I thought about buying a gun the other day.
It's not like me to think about that. I am not from a family where guns have been normalized. I have never laid my hands on one, and never before wanted to.
A friend of mine recently had a scary bear encounter. Fortunately, he had a gun. He made it away just fine, and so did the bear, but the presence of the gun kept him calm and able to think clearly. The presence of the gun in the story kept me calm and unworried for my friend.
We live in the dense Wyoming wilderness where grizzly bears, black bears, and even aggressive mama elk or bison are sometimes an arm's length away. I do all that I can to respect these creatures. I make silent offerings and say prayers. I follow the rules of engagement. I recognize tracks and scat. I don't go into the backcountry alone. I never leave the house without bear spray.
But when I heard my friend's story, it occurred to me that perhaps my fear would be quelled if I carried a gun, if I knew how to operate it, if I were a "responsible gun owner." I would take a class. I would go to the shooting range. I would understand how to clean it, and hold it, and take it apart. I would keep it locked up safe. I have a daughter, after all. I need to be able to protect her.
On a trip into town, my husband and I looked at a newspaper. There was a thin, glossy advertisement for guns. I'm used to these kinds of ads for vegetables or televisions. They were cheap — much less expensive than I imagined. They started at $200.
Mixed right in with the pistols and shotguns were black metal assault rifles.
"ASSAULT RIFLES?" I practically shouted, aghast. "What are they for?"
"Assaulting," my husband replied.
"But... they can't market them for assaulting. What do they pretend they are for? What's the practical utility?"
"They are made solely for killing people. A lot of people. That's it."
They were advertising assault rifles, all shiny and sleek, in the weekend sales flier. We browsed them eating our pancakes. They were shockingly inexpensive.
The image jolted me out of my reverie. I remembered and believed that a gun is never something I will buy, never something I will operate, never something I will understand. My fear had turned me into the aggressive mama animal. For a moment, I had become the predator. For a moment, I started to become someone different; someone willing to kill someone else in fear.
Last June, LGBTQAI Pride Month was difficult for me. This June is hard, too. Pride represents so many things that I miss in my new life as a married mother in rural Wyoming: queer community, exuberant costumes, performance art, and urban spaces. It's about being who you want, loving who you want, and living how you want. Wait — scratch that. It is about being who you are, loving who you love, and living the only way that makes you happy.
In my outdoor gear, with a baby on my back, with a wedding ring on my finger, my queer identity is all but erased. Conservative Wyoming isn't always the safest place to assert one's difference, so with sadness and little shame, I often let my heterosexual privilege go unchecked.
Then, two weeks ago, a few days after I saw the gun ad, 49 people — who refused to live in fear, who refused to (or couldn't) hide under false pretenses of privilege, who were mostly queer and not white, who were out having a good time — were slaughtered by a man using the same gun I saw in the pennysaver.
The gun and fear were both on sale.
I realized how easy it is to be the bad guy; to wield the sword; to be willing to murder something beautiful because you believe you are protecting something else.
Let me be honest: I would still kill a bear to protect my young, just like a mother bear would kill me.
Let me be clear: carrying a shotgun into the backcountry is not the same as using an assault rifle in a gay bar.
Let me explain: I'm not saying responsible people shouldn't be able to protect themselves from real danger. (I am still grateful my friend had that gun during his bear encounter.) It was just terrifyingly shocking how easily my own view on guns turned sideways when I was presented with just a tiny bit of fear. This fleeting vision I had of a pistol strapped to my hip — it represents a dark place in my heart, in my culture, in my country. It represents something I didn't think I was a part of, but I am.
There is a sad place left behind where that vision, which was with me for only one day, used to reside. I don't know how to stop the hate and the fear that begets hate and fear. Normally, I would say to start by cultivating love and letting go of fear. But right now, in my gut, I am so very afraid. In my center, I am trembling. In the deepest place I can imagine, I am praying for the safety of my queer and trans friends, of all queer and trans people (especially those of color), of all people.
Bears are no longer my biggest concern. I feel suddenly safe and insulated by this wild, rural space. But I know I can't stay here forever. I have to introduce my daughter to this world, this world that I don't want to admit I am a part of.
My friend Meggie put it this way: "You're right: people kill people. Us. Americans. On our soil. Every day. We rape women. We murder each other. Maybe it's time to ask: What kind of fucking people are we?"
I'm still asking, but I don't know (or I don't like the answer): What kind of people are we?