So again, what do guns do for us? It's probably true that in many circumstances guns make us safer, or at least make us feel safer, and that's not unimportant. But I do wonder whether they make us better people. I don't think this question is easily answered. It's not hard to imagine someone developing great skill, self-control, and confidence through target-shooting, and I've known police officers who regarded their guns as tools that helped them to make their communities better places. But this passage from Kerouac offers another possibility. Kerouac's protagonist Sal Paradise (Kerouac's fictionalized autobiographical persona) describes what it was like to be alone in San Francisco, thousands of miles from home:
“I tried everything in the books to make a girl. I even spent a whole night with a girl on a park bench, till dawn, without success. She was a blonde from Minnesota. There were plenty of queers. Several times I went to San Fran with my gun and when a queer approached me in a bar john I took out the gun and said “Eh? Eh” What’s that you say?” He bolted. I’ve never understood why I did that; I knew queers all over the country. It was just the loneliness of San Francisco and the fact that I had a gun. I had to show it to someone. I walked by a jewelry store and had the sudden impulse to shoot up the window, take out the finest rings and bracelets, and run to give them to Lee Ann. Then we could flee to Nevada together. The time was coming for me to leave Frisco or I’d go crazy.”*
|"I had to show it to someone."|
Hard times can make us wary. Another novel, Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men, comes to mind here, another novel about men drifting across America, searching for an elusive dream. When Steinbeck's iconic drifters Lennie and George show up at a farm to look for work, the man who hires them remarks on how unusual it is for men to care for one another as they do:
"Slim looked through George and beyond him. 'Ain't many guys travel around together,' he mused. 'I don't know why. Maybe ever'body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.'"**
Maybe so. If you know the novel, you know the complicated ways guns, trust, love, and fear figure into it. If you don't, I won't spoil it for you. Nor will I try to sort out what our laws about guns should be. Not here, anyway, because something else is weighing on my mind even more right now. The question of laws, and of safety, is important. But so is the matter of being not just safe, but sound.
We certainly need better laws; we always do. Just as importantly, we need to become better people. People who "travel around together" in difficult times, because it is better to do so than to spend our lives scared of the whole damn world.
*Jack Kerouac, On The Road. (New York: Penguin, 1991) 73.
** John Steinbeck, Of Mice And Men. (New York: Penguin, 1994) 37.