This is not my handgun. There are many others like it but this one is not mine.

I wanted to want to fire the gun. I wanted to be prepared for the revolution, when it came. I wanted to be an agent of praxis, the unity of theory and practice. I read about it in college, underlined, made notes in the margins. The theory was that we could liberate ourselves and overthrow them, all of them. But if all our talk really came to action it would require instruments of liberation. The gun would be the instrument. From its barrels would come the physical enactment of the ideas.

I wanted it to be like in the movies, like the Jews who didn’t die in the Holocaust because they took to the woods and got themselves some guns, like Angelina Jolie, badass, firing in all directions, firing two guns from a wingspan outstreched around Brad Pitt’s torso, as he embraced her and fired two guns around her torso, the sexual effect of firing these guns so powerful it crumbled Brad Pitt’s previous marriage and brought six children into its embrace, safe within the perimeter of bullets traveling in all directions from an epicenter of hotness.

You could say so many things about the gun-as-phallus and therefore the woman with the gun as pansexual conflation of sex and violence, fertility and destruction, birth and death all wrapped into one. I wanted to know all these things and be all these things and live all these things and say all these things, but say nothing, because the gun was the possibility of communication beyond words.

I wanted to know about gun safety, to know that it was a tool like any other tool, it had its proper uses. What if the revolution did not come, but instead the apocalypse did? What if anarchy reigned in the streets and it was dangerous? Didn’t I want to be able to defend myself and my family, if it came to that? It probably wouldn’t come to that, but if it did, didn’t I want to do it right?

I wanted to see how guns united America, and how small and stupid was my world of independent cinema and goat cheese and late-night many-layered witticisms made by me and all my androgynous poseur friends as we tried to impress one another, and how this (whatever it was) was real and true and alive and immediate and we all deserved to die.

So when my brother suggested that we visit the gun range one afternoon for a lark, I said yes. I thought it might be a nice bonding experience.

At the gun range, however, I was full of judgment. As we entered, a teenaged boy stepped outside and jammed a cigarette behind his upper lip, where it hung like an overgrown tooth. He was pimply, weak-jawed, a ringer for the undersocialized borderline personalities I feared would blow me away on a whim.

“If you weren’t here jerking off explosive firearms all the time in a pathetic attempt to combine masturbation with violence you might get laid more and then you wouldn’t have so many violent impulses,” I thought. The hippies were mostly style over substance, but I do agree with their concisely stated insight that war occurs because certain parties do not have enough sex. (Case in point: Clinton: blown in office, did not enact official war.) If this teenaged boy would exit the gun range and relate a bit more to his chosen gender of attraction we might be spared another random shooting, or so was my oversimplified hope.

Inside, at the counter of the gun range the guns were hanging on racks, neatly arranged in size order. I found them pleasing as I find all organized things pleasing, but I felt sick.

“Sick sick sick sick sick,” I muttered.

I tried to be open-minded and tell myself that I had pastimes other people might not approve of, but I was terrified of everyone in there. Any one of them might be psychotic. What if someone opened fire in the gun store? That would be too ironic. But pinned right above the counter was a flyer offering a reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for the robbery and shooting at another gun store.

There were, in fact, posters all over the gun store. “Not your father’s gun,” said one. It was too easy. It was such an obvious penis metaphor there was no point in pointing it out. This is my rifle, said one poster. There are many others like it but this one is mine. This was the mantra of the Marine Scount/Sniper corps, the STA, the Surveillience and Target Acquisition, I knew this from the book Jarhead, which I liked very much. Wonderful words, beautiful poetry. I had heard this slogan in the war movies I inexplicably enjoyed. It was so romantic, how a man could come to relate to a killing machine with the same tenderness and specificity he might reserve for the love of his life. I wanted to know the poetry of the gun.

There was the performance artist who had his friend shoot him. There were Rimbaud and Verlaine and William Bourroughs and poor Joan Vollmer. Those were all bad stories of the improper use of firearms but the point was that guns were everywhere, they were in many great stories, they brought men together and tore lovers apart and were important in the world. The natural extension of the wildest loves was bullets.

And guns were something boys did and something I could do to be like a boy, to be with the boys, to be better than the boys. It was an equalizer. I could get one and shoot all the rapists.

My brother and his best friend, who came along, approached the counter. Last time they had shot a Glock so this time they wanted a Beretta. They discussed the comparative merits of the Glock and the Beretta with the guy at the counter. He favored the Beretta. They all agreed it was more substantial.

You couldn’t rent a gun if you were alone and unarmed. In order to rent a gun you needed to either bring a gun or a friend. I didn’t understand this logic until it was explained to me that if you came alone with no gun of your own it might be the case that you planned to shoot yourself. If you had a friend it proved you weren’t suicidal. If you had a gun already it proved that even if you were friendless and suicidal, you already had the means to shoot yourself and so you had no particular incentive to do it here.

The first serious clue I got that I might not be able to fire the gun came when the guy put the gun on the counter unloaded and I asked him to arm the safety. I realized then that I wanted to leave the safety on all the time. The next clue I got that I might not be able to fire the gun was when he showed us how to load it. I realized that I did not want to load the gun. I wanted to keep the gun unloaded with the safety on. I wanted to do as much as possible to keep the gun from being a gun and keep it from its intended purpose. I realized that I had very little interest in guns and even less interest in shooting them.

When the man put the box of ammunition on the counter and I wanted him to put it away. I much preferred the gun without the bullets, with the safety on.

We put on our ear protection and went into the shooting lanes. We were alone there for a while. My brother shot a clip and then his best friend shot a clip. Then my brother put the gun on the counter of our lane and took out the clip. I was to load it and fire it now.

My target was hung. I had asked for the human target. I was being snide and facetious at the counter. “I want a human target,” I said. “Isn’t that what handguns are for, shooting and killing humans? I want to kill humans!” I said this with a false and slightly maniacal enthusiasm. I hoped that my remark would prove to the people in the gun store how sick and twisted and stupid they were. I hoped that in my one snide remark they would see the error of their ways, herd us gently out of the gun store and torch the place. I hoped that my quasi-psychotic remark would prove that the Second Amendment was totally psychotic.

But the only person who noticed my remark was my brother. He looked alarmed and somewhat annoyed. He knew it portended further inappropriate ranting. My brother is the same way. We come from an envelope-pushing family. My brother and I had recently enjoyed ourselves at a Michael’s craft store in Long Island, saying mildly psychotic things and laughing maniacally. The Michael’s craft store in Long Island offended us both equally. My brother kept muttering that he was going to expose himself to the security cameras, within earshot of the middle-aged women fondling packages of mosaic tile and vials of beads. I pretended I was looking for supplies to build a bomb. (I think we were actually buying picture frames for family photos.) I hated the Michael’s craft store, the way it pre-packaged the components of art for people who were too lazy to make real art in the same way I now hated the gun range for the way it allowed people to play at doing violence in similarly toothless ways.

At another Michael’s craft store in Spotsylvania, Virginia, the D.C. snipers wounded one of their thirteen victims. They fired the opening shot of their 2002 spree through the window of yet another Michael’s craft store. Then they killed ten people in twenty-three days, many of them while they filled their cars with gas. The snipers bought their gun from a gun store and shooting gallery much like the one I visited. One of the snipers was a domestic abuser, the other a minor. Neither was supposed to be able to buy a gun, but the former Army Ranger who ran the Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply of Tacoma, Washington didn’t check.

While my brother and his friend were taking their turns, another man entered the shooting lanes. He appeared to be some kind of serious gun enthusiast. He had special bags. They looked like camera bags but they were designed especially for guns. Just as there are online stores with all kinds of yoga equipment and photography equipment and special bags to put it in there must be similar accessories for gun enthusiasts, including clever little bags with little pouches for ammunition. I thought about how lame and dorky any enthusiast looks slung with the perfectly-designed ballistic-nylon luggage of his trade–the birdwatcher, the amateur photographer. It’s good to be properly prepared but past a certain point the gear overshadows its use. Rambo didn’t have a little shoulder bag full of ammo.

The man had an instructor with him. They started shooting. The noise was deafening, and much louder now that I was standing in line with the other shooter and not back by the wall. Each shot terrified me, and in between shots I held myself tense, waiting for the next one. I thought I might drop the gun, misfire the gun, accidentally fire the gun and kill myself or one of my two loved ones, or the gun enthusiast with the special bags. I was there to learn gun safety, to get comfortable, but I was not satisfied that there was any such thing as gun safety, and I knew I would never be comfortable in this place with its awful noises, bad smells and terrifying machines.

I started to load the gun. I hated each mean little bullet. The casings were two-toned, yellowish brass shafts and pinker metal at the dull, deadly point. Phallic just like everything else that kills, I thought. I was dealing in stereotypes, in obsolete paradigms, in unhelpful dichotomies, but I couldn’t stop. What was the opposite of misogyny? I was becoming that. (It was misandry–the hatred of men. I had to look this word up. You know what is another lesser-known word? The feminine analogue to phallic, which is “yonic.”)

Of course these are really just little lead deadly penises. Why is it not enough, the penis of flesh, that fills with blood, and explodes with life? Why did you make this metal penis that explodes with death? Why did you make a metal death penis? There is something wrong with this. There is something wrong with you. I was getting so angry I wanted to shoot the men who made the guns. But they were already dead.

Except I didn’t want to shoot anybody. I didn’t want to shoot the gun at all. I loaded three bullets and then I put the gun down. It repulsed me. I didn’t want to touch it. I went outside and fumed. Any man who wants to fire a gun should be forced to masturbate until all the testosterone has spurted out the end of his penis, I thought. They couldn’t possibly have the energy or the ill will to use these things for sport or in seriousness if they simply had enough orgasms. They can say what they want about “defending their families” but I can see with all objective fairness that the firearm is a replacement for the inadequate phallus or the elusive orgasm. It was not fair for people to jerk off with these noisy, dangerous explosives when they could jerk off quietly into tissues or socks. I realized that this left out the question of female gun enthusiasts. For them I had no answers, for I now realized I was a female gun nonenthusiast.

In my attempt to be, for at least one ten-bullet clip, a female gun enthusiast, I was hoping to become a gender-transcending Omniscient Investigator of All Experience, to follow in the footsteps of my more masculine literary heroes and gain claim to all the ego and snobbery their gunplay licensed them. I envisioned myself a Zen mistress of acceptance. I would accept that violence was part of the world, I would loosen my grip on the prissiness of pacifism, I would move past musty kumbaya whinings about peace in a world where everyone wanted to kill one another, where love was about hate and sex was about death and birth was about death and death was about life. I would lay claim to my revolutionary ideals with the skills to enact them. I would liberate myself from the fear of dying at the hands of my fellow barbaric humans, secure in the knowledge that I could handle the One Great Equalizer, the firearm.

Guns did not work out for me the way I planned, but I doubt they ever do for anyone.

2 Responses to “This is not my handgun. There are many others like it but this one is not mine.”
  1. Mom says:

    I’m so glad you’re back Emily!!! I LOVED this essay. “Metal death penis” is a great name for a band. Love, Sarah H.

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