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The Loaded Decision of Buying a Gun

What is the perfect weapon for a break in shared reality?

Photo illustration; image sources: Westend61, Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Once again, I was thinking about buying a gun to cope with the possibility of having to protect my family from the armed white supremacist militias of which my state has plenty. But the morning I was headed to the gun show, it occurred to me that I’m a depressive sort with a fair amount of obsessive thinking and that if I had a gun in my house there’s a possibility I would start to think about blowing my own brains out. Before I even had the gun I found myself thinking obsessively about where the gun would theoretically be stored in my house, and I was already imagining how easy it would be, how little time it would take, to load it up and end this whole thing. It’s not that I would want to forever, it’s that with a gun you only need to want to long enough to do it, and by then, of course it would be too late. If future generations find themselves wondering what it meant to live in America in 2021, I think it’s somewhere in there.

I told several close friends about my rekindled interest in owning a firearm, all women and all of a generalized lefty-peacenik variety, expecting them to be horrified. But all of them responded the same way. “Yeah. Makes sense.” My ex-wife and the mother of my children was one of the first people I told, since we share a family and have known each other for the better part of three decades. “Yeah, I’ve thought about it, too…” she said after a pause, “but the thing about guns is, it’s impossible to have one without fantasizing about using it.”

This is the catch-22. You have one because other people have one. Other people have one because you have one. And everyone is fantasizing about using it. We sink the ship together and kill each other on our way down. In this way we create our own reality and it’s a terrible one. I read somewhere that most empires last around 250 years. This one, then, would be right on schedule. And to be sure, this moment does have a certain “Well, guess this is it” to it doesn’t it? At any rate, I recently bought a pack of cigarettes, my first in a while, which is effectively a slow gun that you can enjoy along with a cup of tea in the afternoon sunlight.

TFW you’re thinking of buying a gun. Photo courtesy of the author

From the time I was little I was confronted with dystopic visions and worst-case scenarios. Nuclear holocaust, climate disaster, civil war, fascist ethno-state, militarized police, robot apocalypse, zombie apocalypse, the illuminati. The fact that some of these things are real and some of them are not quite real, but that all of them belong in the same list, is the point. I have spent a lifetime tying to sort out the difference between what we are just fantasizing about, what is reality, and what we are fantasizing into reality. The lack of distinction between these is quite possibly the defining cognitive challenge of the mass media age. Does media predict things or does media create them?

Given this, it makes sense that some of our most insane public images of late are fueled by a break in shared reality driven in large part by media consumption. Kevin Roose’s recent long-form story on a QAnon meme queen in Manhattan was notable for many reasons, but what struck me was that it showed how easy and accessible is the off-ramp into an alternative reality, an idea further buttressed by the threads of (white) people the article encouraged to out their own friends and family members. We are of course experiencing a mass hysteria, or, if you like, a mass hypnosis, but it is not mystical in the least. We live in a racist country. White people are confronted with the possibility that they may not receive all the benefits of supremacy they have always been promised. The idea is new and terrifying and reality-breaking. An explanation appears. You follow it because it’s much easier than the more obvious explanation that you actually aren’t supreme or special or entitled to wealth and power. You follow it because once you are in there, you receive love and belonging and recognition as a member of a special group, a group that knows the truth. You follow it because once you realize it’s insane, it is too late to recover your sunken emotional, spiritual, and temporal costs. You follow it because it gives you power.

It could be that everyone needs a power greater than themselves alone. Life is just too hard without it. Sometimes it is community, sometimes it is a gun, sometimes it is religion, sometimes it is fame, sometimes it is love, sometimes it is a secret cabal that reveals the truth about lizard people and pizza and children but that gives you a lot of purpose. Perhaps the task isn’t as much about avoiding falling into worship as it is about finding a worship that causes the least harm for our shared reality — what remains of it.

I don’t know the answer to this, of course. I don’t know if I will need a gun or not. The question remains unanswered, and I’m not asking for your opinion. I just know that I try to begin each day, each action, each word I write, by thinking of who I love, who is harmed — genuinely, materially harmed — by the circumstances of our society, and what I might be able to do to uplift, support, protect, love, and light the way to freedom for those people. Even when I am one of them. Especially because I am one of them. Beyond that, there is nothing that I can say with certainty is real.

@nytmag |ny’er | gq,etc | #FindingFred| Memoir @mcdbooks 2021 | pro-black, pro-queer everything | he/him |The Sixth Man| i’m cut in half pretty bad

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