For years, I was what we lefties in Texas refer to as, "A bright blue dot in a big red state." I believe in recycling, social services, a woman's right to choose, and immigration. I spent a lot of time defending these things around my red friends, and bemoaning this defense around my fellow blue dots.
And then I bought a gun, and everything changed. I was shamed by the blue dots and consoled by the red. I turned purple.
When my fellow blue dots found out I owned a gun, they were shocked. Gape-mouthed and stunned to speechlessness, they usually recovered with, “What are you thinking?” or, “How could you?!”
How could I? Here’s how: I lived alone in a sweet 1905 cottage in a historic section of east Dallas, with original heart pine on the floors and exposed shipboard walls. The first vacation I took after I bought it, someone entered uninvited and stole my new drill, my cheap DVD player, and my expensive tequila. The next three unwanted advances cost me three different laptops and over 100 CDs. And those were just the physical costs.
The emotional costs were much greater. After each break in, I wouldn’t sleep for days. I would move into the guest room, and curl into a tight ball of nerves with a comforter pulled over my head. Despite taking Nyquil, I would wake each time a squirrel ran the perimeter of my backyard fence, convinced someone was coming for me. My dreams were all of victimization, or revenge.
As the little slips of paper with police report numbers on them piled up, I became familiar with the questions detectives would ask when they learned of my prior break-ins. “Any angry ex-boyfriends” was only a reminder that I had none worth noting. “Workers at the house lately,” just made me follow the cable repairman around like a crazy person. Everyone seemed suspicious.
I took every precaution I could think of before buying a gun. I built a better fence. I added a wrought iron gate. I got a dog, though he is more likely to lick someone to death than bite him. I put in a better alarm system. I eventually added cameras, and I could see the feed from them on my phone. I checked it multiple times while at work; if I was out of town, the first thing I did in the morning, and last thing I did at night, was check on my house.
Here’s the truth about guns that no one, on either side of the debate, wants to tell you: shooting them is fun. I’m a bleeding-hearted, left-leaning liberal and I get a cheap, easy thrill out of shooting my little .38 caliber pistol. The “I am woman; hear me roar,” thrill I’ve gotten the few times I shot an Uzi, AK, or even a Glock is enough to leave a tremble running up my arms (though in reality, that’s likely just kickback).
But the emotional component here is huge. That thrill at the range translates to confidence outside of it. And confidence was a great comfort.
The gun became my sleep-aid. Each night, I would take it from its locked case, load it with six beautiful brassy bullets, and rest it on my nightstand, where I could reach it without opening my eyes. Occasionally, before doing so, I would point its laser sight to the door across from my bed, the one that led to the back patio, the one they liked to come in, and go through the motion of squeezing the trigger again, and again, to prepare myself to do it half-asleep.
I tried to help the blue dots understand my gun the same way I tried to help red friends I cared about understand the importance of recycling: by putting the cost in a familiar context. People who have never seen a giant redwood that is as wide as an F350 is long and towers higher than the side of the Cotton Bowl understandably don’t know what it costs the environment when you use paper plates for every meal because you just don’t feel like washing real ones. If you haven’t stood at the edge of the Pacific in a storm and heard how powerful its waves are, it’s harder to consider where in that ocean the plastic bottles of water you keep drinking out of and tossing in the trash are floating.
So I tell my blue dot girls, “Ladies, every day, before I leave for work, I have to hide my laptop in a new place – one that isn’t obvious to a burglar. The underwear drawer and between the mattresses, FYI, are considered obvious. And when you alternate between the sheets, at the bottom of the dirty clothes bin, or in the bathroom cupboard enough times, you start to go home at the end of your long work day and forget where your laptop is.
“And if I want to go someplace fancy, I have to allot extra time to go into my hall closet, climb on a stool, and pull down the cardboard box marked, ‘vacuum cleaner parts,’ because that’s where I’ve hidden any jewelry I care about. Not just nice jewelry, or family heirlooms, but any cheap-ass thing I like, because I’m still pissed about the loss of my $25 cocktail ring I used to wear three times each week.
“So when you live alone, in a house that has been broken into five times, and people keep saying to you, ‘Just move,’ or, ‘It’s only a matter of time before they come while you’re home,’ then you can decide that getting a gun isn’t right for you. But for now, this is what’s right for me.”
And that usually shuts them up.
Here’s the other dirty truth about shooting a gun: it is as terrifying as it is fun. At least part of the trembling left in my arms when I shoot is the realization that it would be so easy – so simple and easy – to turn out the side of my cubby in the range and shoot someone next to me. It's not an idea I would ever act on, but it is frightening all the same. It’s the same sensation you get when you stand on the edge of a really tall building – or a lookout at the Grand Canyon – and realize how easy it would be to just keep leaning, until you fall.
And then you lean back away from the edge.
I am happy to report that I sold the house and moved on, to a place where I no longer have to keep a revolver on my bedside table. It’s unloaded, and locked up, hidden away like my jewelry used to be, waiting for me to take it out on the range for a little bit of fun.