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Saturday, September 10, 2016


"Totally normal" shootings

by Tom Sullivan

Colt Anaconda 44 Magnum. Photo © by Jeff Dean via Creative Commons.

Charlie Pierce lamented Thursday that school shootings are so common now that there is a template for news coverage of them, if anyone even takes notice. For some time @KagroX (David Waldman, bless him) has been compiling under the hashtag #Gunfail the near-daily incidents of good guys with guns "Second Amendmenting" themselves or shooting others by accident.

In my EMT class long ago, the instructor observed how many Saturday nights one could see an ambulance and police cars outside one particular bar on the rough side of town where people went to drink carrying their guns to protect themselves from other drinkers carrying guns. It was a sad commentary on the pathetic nature of people defiant in exercising their right to defend themselves while drinking in a place where drinkers regularly get shot.

But it was eye-opening to read this confessional post by a former gun range worker at Mother Jones. It seems gun ranges are handy places where non-gun owners can rent guns for committing suicide:

Gun ranges often have policies that require anyone who rents a gun to be accompanied by a friend. It's supposed to be a way to prevent suicides, but it doesn't always work very well. Eventually the range started paying a service to come pick up the bodies and scrub everything. But before that happened, Christ, what was it? Bleach and kitty litter. I remember one time I had come in for a shift change and there was a pool of blood. We didn't have any bleach but we did have some kitty litter. I remember using that to soak up the blood. And because we didn't have the bleach, some of my members were kind enough to go across the street to the grocery store and buy some. In hindsight, we had no protocols, we had no protective suits. I could have exposed myself to blood-borne pathogens.

Another one was a father who was getting divorced. He was a pretty big guy. I felt the impact, and when I turned around there was pandemonium. Some of my members came rushing out the door yelling at me to call the police, and we did. The guy had sent suicidal text messages to his family. It made the paper because he was a beloved figure in the community, big into Little League. He was totally normal acting. And the next thing you know, you have 300 pounds hitting the floor.
In reporting on these incidents, tragic as they are, we accept that this is somehow normal. Novelist James Boice writes at the Daily Beast that this is because we live in a gun culture. Stories about violence focus on the shooters' motivations, but rarely on how guns are so deeply embedded in our society that, well, people go to gun ranges to rent guns to commit suicide. It is so embedded that in fiction involving gun violence, there seemed to be no acknowledgement of gun culture itself, "the convergence of those living in fear, distrust, and faithlessness with those living in faith, trust and fearlessness." So Boice wrote "The Shooting," explaining:
What was interesting to me about gun culture from a fiction standpoint was its key mindset: fear, distrust, and faithlessness. Fear of other people, especially those who are different from you; distrust of authority; faithlessness toward the universe, which, gun culture believes, is indifferent to your existence, so it falls on you to protect yourself.

Gun culture provides such ripe material for literature. It’s darkly poetic: the difference between how we see ourselves—heroic—and how we actually are—tragic. People acting with one intention—self-defense, safety—but causing death, suffering. The Newtown killer’s mother, for example. Here was a tragic character right out of literature. Her child was mad, unreachable, but she saw him as simply unique, sensitive. She refused to get him help; instead, she indulged him. She liked guns, she bought the rhetoric the NRA had sold her about American values and self-defense, about an armed society being a polite society, about good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns. When her son showed interest in guns as well, she was very happy. This was a wholesome thing they could finally bond over. She taught him how to shoot, seeing herself and him as good guys. She even bought him his own guns. She found meaning and connection in shooting guns with her son. It must have felt very good, to finally reach him, to be a part of something bigger with him, a culture of Americans exercising their sacrosanct constitutional rights—despite what she must have known deep down in her heart.

And hers was the body they found last, after all the kids. She was the first one he shot, before heading to the elementary school with those same guns they bonded over.
Although my EMT class was decades ago, war stories involving guns were a regular feature. During my one weekend in the Emergency Room, I had a patient who'd shot himself through the hand while cleaning a .22, a woman whose husband had not shot her, but split her head open by hitting her over the head with a shotgun, and a scary-looking dude with a dog collar around his neck who, during "primitive hunting season," had shot a big, blue-black hole in his foot with a percussion cap revolver. His black tee shirt with the sleeves ripped out and a race hatred message spelled across his chest in big, white, block letters has stayed with me all these years. Just another weekend in the ER.

Oh, what the hell.

One war story the hospital had pieced together after the fact. A guy in a pickup truck had been drinking at one of those beer joints on the rough side of town. He'd met another gent and they decided to get in the truck and go have more drinks at another bar. On the way, they got to talking about something or other. Talking led to discussing. Discussing led to arguing. The driver decided he was just going to shoot the som'bitch in the passenger seat. So, holding the wheel with his right hand, he reached under the seat and pulled out his magnum with his left ... which he aimed across his chest at his passenger and fired. The bullet tore away much of his own upper right arm and lodged in his passenger's thigh. It was the passenger who drove him to the hospital and dropped him off, driving away with the shooter's truck, his gun, and with a bullet still in his leg.

Freedom, baby.