Some background, because most of you don’t know me: about thirty years ago, I was shot. I was escorting my girlfriend home from work early in the morning, we got mugged, I fought back, and one of the muggers shot me in the left arm. The small-caliber bullet entered the meat above my wrist, and because of the angle (I was running after him, my arms pumping) came out just below my elbow, causing a furrow you can still kinda see today, if you squint. If you’re gonna get shot, that’s how you want to do it. It wasn’t debilitating, it wasn’t fatal, and though it hurt like a motherfucker (it felt like I got shillelagh’ed), I was awfully lucky.
The guy would’ve had better aim, I would’ve been shot through the throat. They took me to the hospital, squirted distilled water through my flesh, stitched me up, and I was back at work two days later.
I’m not saying that, because I’ve been shot, I have any kind of special perspective on guns and gun violence in America. But I DO have a perspective, and it’s this: a big part of our problem is that you don’t have to put any effort into killing someone anymore.
We’ve been slaughtering each other since we became human, and even before. But back in the savannah days, you had to WORK at it. Killing someone used to be hard. You had to actually crush their windpipe with your thumbs, or slash their throat with a sharp shell, or pound on their abdomen until their organs collapsed. As fragile as we sometimes seem, we’re still a bunch of tough, tenacious monkeys, imbued with a thousand generations of don’t-die mechanisms, so if you go after a rival with murder in your heart, you should be prepared to put in a little effort. But here in the United States, that’s no longer necessary. Anyone can kill anyone, and it’s easy. Just point, and pull the trigger.
A gun is power. The ability to wound, maim, or kill another human being at a distance, with zero effort on your part other than a squeeze of a finger, is a breathtaking power. It’s on par with the other great abilities of our species—the creation of poetry or painting or song, the skills of architecture or engineering, the almost-magical ability to understand atoms, to bind molecules, to synthesize drugs, to split beams of light or analyze chemicals in distant stellar systems.
But alone among all these disciplines, killing requires no training, no apprenticeship, no effort, no forethought, no practice. All it takes, especially if you live in a place like Florida or Kentucky, is hitting puberty and having a few bucks. You can walk into a Walmart drooling and raving and psychotic, and walk out ten minutes later with the ability to wipe out sixteen schoolchildren at recess, half a dozen grocery store workers, a couple bank tellers, and a cop or two.
Or the kid who got lost and rang your doorbell, looking for directions. Shoot that scary little jigaboo, then shoot him again while he’s bleeding out on your porch.
Or the car full of “hoodlums” turning around in your driveway. Fucking punks deserve a load of lead.
That cheerleader who accidentally tried to get into your car, thinking it was her friend’s? Follow her out, then fire.
I’m not saying there was ever a perfect era of gun ownership. As long as there’ve been assholes, and firearms, there’ve been tragedies. But for a long time in this country’s history, you had to kind of EARN your right to blow away your fellow citizens.
Your father would take you to the gun range, or your aunt would show you how to take down squirrels, or your Boy Scout troop would have merit badge classes. But now there is literally nothing stopping the craziest, most unstable, most MAGA, most pathetic nihilist incel evolutionary dead-ends from heeling up and obliterating a yoga class, or a Jewish temple, or a Black daycare. He didn’t have to win his stripes. He didn’t have to learn, to strive, to achieve. He didn’t have to EARN the power.
Every other human field of achievement, you have to put the work in. You have to shoot a hundred thousand free throws, or read ten thousand books, or destroy a couple dozen omelets. You want to go out in an internet blaze of glory, you just have to walk into a Billings gun shop with a few hundred bucks, and Google directions to the nearest drag show.
Getting shot was probably ninety percent the shooter’s fault, and ten percent mine. I mean, don’t chase the guys who just pistol-whipped you and ripped away your wallet, you know? I was young, dumb, testicular, and pissed-off. And, in my defense, I hadn’t seen my girlfriend hiding under a car, so I thought they might have taken her. But you walk down the dark city streets early in the morning, crime is always a possibility, and criminals sometimes have guns, so I’m philosophical about the whole thing. Could’ve been worse.
But there was MOTIVE and MEANING behind my shooting. They wanted my twelve bucks and my credit card. What motive did the guy who shot the cheerleaders have, other than pique? Or the guy blasting away at the kid on his stoop, other than racism and terror? Or the bastard shooting at a car LEAVING HIS DRIVEWAY, other than sheer Donald Trump FOX News stand-your-ground assholism?
The ability to kill should take work. It should take effort. You should have to earn it. In America, you don’t have to. You can buy death like you buy cigarettes. Hell, it’s EASIER to buy death than cigarettes. And cheaper—it usually takes thousands of dollars worth of Marlboros to kill someone. A bullet’s only a few bucks.
“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” —James Baldwin
John Philip Sunseri II
John Philip Sunseri II is a horror writer from Portland, Oregon. As well as writing traditional horror fiction he also writes Lovecraftian horror. John spent two years at Yale University studying a major in English.
Writing since 2001, John has published over 50 short stories. 2007 saw the release of his first novel, The Spiraling Worm co-written with Australian author David Conyers.