We’re about to move out of an apartment on the back half of the 20th floor of an apartment building. Said building is an incredibly nice, rich, safe part of town, and where we’re moving is less so. It’s by no means dangerous, but it’s made me very anxious, and I’ve been doing a lot of work trying to understand why that is. I find myself saying a lot “I’ve lived in worse neighborhoods; I grew up in worse neighborhoods.” As if I’m supposed to be numb to it by now.
I said in therapy the other night that living in this building, in these apartments, is the first time I remember feeling wholly and completely safe in my home. Where I’m not lying awake 2-3 nights a week, analyzing creaks in the place to see if someone’s gotten in. Where I don’t wake up in the middle of the night because I can’t hear my father snoring anymore, thinking he’s been killed and that person is coming for me. Where I can exit my apartment and take the trash out without being terrified that in the 2 minutes I’m outside, someone might hurt me. Where I’m reasonably certain that if I call the police, they will actually come.
It costs a lot of money to live in this building.
I have never owned a gun myself. I don’t like them and have never liked them. They’re loud and dangerous and too much effort to keep up with. But I have slept with a knife by my bed. More times than I can count. I have had my father show me where our rifles were, show me how to get to them quickly, load them, and shoot them—just in case. As a kid, I thought it was normal to be afraid at night, but that fear has never quite left me. I’m acutely, personally aware of how dangerous the world can be.
And look, folks. I’m white. No matter what other parts of my life may be lacking in privilege, the fact that I’m white will always afford me protection. It will always trump everything else. I didn’t know that then, but I do know that now. Can you imagine, if some little white girl grows up feeling this afraid, how scared and helpless people who aren’t white feel? Who don’t pass as cisgender or straight? Whose politics and fight for equality puts them in danger from the police or worse? Who legitimately fear for their lives from the state?
There’s this piece going around by Gerry Bello that I’ve been debating whether or not I should share. I think most of the people I see sharing it are white folks taking advantage of the fact that this guy is black [EDIT: Bello very kindly reached out to me to inform me that he is, in fact, white. Apologies for the error] to give a pass to gun culture. I don’t want to participate in that, but it’s a good piece and worth a read for perspective. Though I am clearly not a black left-wing radical (I am, in fact, a bisexual, white, cisgender woman who grew up poor), he says something that really resonated with me:
“Somehow, in all this, middle class liberals who have comfort of protection from a white supremacist state want the rest of us to be disarmed by that state. Their petitions and lobbying did not save my life. I saved my life through my own training and preparation. My life needed saving from people they hate who were being helped by the people that protect them because I putting it on the line for values and ideas they espouse. They can go back to their guarded gated communities and watch the rest of us earn, win, and live our own just society and decent lives.”
Gun control advocacy loses its teeth for me when it’s advocated for by people who are protected by the state. And that is largely who I see talking about this.
So let me be blunt. If you’re white and middle class, I don’t want to hear you scoff about danger from the government as if that’s not a reality. If you’re white and middle class, I don’t want to hear crap about the fine lines between different kinds of guns we should and should not allow, as if you’re ignorant of the slippery slope that ends with no one but the police having firearms. If you’re white and middle class, I especially don’t want to hear you talk about how people should be using the police for protection.
Basically, if you’re white and middle class, I don’t give a shit about your opinion on guns.
Take a step back and think about how your position in the world influences your opinion and what kinds of information and experience you don’t have. Adjust your image of gun owners away from rednecks with shotguns to see the broader scope of people with firearms. Include the people who need them to stay alive, who may actually need more than a handgun if, say, Donald Trump becomes president.
Our society should not be one where anyone needs a firearm to feel safe, but until that day comes, vulnerable people deserve to have that option.
Call out bad gun ownership, yes. Call out how toxic masculinity factors into a lot of gun culture, yes. But don’t forget how vital armed means of defense has been to guaranteeing rights and basic safety for marginalized communities in our country’s history—and today. Think about how legislation, no matter how well worded, is often disproportionately used against marginalized communities (Bello speaks to this as well). Remember that not everyone can rely on the police to come—or to not kill them when they get there.
Then, maybe, your opinion will be worth listening to.
As of right now, I am irritated to no end seeing the same people who are so careful about acknowledging their privilege so brazenly forget it here, and in so doing have the potential to make people who are already vulnerable even more so. I agree that we have a lot of work to do as a society on all the things that create violence. You’ll never hear me say otherwise. But until you fall asleep at night to the sounds of gunfire in the distance, until your children keep knives by their beds for fear of the serial rapist going through their neighborhood, until your neighborhoods are invaded by people who use force to intimidate or to get what they want and the police don’t care to help, I really don’t care what you have to say about guns.