On Saturday, August 29th I’ll do it. Unless my friends reading this start hounding me about it, in which case I might do it sooner. I’ll drop it or throw it into some fairly deep body of water— a lake or river or a bayou or canal that are found all around here. It won’t be hard to find a spot that will be deep enough to keep it lost for a long time, maybe forever, but at least until it is corroded to the point of uselessness. I just don’t want anybody to see me do it. It could arouse unjustified suspicions about my motive. I think my motive couldn’t be purer.
The days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and leveled thousands of trees up here on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, a common feeling in the population that had remained or returned or awaiting to return was one of uncertainty, fear, and in some cases, defeat. The devastation was so complete, so undeniable, that it seemed life as it was could never be restored—and that life as it was now was one of desperate souls scratching out a survival, each one standing alone against this natural cataclysm and standing in competition with his fellow man. Reports of thievery, looting, armed confrontations, and even murder were some of the first news that made it out of the crippled news outlets. Patched-in news feeds from remote locations, whole news teams relocated to higher ground in Baton Rouge told the story of no good news from anywhere. Even in the expanses of middle-class and gated stretches of the suburban Whites the situation was far from the mundane: with no power, no gasoline, no contractors to fix damaged property,and police forces stretched to the limit, a feeling of vulnerability showed itself to be closely related to fear. In a state of nature, Thomas Hobbes said life would be short, nasty, and brutish. For many, this came as close as anything had previously to that natural state of nature, if not real at least imagined. Days of the worst humid heat and the smothering darkness of night slowly shuffled into an unknown future as endless days reluctantly morphed into weeks, with the only break in stillness and boredom coming from rationalized emotions banging in one’s head, catastrophizing potential outcomes of post-storm Louisiana.
The city became a police garrison for the first several weeks, with a decimated and disarrayed police department taking positions, beating back looters, locking the city up—allowing in no one without credentials—followed by the fully militarized National Guard troops showing up to re-enforce those positions, make daring rescues, and set up distribution points for the tons of food and water relief that only began arriving 4-5 days after the area was drowned and flatted. They added a sense of safety and control over the chaos, though the huge presence was one that seemed as if it were here to stay for some time. Black or desert camo cargo pants with black t-shirts with POLICE or SWAT or FBI in block letters on the backs were the uniform of the liberators, the restorers of order. The urban combat fashion became a fixation; and here was me, in a total middle-aged mindlessness, picturing myself with a pair of black cargo britches and service boots—and a gun.
I thought I needed at least a handgun. I traded the only other pistol I’d had at a pawnshop, for a guitar. That was the right thing to do, because at the time I had a young daughter in the house— the safety issue and all that. (I was also restarting my play-alone guitar career for the umpteenth time.) I was looking for something compact which could be kept in my vehicle or discreetly out of sight if I had to move it, or wear it.
When the sporting goods box giant opened, I picked out a small frame .380 calibre semi-automatic. That’s weapon used by James Bond I came to find out later. Gun enthusiasts say it doesn’t have the man-stopping, knockdown force of a .40 or .45 cal., or even that of a 9mm. But I didn’t know that at the time either, and anyway, I was looking at it more as something within my budget—about $350 with a box of bullets and tax. I and didn’t want to appear like a novice and ask too many questions. When salesmen think you don’t know much, they sometimes try to sell you more than you need; and I knew but wouldn’t admit that I didn’t even need this little pop shooter.
The uniform of black cargos and boots and tight t-shirts got put off after that, and I was left with my little pistol riding around, snugly fitted in two different vehicles over the next 10 years. Riding in hiding, and never firing, not once. At one point, it had rested in its hiding place so long it developed a small rust spot, probably from the continuous high humidity.
It didn’t take long to overcome the desire to assume the low fashion of the military look.
Whether or not the look was a fad of fashion by mirroring the garb of influxes of troops and police, an affinity to militarism and its trappings is palpable and pervasive. Being involved with some war or another in 219 of the 239 years since the signing of our Declaration of Independence, it should be easy enough to say that this is a militarized society. An interesting and paralleling correlation are the statistics that the United States, with about 4.5% of the world’s population spends about 37% of the total world outlay on military spending. That same 4.5% population has 35-50% of the world’s civilian-owned guns. We shoot and kill people (including our own suicides) at a rate of about 32,000 people a year. With about 320 million in the country, it is simple, power-of-ten math: 3.2 deaths per 100,00 population.
The other side from miltarism in this equation of gun possession and gun violence is the fear factor—the motivation that, without protection you are susceptible, as you find yourself in times of natural or man-made disasters, with little or no police protection. Where adversaries in criminal networks create havoc almost as forceful a as natural disaster itself, and with the focus of intention, man becomes a power nearly equaling that of nature and disasters and becomes the most fearsome power of all. In the violence syndicates of the inner cities In the U. S., where unemployment and poverty reign, the law of the street payback is a blunt zero-sum game of life and death. Therein lives the prison yard ethic, spilled over into and occupying whole neighborhoods, sometimes migrating from city district to district. Inner city mayhem is the new brutish state of nature where to survive means arming oneself.
I am over this fear as I am done with looking military: that monster natural disaster Katrina is a decade past. I am privileged that I have never had to escape from the systemic shackles of the central city gulag. I am privileged and I have no reason to feel a need to continue being in this statistical death watch that gun ownership imparts on me. That little gun is more likely to kill me, either by accident or by purpose than it is to save me. And as long as I keep it, it destroys me in another way a little every day.
So Saturday, August 29, the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I will symbolically drown one source of cognitive dissonance that wracks me , an exercise in catharsis on a date perfect and ready-made. I can then unhypocritically embrace the movement to repeal the Second Amendment.
I’ll be scouting out potential sites for an unceremonious gun-dumping. The deeper the water the better.