Yesterday we flew in to Texas for our annual visit with family and friends. It’s a trip I look forward to every year: reconnecting with everyone, shopping, eating Mexican food and barbecue, showing off the kids, the usual proud mom / dutiful daughter scenario. Yet within a few hours of landing I had to have a conversation with my Dad – about guns. I dreaded bringing up the subject, I didn’t want to offend him or his wife, but I know they keep guns in their house and, as a parent, I had to be sure those guns were locked up and out of sight.
Ironic isn’t it? That they own guns for personal protection, and it doesn’t make me feel safe at all. In fact it scares the living hell out of me.
But I didn’t go in to a diatribe about gun ownership or the language of the Second Amendment (‘a well regulated militia’ anyone?) or lay a bunch of statistics on him about accidental deaths, etc. The defensive look on my Dad’s face when I asked about their guns told me that 1. I wasn’t going to change his mind, and 2. It could get ugly if I tried.
After Newtown, I joined a couple of gun control groups on Facebook and read at length about Gabrielle Giffords and her extraordinary efforts to bring some common sense to the table when we talk about background checks and waiting periods. Everything she said sounded so reasonable, and I was so hopeful that momentum was on our side. Yet the post-Newton gun bill was defeated and a huge portion of the population still believe she’s an agent of disaster and will fight her every step of the way. It made me so angry that for a few weeks I thought: what if, on my next visit, I refuse to visit any house with guns? What if I take a stand? Would it be a stand at all?
But I just couldn’t do it. My Dad’s almost 80, he doesn’t travel much these days and he certainly doesn’t do long haul flights to Hong Kong anymore. Where would that leave us? He’s my Dad. He’s a good man, who grew up in Texas hunting and fishing and did his Army service like most young men in the 1950s and 60s. He thinks background checks can work and he questions the necessity of high-capacity clips. He’s also an antique collector and military history hobbyist, very knowledgeable, who often helps people appraise and value items that they’ve inherited or bought. He’s told me many stories about people coming to him with guns – new and antique – and asking for advice. Yesterday he told me about a woman whose late husband kept guns and a live detonator in a box in their bedroom closet. She had no idea what she had. When my Dad saw the explosive he called a police friend who in turn had to marshal the bomb squad to come out and dispose of the darn thing.
So this is the land of the gun. Where the big question of the summer is whether George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in self defense. Where people hold doors for you and call you ma’am and are as polite as you’ll ever meet. But they also brag on FB about getting their concealed-carry permit, and their bumper stickers and yard signs warn you of impending doom if you try anything. Makes me feel like the city slicker holding her parasol, stepping off the train in Yuma or Abilene to a world of cowboy hats and six guns. A stranger in a strange land.
The thing I can’t get my head around is why gun rights are so important to so many people. I try to understand, free of judgement or condescension, I really try. But I can’t figure out – of all the things that they could be fighting for, with their time and energy and money – why guns?
If I find out on this trip, I’ll let you know.