When you sit down to write, at least in the greater world of creative fiction, you generally come to the table with at least a kernel of an idea; some inkling of the end result of your labors. As I sit down to write this I realize that I have none of that. I do not know what I hope to achieve by putting my words down, nor do I truly have any great grasp on my own understanding with regards to what I feel in the furthest reaches of my soul following the truly unspeakable events that transpired in Orlando over the weekend.
Here is what I know: on June 11th in Orlando, Florida. A man with a gun killed a 22 year old singer in an act of cold blooded murder. The following day on June 12th, a man with a gun killed fifty people and wounded fifty-three others in an act of terror in a gay nightclub in the very same city. Across the continent, in California, on the same day, a man was stopped by police on his way to the LA Pride festival carrying an assault rifle and materials used in the composition of an explosive device.
I am not a religious individual. The world saw fit to condition that particular element out of me a long time ago. But I pray for the families of the victims and those affected by these tragedies. I pray, not to any named entity or god, but to whatever power it is that holds existence together and I pray that those that lost their lives and those who have to cope with the loss of their loved ones may find some modicum of peace in these indelicate and trying times. Times where politically minded jackals and opportunistic vultures will attempt to strip-mine this tragedy for brownie points or capital in some invisible Game of Thrones skullduggery as we head into the fall elections in the United States.
The Lieutenant Governor of the state in which I reside, a spineless slug of a man named Dan Patrick, tweeted the bible verse Galatians 6:7;”Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Walking side-show Donald Trump took time after the attack to tweet “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
I have had to block certain acquaintances of mine on Facebook because of the things they were putting onto my feed. Statements about how a single “good guy with a gun” could have prevented the tragedy at Pulse on Sunday morning. That fifty people lost their lives to gun violence means nothing to them. The right to bear arms is somehow more important that the right to safely assemble without the fear of gun related violence. The vitriol that some of these people have spewed forth onto the internet is astounding. This tragedy should not be a platform for anyone to endorse bigotry and hate. No man should be able to build a pedestal from the bodies of the dead and preach an agenda of fear-mongering and discrimination.
That the shooter responsible for the massacre at Pulse, now being described as the deadliest mass shooting on American soil (so far), was a reported ISIS sympathizer is shaking up a hornet’s nest of rhetoric about the dangers of radicalized Islam. And yet that somehow blinds some people to the fact that the man who killed singer Christina Grimmie and the 29 year old individual with plans to attack the LA Pride festival had no ties to Islamic terror in any way, shape, or form. While it is of course logical to focus on the incident with the highest body count, if we look at the patterns of high profile gun violence in the past few years, the majority of shooters have been domestic terrorists with no ties to fundamentalist or extremist Islamic groups. That having been said, there has been one unifying factor in every one of these massacres; the guns.
Since 1982 there have been over 60 mass shootings in the United States. In over half of those shootings, the weapons used were legally purchased “including various semi-automatic rifles, guns with military features, and handguns using magazines with more than 10 rounds” (Aronson, Follman, Lee). The key here is that these weapons were not appropriated under the table on some indistinct black market, these firearms were obtained legally. This was also the case in the Dark Knight Rises shooting incident at a theater in Colorado where the suspect legally purchased four separate firearms at four separate locations. “Gander Mountain, which sold an AR-15 assault rifle believed to be used in the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, said the company was in compliance with state and federal laws and that it was ‘fully cooperating with this ongoing investigation’” (Moreno). As it stands, any law abiding United States citizen over the age of twenty-one, can legally obtain firearms that are normally used in military operations. The most common argument in America used to defend the second amendment is that everyday citizens need firearms for personal protection or for the private hunting of wildlife during game season. In what conceivable way would the average citizen need access to weaponry utilized by the military for personal defense or the hunting of animals?
In 2013 following the incident in Newtown, Connecticut where twenty elementary school children and six faculty members were gunned down (Goldberg) by twenty year old Adam Lanza, legislation was drafted to once again regulate assault rifles in the United States. The bill would seek to ban “All semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one military feature: pistol grip; forward grip; folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; grenade launcher or rocket launcher; barrel shroud; or threaded barrel” (Feinstein). That there are groups in this country that advocate everyday citizens should have unrestricted access to the firearms that would be banned by this legislation is astounding. How could any level-headed individual argue that your average citizen needs access to a grenade launcher? The short answer is that they can’t. Despite the violent and terrible nature of these tragedies, gun ownership is still a major part of the American landscape. In 2015 following sanctions placed on Russia by the United States, the import of the famed Russian-made assault rifle the AK-47 came to a screeching halt. Demand for the weapon however meant that the company previously tasked with importing the weapon, RWC, switched over to manufacture. Spokesman for the company Thomas McCrossin stated that they had an available inventory of the previously imported Russian weapons that were legal to sell because they arrived in America prior to the Russian sanctions going into effect, “but when the inventory goes down to zero, there are no more” (Smith). So despite the frequency of assault weapon use in mass shootings and the growing discomfort that many Americans feel about the number of readily available assault weapons in the country, American companies are still dedicated to ensuring that those same weapons remain readily available.
There was a time when assault weapons of this nature were banned in the United States. However, the Federal Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 was allowed to expire on September 13th, 2004. Since that time, the number of dangerous weapons finding their way into the hands of criminals has exploded. In a research study conducted by the National Institute of Justice in March 1999, researchers concluded that the Assault Weapon Ban had positive consequences indicating “that the weapons became more available generally, but they must have become less accessible to criminals because there was at least a short-term decrease in criminal use of the banned weapons” (Travis). Compare this to the findings of the Washington Post who found that “More than 15,000 guns equipped with high-capacity magazines – defined under the lapsed federal law as holding 11 or more bullets – have been seized by Virginia police in a wide range of investigations” (Fallis, Grimaldi). Therefore, it can be concluded that since the lapse of the ban, the ready availability of these weapons has increased and the likelihood of these legally purchased firearms being used for criminal activities has increased as well. The benchmark by which we judge the usefulness of a law is an effective cost benefit analysis; if the cost of maintaining a law outweighs the benefit that it presents the people then it has to be adjusted or removed. The eighteenth amendment to the constitution banned the sale of alcohol, but when the law became untenable the twenty-first amendment was drafted to rectify the issue. The constitution of the United States is not set in stone and neither are the amendments. What may have been applicable at the time of its inception may not remain applicable in the modern world. At the time of the second amendment, firearms technology was limited to muskets and single shot rifles. An amendment that reflects the reality of modern weaponry may very well be entirely necessary.
As I sit here writing this, I realize that I am part of the problem. I am a gun owner. I am also a writer who has created fiction that, in retrospect, seems to fetishize or glorify gun violence. It is hard for me to promote something like Blood at Sunrise, where differences are settled with an exchange of bullets. I try to rationalize it by placing it within the context of the time period that the novel is set. The years following the American Civil War were categorically a violent time. The novel reflects that. But what my writing the novel reflects in the here and now is that we live in a culture where we glorify something that truly should be vilified. I actually feel a great deal of shame for my contributions to American gun culture. Those contributions may be minuscule but so long as there are people who treat gun violence with such a casual attitude, America will continue to wake up to press conferences with a somber president addressing another gun related tragedy.
I won’t apologize for the novels I have written. I stand by them as works of fiction and simply acknowledge that they have elements that are somewhat problematic. That is part of being involved in the creative arts; the ability to analyze one’s own work and grow outwardly based on what discoveries you make along the way. I specifically tailored the villains in One Fate for Failure against the grain, eschewing ties to Islamic terrorism because I do not subscribe to the idea that we should stereotype every Muslim as a radical. I stand by that decision.
And while I’m on the subject of One Fate for Failure, let me say this; Madeline McCallister is a strong and wonderful heroine who happens to be bisexual. I wanted to use that word in text because, as anyone who clamors to see bisexual representation in media can attest, the term is often glossed over or sanitized or simply left to implication rather than made canon. Maddie is a bisexual woman. She is slowly coming to terms with what that means. The LGBTQ+ community is filled with wonderful people, many of whom I call dear friends, and they deserve representation. They deserve equal rights, equal representation, and equal respect. What happened at Pulse in Orlando was a hate crime, first and foremost. Whatever ties the gunman may have had to any extremist group, it cannot be forgotten that the victims of this tragedy were most definitely targeted because of their sexual and gender identities. They were targeted. The world needs to see these people as human, and part of that comes to how they are portrayed in the media and in places like our fiction. I hope that members of the LGBTQ+ community who have read One Fate For Failure know that the way Maddie is portrayed comes from a place of love and a desire to do right by them, and that it was not my intention to play her sexual orientation as a gimmick.
I know that this has been all over the place, but I felt the need to get my feelings out somehow. This weekend was an eye-opener for me. I do not hold out hope that it will have a similar effect on the bull-headed and closed-minded, but perhaps it will. Maybe hope will win in the end.
“2015 Toll of Gun Violence.” Gun Violence Archive. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
Fallis, David S., and Grimaldi James. “In Virginia, High-yield Clip Seizures Rise.”Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
Feinstein, Dianne. “United States Senator Dianne Feinstein.” Assault Weapons Ban Summary.Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
Follman, Mark, Gavin Aronsen, and Jaeah Lee. “More Than Half of Mass Shooters Used AssaultWeapons and High-Capacity Magazines.” Mother Jones. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
Goldberg, Eleanor. “How To Honor The Legacy Of All 26 Newtown Shooting Victims.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
Moreno, Ivan. “Police: Colo. Shooting Suspect Bought Guns Legally.” ABC News. ABC NewsNetwork. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
Smith, Aaron. “AK-47s: Soon to Be Made in USA.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
Travis, Jeremy. “Impacts of the 1994 Weapons Ban.” National Institute of Justice. 1 Mar. 1999. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.