When I was a child, I was on the wrong end of a loaded gun. No, that’s not a metaphor. It was real, and it happened, but to this day, I sometimes forget about it. Until there’s a news story, and it happens to me all over again.
The details are fuzzy, and I don’t like to talk about it. But you do not live through an episode of gun violence without having some residue, like gunpowder after a shot, left as an imprint on your mind.
We cannot talk about gun violence without talking about the ways in which the state continues to erase black lives with government-sanctioned violence. We cannot talk about gun violence without talking about how we, as a culture, are morally complicit in creating an environment where the cult of guns festers, an open wound on the face of the idea that we’re somehow more evolved as a society than our ancestors were. We cannot talk about gun violence without recognizing that the conservative evangelical church in America has undoubtedly contributed to it, with their association with the NRA and the not-so-subtle belief that gun freedom is tied to personal freedom is tied to religious freedom.
But most of all, we cannot talk about gun violence without talking about bodies.
The names pile up into hashtags as the bodies pile up in police morgues. White killer after white killer is caught, body completely unharmed, while black children are killed where they stand for the crime of existence. Body after body, gunned down in shootings that take place in the sacred spaces of society. Bodies hit the floor in churches, in colleges, in elementary schools, and now nowhere is sacred and everyone is scared, because we hold the idea of gun rights closer to our chests than the idea that we could give up just a little to keep preschoolers and churchgoers from having to suffer violence once more.
Bodies, bodies, bodies everywhere, and not one left alive.
No one believes me when I say I have been shot at. I could show you the holes in the walls of that house, plastered over in a sloppy rush job. I could tell you what it felt like to have someone else standing to my defense with yet another gun — it did not, in any way, feel safer. No one listens to me when I say that this is inherently a moral evil, our cultural attitude that regards gun violence as an inevitable byproduct of a land where everyone is free.
I would like to point out that our church bodies, our black bodies, the body of my small child self who saw death in the barrel of a whistling shotgun, are not free at all. While we live in a state of perpetual inertia, while we do not hold our breath for change but instead wait for the next mass murder, the next hashtag, the next black man killed on his hometown’s sidewalk, we are not, and can never be, a land of freedom.
We are a land of bodies, bodies everywhere, and not a sacred space left in sight.