Your Original Relationship To Violence Matters
I Fell In Love
I sat in the armchair in the ICU hospital room, dizzy from fatigue, the beeping machines, and the steady array of medical professionals in varied color scrubs rotating in and out of the room, caring for the patient.
It was probably day 18 of the 30-day hospital stay, and the male nurse in his blue scrubs brought in the evening medicine. Let us call him Hogan. He had worked with us for several nights, and he was the first male nurse we had out of the umpteen nurses that had worked with us.
He was big and strappy, with a wonderful smile. He was peppy without being loud. I was impressed with his calmness and warmth. He asked questions and his blue eyes connected with the patient’s and he held his gaze with softness. He asked a different set of questions than other nurses, adjusting the male patient’s urinary catheter to reduce friction, and easily lifting the frail patient to make him more comfortable. He had a caring instinct, and I appreciated a male nurse with his male patient.
My rigid body relaxed into the armchair, the one I would sleep on when I unfolded it later that night, as I watched as this nurse worked his gift with the patient. I observed, trusting in his skill, and reflecting over the depth of care we had received in this hospital over the past couple of weeks. I was impressed. I was appreciative. I instinctively trusted this nurse and liked him. He knew his business and I enjoy a professional exercising their own unique gift. Anyone who has spent any length of time in the hospital knows that the nurses wear the real crowns, and it is very easy to fall in love with a good nurse.
This evening, as Hogan visited with us and checked all the machines, the TV blared, “This is CNN. I am Anderson Cooper. On this 360 degrees Special Report we explore What Really Happened in Ulvalde?” The three bodies in the room became quiet as we all turned our eyes to the TV screen which was suspended from high on the far wall. We were absorbed in the images of flower memorials and pictures of children. The news story detailed the actions of police department and the 77-minute delay before the police officers unlocked the door and fatally shot the gunman.
After a few minutes, our wonderful nurse, clenched his fist and lightly banged on the guard rail of the bed and blurted out, “This is why every parent in America needs a gun! Can you imagine if every parent of a child in that school had a gun and showed up when they heard of the shooting? They would have organized and stormed that school to save their child. This is why we cannot depend on the police.”
Cognitive dissonance intensified my dizziness. I immediately fell out of love with Hogan, and thoroughly shocked, I questioned, “Every parent needs a gun?” I was stupefied.
He saw the shock in my face and pulled back a little bit, squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and said, “I am a ‘responsible’ gun owner. I was an EMT for 10 years and I saw so many things that forced me to be a ‘responsible’ gun owner.” He went on to discuss some of his experiences with violence, and neighborhoods where he did not feel safe. He never had to pull out his gun, but he had some experiences where he communicated by putting his hand on his hip to show that he had a gun for protection.
Now, I understand the dangers of working as a paramedic, and the need, or urge to carry a gun, if that were your job. I think EMTs do battlefront work all day long. I get it. I gave him a pass and fell back in love with him, but just a little bit this time.
He went on to talk about the “constitutional right” to own a gun. He talked about the intention of the original framers of the constitution and how they wanted every citizen to bear arms so that the government would perform the wishes of the people and not have much power. He said the only government that worked were those that were afraid of their people rising up with arms.
The patient listened, too weak to respond. I realized my brain could not process anything so complex. I was tired. Here was this amazing nurse that I really liked. I liked him enough to listen to him and his world view was totally contrary to mine. I just listened.
Finally, permanently falling out of love with him, I said, “I just do not understand our American gun culture.”
Nonplussed, he responded, “Culture? Say more.” I told him where I was from and how foreign guns are to me. I talked about the amount of violence in this country and that this country has more mass shootings than any other country in the world.
He said that the solution to mass shootings were more guns, that in Buffalo or Ulvalde, if there were citizens armed with guns, no one would have been killed except the shooter.
I could not visualize this alternate reality. In my mind, more guns mean more innocent people being killed.
He said the original framers of the constitution knew that it took arming the populous for the government to be kept in check. He gave the example of Venezuela and how it is collapsing and if the citizens were armed, they would be able to save their country from mass migration, hyperinflation, violence, and political turmoil due to the loss of democracy.
For every argument I had, his counter argument promoted guns. I finally just listened and thanked him for sharing his perspective and educating me. I told him that I did not necessarily agree with him, but that he broadened my perspective. I appreciated the fact that he was an amazing nurse AND we disagreed profoundly on something fundamental.
Ultimately, I realized, “He is a white man with a concept of power that I cannot accept. Violence is mundane to him. It is par for the course.”
He saw himself at the top of the pecking order and it was his job to ensure that everyone around him conformed to his world view about guns. He justified his world view because he could link it to the framers of the constitution. He also embraced guns as agents of power that kept people under control. He trusted that every “responsible gun owner” would indeed be responsible and would not use the guns recklessly. I do not know the racial image of the person that is a “responsible gun owner” that was in his head.
Hogan also believed that the original intention of the initial leadership of this country was to grant people like him:
the autonomy and agency,
to create the power dynamics,
that gave him the authority to be violent,
and even kill mass shooters before they caused harm, and also
keep the government in check so that they did not control our lives.
Over the next few weeks, I could not shake the conversation from my head. I don’t think I have ever genuinely liked a person and had this type of conversation with them on a topic so volatile for me. I was glad that I could listen, and over time, I was able to mine some gems from our conversation.
I also saw clearly how you had to see yourself as the main recipient of the intention of the original framers of the constitution to be able to have these thoughts. This is what “privilege” looks like.
As a Black, mixed race, Yoruba woman, a transplant from Africa, I have never, ever, been under the illusion that Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin and that cohort of fellows ever imagined someone like me at the center of their consideration for human rights and citizenry. I would have been enslaved at the time and even barred from entering this country. They did not want me to carry a gun!
Your Origin Story Matters
As I explored Hogan identity which resonated for him with the framers of the constitution, I thought of my own identity and my origin story and how it shapes my thoughts about guns.
My earliest memories of guns, outside of watching American TV shows like Bonanza and Hawaii Five 0, was an awareness of the Nigerian civil war and the killing effect of guns. I remember the uncertainty of growing up near war. It raged in the Eastern part of the country, but it impacted us every day. The news reported on it daily and I understood there were a lot of guns, tanks and planes involved in battle. I knew it was dangerous and violent. I remember that guns were bad and used by trained people to kill other people, including innocent children and women.
The other childhood memory that I have of guns regarded the increase in armed robberies with the Nigerian oil boom and the nouveau riche in the early 70s. Public executions of convicted robbers were used as a deterrent. It seems horrible to me now, but the news would show robbers roped to oil drums stacked on top of each other, a priest giving them last rites, and then a blindfold put over their eyes. A line of soldiers would stand many feet apart and would fire at the robbers until their bodies slumped over. It was gruesome.
Then there were the executions of proponents of failed coup d’ états. During my childhood, there was a successful overthrow of the sitting military government by another set of military officials on July 29, 1975. Then, a mere 6 and 1/2 months later, our brand new 37-year-old military head of state was killed along with a staff member while going to work in the morning in his black Mercedes Benz saloon car.
I especially remember this day because it was my mother’s birthday, and I could not imagine that the man whose face I saw on TV almost every day as the leader of our country, had been assassinated. He was dead. He was killed in cold blood. Bullets coming out of a gun killed the leader of my country and the evidence was on the TV and in the newspapers.
The antagonists failed in the overthrow of the government, and they were subsequently publicly executed. The men were lined up, tied to individual oil drums, a priest giving them last rites, and then a blindfold put over their eyes. And the military shooters unloaded their guns until their bodies slumped over. Young and old, we all watched this somber moment on the news, our collective stomachs churning.
While we had military leadership, often the car convoys of high-ranking officials would parse stand still traffic with trucks of armed men forcing driver to pull away so the convoy could proceed to their destination. Guns were used to assert power, intimidate, and threaten people. And the military government was a government by force, a dictatorship.
The Purpose of Guns
War. Armed Robbers. Head of State Assassinations. Power assertion. Intimidation. Threat.
From my childhood, these were the frameworks for gun ownership or use. I never met a person who had a gun until I came to this country. Even the Nigerian police carried batons and not guns. Guns are not normal to me. Guns are not everyday occurrences to me. And guns do not belong in the hands of everyone. In my world.
I had no conditioning or image of guns as protecting me or giving me power or autonomy over another. I was a commoner. I was a child observing life in the streets of Lagos and through the media, with no inclination to be among people who used guns.
Make It Stop, Please.
After Buffalo and Ulvalde, and the discussions on gun laws, I still don’t get it. I previously wrote about mothers of white teenage boys. I also wrote about senseless gun statistics. I cannot untangle the violence that gun use and ownership presumes.
I am grateful we are having conversations about this subject. But at what point do we understand that we need each other as human beings, and another human is not “THE” enemy?
As I wrote this piece, I thought deeply about my core beliefs and questioned my personal anathema against guns. That is why I went all the way back to my childhood – to explore what shaped my thoughts and ideas about guns and the unacceptability of them.
I do not deny the need for protection. At home, many people have a machete. This is used to clear grass, cut down a tree, cut open a coconut, dig a whole, and protect oneself. It is a multipurpose tool. A gun however is used only to maim or kill a person or an animal.
I believe that this proactive need to always protect oneself from others around them, and this idea that one must be on the offensive to not be on the defensive, is deeply rooted in the concepts of superiority and individualism.
We must accept that this country was founded on deep violence, justified by the idea that one race is superior to others. We continue to live into the legacy of such brutality.
Changing the existing gun laws is not going to change much. Folks will find ways to attach to their guns. What we must do is deeply reflect on our culture and our foundation and demand a change of ourselves and those around us.
If we cannot explore our common humanity with others, then everyone is a threat to us.
If we cannot find empathy for those around us that do not look like us, then we will continue to find our solutions in guns.
If we cannot appreciate that fact that we need each other and we are interdependent on each other, then the “other” will always be dispensable, even through violence.
If we cannot come to a consensus of something as simple as our shared history and grapple with the fact that this nation was founded on violence, to give rights and privileges to a few deemed superior, and violence can never eradicate violence, then we will never have the luxury of living in peace.
Violence only suppresses violence until there is a rebellion and then more violence ensues.
Please, make it stop!
Let me know what you think, and please share.