An Open Letter to a Man with a Gun

You and I have had a difficult time understanding each other, gun-owner.

I could cast my lot with the other members of my liberal social group and keep calling you a sick, violence-crazed nut but that’s a battle you and I are both going to lose, and I can’t afford that. I have a little girl, you see, and I need her to grow up safe. Maybe you do, too. Either way, I need you on my side. 

Let’s start with common ground. I understand why you like guns. I don’t mean the reason why you bought one or why you think they’re useful. You and I aren’t going to agree on that. I understand why you like guns.

I’m a skinny, white, middle class guy who’s never been in a fight in his life, but I’ve been studying fighting arts like kung fu and boxing since I was a little kid. I love martial arts. I love practicing , competing, watching fight movies, and talking endlessly about style and strategy. To this day, a little part of my brain is reserved for fantasising about casually joint-locking some drunk asshole into submission at a pub. I rarely pick up a broom or a kitchen knife without imaging, just for a brief moment, using it in righteous violence.

My liberal cohorts love to make fun of you, gun owner, for the same fantasy, because yours includes a firearm. You, too, like to fantasise about being a righteous hero: the everyman who emerged from the crowd to draw down the shoplifter, the abusive boyfriend, the midnight intruder. You’re called childish and stupid for entertaining this fantasy. “The real world doesn’t work that way”, they remark disdainfully.

I don’t want to talk about whether or not that last bit is true. You and I aren’t going to agree on that. I want to talk about that fantasy. It’s fair. It’s noble. It’s biological; testosterone is a powerful drug, an aphrodisiac for violence, and while its effects can be directed, they cannot be ignored. 

The gun: that powers the fantasy. It’s a totem of strength. It feels good in your hands and rewires your brain for boldness. What people don’t understand about us, though, is that the fantasy isn’t about power.

It’s about being useful.

The failure to distinguish between power and usefulness is at the center of a lot of broken communication. Power is selfish, while usefulness implies that you are relied on, and that you rely on others. You have a place, and a purpose.

A gun, also, represents power with purpose. It is a means of imposing the wielder’s will on the world swiftly and decisively. Want becomes take, fear becomes control, danger becomes security in the twitch of a finger. Lives are changed, thanks to the person holding the gun. What man doesn’t dream of being so useful?

Men are wired for aggression, and the neurochemical cocktail that generates our aggression is very much like a gun: a tool to make us useful. We’re protectors, gun-owner, to our very core. An aggressor—a villain—is nothing more than a protector without a charge; in the absence of usefulness, with no one to protect, all his mighty aggression is discharged in an attempt to protect himself from his own sense of failure. He can’t be trusted not to lash out at the innocent.

We protect our families in different ways, gun-owner, and we need each other. You keep a gun in your nightstand, or carry one into a restaurant; I write letters like this. Either way, we’re both on the lookout for villains.

My fear, and the fear of others like me, is that maybe you are the villain. Guns are everywhere in America, and I can’t control who gets them. It’s terrifying. In defence of my family I’d melt down every single one, if given the chance. 

However, since destroying every gun isn’t an option, my hope is to prevent the creation of more villains. I begin, here, I hope, on common ground with you. My simple request to you is this:

Please don’t ever use your gun to hurt my family, or allow any gun to fall into the hands of someone who would. Try to understand what makes a villain, and tell others, so that we can thwart them before they’re armed, rather than after. Help me protect us all.

Your Brother in Arms

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