NOT MORE GUNS, NOT LESS GUNS… NO GUNS!

Coincidentally I was reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver when the Florida school shooting took place killing 17. It was a riveting read about a 17 year old boy who kills 9 people in his school and more so as I longed to understand what goes on in the mind of any young person capable of committing these atrocious acts. In the book, Kevin’s mother (the narrator) also struggles to understand why her son meticulously planned and carried out the murder of 8 school companions and one teacher. I will not spoil the book for anyone who wishes to read it and, in spite of what I considered an unnecessarily gruesome end, it was well worth the read.

As with everyone I know, I was horrified not only by the Florida killings, but with the printed fact that by the 15th of February there had been 18 school shootings in the United States[1]. That’s one shooting every two and a half days, every 36 hours. No, mistake: there are 13 days (weekends and the 1st of January) where there was no school, so it was 18 shootings in 34 days, or a shooting every 1.8 days. As The Guardian states in the note below, there were a couple of accidents, some incidents with no deaths, and two suicides but none the less, there were 18 gun related incidents in schools in the first 34 working days of 2018.

As if this were not bad enough, I then heard President Trump (or The Donald as Obama called him) say that the problem was that schools were gun-free zones (not that kids could buy or get a hold of automatic and semi-automatic weapons) and that the solution was to arm the teachers[2], a proposal that shouldn’t even merit comment, much less consideration, an opinion I voiced to a group of friends during market day in Salies. I was surprised to find that one of the ladies, though claiming that semi and automatic weapons should be banned, considered that having a gun was a necessary defense. This made me think of my father and remember an incident that taught me a lot about guns when I was young.

1920 Sep 25, Laguna de Medina 2First some background. My father was a hunter (the picture on the left depicts him at 18, in Spain, 1920) and, as such, owned a good amount of shotguns which he kept under lock and key in a gun cabinet. Everything I know about guns I learned from him. Even as a child I was taught that you never, EVER, point a gun –even a toy gun, even a water pistol- directly at another person. When I asked my father why he didn’t buy himself a pistol, he said that he had shotguns because they were for hunting; pistols, and most other weapons were for shooting people and he had long ago decided that he never wanted to kill any other human being (he had done his military service during the Rif war in Africa and, from what I have read about it, there were atrocities committed on both sides); that –according to him- was the reason he had not gone back to Spain when the Civil War broke out for he would have been expected –as a member of the Spanish nobility- to lead troops into battle.

When I was around the age of 13, my father began to show me how and how not to handle a shotgun. I was taught that the moment the gun was handed to you, you break it open and check the barrels to see if it is loaded; that you never walk with a loaded gun even if you have it open (his best friend had lost an arm by tripping while walking with an open, loaded gun); that the safety should be on at all times until the moment you plan to shoot your prey. He showed me how to clean a gun after using it, how to aim ahead of a flying prey so that the shot and the bird would cross paths. He took me to shoot skeet at the gun club and let me practice until I was pretty good at it. Then he took me duck 1922 1 (2)hunting, in Acapulco, out at the Lagoon of ‘Tres Palos’ (Three Sticks) where we stood, at the break of dawn, up to the knees in swamp water, hidden by the marsh grasses, waiting for the ducks to fly over. I remember feeling very important to have been included in the hunting expedition (my mother had preferred to stay home in bed and was happy to have me as a stand-in) although I don’t know if I shot any duck on that first time. Neither do I remember how often I went with my father. Actually I only have two clear memories of these experiences: the first, feeling things crawling up my legs from the swampy water (and discovering later that it was nothing more than the air bubbles from my sneakers) and the time I shot and wounded a duck. The poor animal dropped to the water well within my reach and I could see it fluttering helplessly. From watching my father, I knew that it was my obligation to wring the creature’s neck in order to end the suffering I myself had caused it. So I waded out to where the bird lay and took it gently by the head with my right hand. Then, trying not to look into its eyes which were still open and alive and attempting to kill it without causing it harm, I gave it a couple of soft swirls. I can still feel today the warmth of its body, the life still present there. I was heartbroken, I hated myself and I just wanted the damn bird to die so I could stop suffering myself. It did not oblige under the gentleness of my feeble attempts. So after three half-hearted swings and seeing that the duck was still flapping around suffering, I could stand it no longer. I plunged the feathery body into the water and put my heavy cartridge box on top of it so that it finally drowned to death. I realized in that moment that I was not capable of killing an animal and I have never been hunting since.

1951-3 Mexico (4)However, the incident that taught me the truth about guns took place a year of two later. Our house in Mexico City –as most of the houses there- had a flat roof where we hung the laundry and had a storeroom. Late one night, after we had all gone to bed, my father heard footsteps on the roof and realized that someone had managed to climb up there and was walking around. As my mother told the story later, my father grabbed a broomstick and went up to the roof to face the invader. She was laughing and my father was right there eating breakfast so it was obvious the story had a good ending, but I was shocked.

“Why didn’t you take one of your shotguns?” I queried, thinking how ridiculous and helpless a broomstick must have looked to the invader. “Supposing he had had a gun?”

“Well,” my father explained, “if he had had a gun, he obviously would have been more than prepared to use it, something that for me would have been difficult if not impossible; so if I had appeared with a gun he might have shot me right off while I considered the possibility of doing the same. A person who breaks into a house with a gun is prepared to use it; I was not. It was safer to go up without a gun if you know you are probably going to think twice before pulling the trigger.”

I understood perfectly: I couldn’t even wring the neck of a dying duck to stop its suffering! So, I ask myself or anyone else who will listen, how many teachers are prepared to pull out a gun and shoot a student before he sprays everyone in the classroom with automatic fire power? It’s ridiculous! Even if the teacher is trained and manages to extract his/her gun from its concealment, aim at the student and pull the trigger, the possibility of landing a deterring shot before the other responds in kind is minimal. And then we have to think how many teachers would be able to do this and how can we be sure that the classroom to be shot up is one with a gun-toting teacher? My history class was taught by a Miss Hunter who –if I remember correctly- was a small, aged lady with white hair and glasses. I just can’t imagine her pulling out a Smith and Wesson from her girdle and shooting our aspiring high school killer before saying calmly to the class: “Please open your History books to page 347 where we left off last Friday and commence reading, and, Ralph, would you mind removing that trash from the doorway and depositing it in the Principal’s office.”

The basic argument against gun control runs to some version of the following: “With gun control, the good people will be forced to give up their guns while the baddies will continue to have them; we will be defenseless”. Nothing is farther from the truth, as my father well understood and showed me with his brave example. If someone armed enters to rob my house, he/she probably does not mean to kill me, just to take what he/she wants and depart. He/she will only shoot me if I threaten to shoot him/her. If, on the other hand, someone wants to kill me, they will undoubtedly do it while I am walking down the street unarmed, or driving by in a car unarmed and not while I am in my own home where I might have a weapon. Therefore, gun control might actually save my life, not put it in danger.

The mostly ‘kids’ who shoot up schools are not hardened criminals; they are usually ordinary –sometimes mentally or emotionally disturbed (not ‘sicko’ as Trump said)- kids. Gun control would make it more difficult for these unfortunates (yes, they are as unfortunate or perhaps more so than the ones they kill) to obtain weapons, especially automatic weapons. It is much more difficult to kill 17 people shooting them one by one, than it is spraying them with a hail of bullets without even having to aim.

As I am not a hunter, personally I have no use for a gun in the house; I know I would be absolutely incapable of using it. I have proof, for when I was kidnapped, many years ago in Mexico City, I found myself trying to figure out a way to escape. One day, the kidnappers left an empty bottle of wine in my room and I thought to myself that I could use it to hit my guard over the head the next time he came in and make a break for it. Immediately I realized I would try to do it gently so as not to hurt him (just like the poor duck) and that would have me ending up as the object of his wrath. Fortunately, the police did the job for me and I was rescued.[3]

So if you ask me –and nobody has- I’d say “not more guns, not less guns, but NO GUNS is the only solution.”

[1] In all, guns have been fired on school property in the US at least 18 times so far this year, according to incidents tracked by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group. In eight of these cases, a gun was fired on school property, but no one was injured. Another two incidents were gun suicides, claiming the lives of one student and one adult on school property. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far

[2] Some gun rights advocates have pushed to expand gun-carrying in schools further. Andrew McDaniel, a state legislator in Missouri who introduced legislation last year to make it easier to carry guns in schools, told the Guardian that, in rural schools where it might take 20 or 30 minutes for law enforcement to respond to a school shooting in progress, it made sense to have other armed citizens ready to step in. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far

[3] The book I wrote about this incident is called Once días… y algo más and is available on Amazon; the translation into English, Eleven Days, is out of print and 2nd hand copies are quite expensive I believe.

7 thoughts on “NOT MORE GUNS, NOT LESS GUNS… NO GUNS!

  1. Nothing more true than what you wrote Brianda. My daughter is a fifth grade teacher and she agrees that no gun would protect kids against one of these guns they are using. Besides I think that if my daughter would have wanted to use an arm, she would have joined the army. She carries a bunch of books every morning not a gun.

  2. thank you for your thoughtful and enlightening story, brianda. i was pleased to find that there are still some inexpensive (used) copies of your book (the english translation) still to be found. i will buy one.
    $3.99Thriftbooks.com; 1.99 Barnes and Noble; 3.78 Discover Books,; 8.00 Biblio.com
    p.s.I am supporting the students from south florida who will soon be marching in washington.
    the donations so far range from $5.00 to $500,000. they are the ones we have been waiting for.

  3. Brianda, this, as usual, is an excellent piece. Would you have any objection to sharing it more widely?

    Also, I read your book about the kidnapping, maybe 15 years ago. Got it through Interlibrary Loan. It shouldn’t be out of print. I found it extraordinary.

    best, Judith

    >

  4. You have clearly and eloquently made the case for no guns and I am in total agreement with you. In the meantime, various agencies will be involving thousands of schools in training for the eventuality of a shooter in their midst. This will simply terrorize many more people into believing that guns are necessary for protection – which is I believe the whole point of these exercises.

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