immigrant just because all brown people look alike to you, and you’re convinced they’re all Mexican drug dealers or Jihadists bent on terror. The only religious war I see being waged on American soil these days enjoys open support from state legislatures, Congress, and the Oval Office. And most of the terror out there in US towns and cities is currently flashing across the stricken faces of hard-working Hispanic aliens, now deathly afraid of deportation to Mexico, regardless of their country of origin. But, luckily, we’ve still got checks and balances in place in this nation, and a judicial branch that continues to show a willingness to put the brakes on over-hasty executive actions and overly zealous Republican legislators.
I didn’t create the system that allows ordinary citizens to walk the streets of Anytown, USA, strapped with the same sidearm the US Army recently chose to replace the Beretta M9 pistol in use by every serviceman and woman since the mid-1980s. But I can and will exploit that system to ensure that no one takes harmful advantage of me, my family, our friends, or any other decent resident of this country I can manage to defend, with deadly force if necessary.
So listen up, America, you beautiful, brassy bitch! I’m liberal. And I’m armed.