Last week, a Florida gun rights activist was shot in the back by her four-year-old son. How much longer will we keep participating in the collective lie that deadly weapons keep us safe?
This week, in my country, considered by some of its more embarrassing denizens to be the “greatest country in the world”, an outspoken Florida “gun rights” advocate left a loaded .45 calibre handgun in the back seat of her car and was promptly shot and wounded by her four-year-old child. Truly a pinnacle of human potential, much like the invention of paper in second-century BC China, or Aristotle holding forth in the Lyceum, or whoever first pointed out that Florida looks like America’s penis.
What do you say about the outspoken Florida “gun rights” advocate who left a loaded .45 calibre handgun in the back seat of her car and was promptly shot and wounded by her four-year-old child? I take no pleasure in violence and pain. I’m not happy that Jamie Gilt, 31 – who has built a thriving web presence on the argument that guns are not only perfectly safe around kids, but necessary for their protection – left a loaded handgun in reach of her four-year-old son, who then picked it up, aimed it at his mother, and pulled the trigger. I find zero delight in the thought of Gilt’s toddler’s almost certain panic and horror in that moment, nor the guilt he may well carry for the rest of his life (guilt that only his mother deserves). I’m sure being shot in the back really hurts – even more so when it comes with a side of nationwide liberal schadenfreude.
But I have no interest in letting Gilt off the hook. Her child could just as easily have shot himself, or a passerby, or someone else’s child. With just a few tweaks of location and circumstance, he could have shot my child. Someone else still could, accidentally or with intention – it’s a possibility you have to consider in acountry with so many guns and so few laws regulating them. That’s the macabre truth of parenting in 21st-century America.
I grew up with the same persistent, low-grade fear of gun violence as any American – my middle school was once locked down because of a shooting at the high school up the street, and I was a junior at that same high school when we watched the Columbine massacre unfold on TV – but my family didn’t have guns, and we lived in a liberal city so most of my friends’ parents didn’t either. Guns were scary, but for the most part they felt far away.
Growing up here myself didn’t prepare me for how distinctly, viscerally frightening it would be to raise children in a gun-obsessed nation. My step-daughters go to school in a borderline-rural suburb, whereas I was educated in central Seattle. They already know of at least one friend-of-a-friend who was killed in a school shooting. Many of their friends’ parents are gun owners. Not only that, but, over the past few decades, the National Rifle Association has been aggressively and successfully rolling back firearm restrictions, making gun ownership as quick and easy for anyone’s irresponsible, drunk cousin as their meticulous, gun-safety-trained dad. When we send our kids to friends’ houses for sleepovers, it sometimes feels like a leap of faith.
In the US in 2015, more people were shot and killed by toddlers than by terrorists. In 2013, the New York Times reported on children shot by other children: “Children shot accidentally – usually by other children – are collateral casualties of the accessibility of guns in America, their deaths all the more devastating for being eminently preventable.”
And I’m supposed to believe that frightened Syrian refugees – or whomever becomes the next rightwing scapegoat du jour – are the real threat to my children? I’m supposed to be afraid of sharks? Heavy metal music? Violent video games? Horse meat in my hamburger patties? Teenagers pouring vodka up their butts?
States with more guns have more gun deaths. Keeping a gun in your house increases your chances of accidental death by shooting, but does not make you safer. A woman’s chance of being murdered by an abusive partner increases fivefold if the partner has access to a gun. “Good guys with guns” are a fantasy. How much longer will we keep participating in this great collective lie that deadly weapons keep us safe?
The accidental shooting of Jamie Gilt is the object lesson that my absurd nation deserves. When even supposed gun safety experts cannot keep themselves safe from their own toddlers, we should take that as an unequivocal reminder that guns are inherently dangerous. They are exploding projectile machines designed specifically for killing. And that’s not bleeding-heart hyperbole – it’s the explicit reason why many people are drawn to them. Cowboy games. Vigilante justice. Power.
America does not get to claim some hypercivilised global high ground when we foster – legislatively and culturally – a system in which incidents such as Gilt’s are not just possible, but inevitable.