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What are you afraid of?

If we actually look at patterns of gun violence in America, we find — much to the dismay of the right — that the greatest threats we face aren’t from outside. It’s right here: On our streets, in our relationships, in our homes.

The right wing would have us believe that we need guns in this country to defend ourselves from what is outside: From racialized terrorists; lone supervillians; people with mental illnesses.

But understanding this — understanding that thousands of lives are lost each year not at the hand of some racialized foreign or domestic “enemy,” but at the hands of those we love — the rhetoric of the right wing unravels. If we look at the cops who shoot black pedestrians, at the men who kill their girlfriends, we find that what we ought to fear — what many of us do fear — is that which is closest to home.

The NRA, of course, tells a different story.

For the record: Fuck the NRA. Fuck the NRA and its money; fuck the NRA and its chokehold over Congress; fuck the NRA’s stubborn, homicidal reluctance to enact any gun control laws at all; fuck the power of any lobbying organization to channel and manipulate the desires of a demographic that feels under assault, in order to prevent any measure of intervention for people who are.

The NRA’s version of the world is terribly militarized, yet strangely starry-eyed; a clear moral narrative with a hero (us) and a villain (them) and a solution (guns). It is a rhetoric of diligence and defense from the threat of strangeness. It is a rhetoric of paranoia. And it is wildly effective.

This spot sums up the rhetoric nicely. Do not click on it if you don’t want to topple down the right-wing rabbit hole:

You and I didn’t choose to be targets in the age of terror. But innocents like us will continue to be slaughtered in concert halls, sports stadiums, restaurants, and airplanes. No amount of bloodshed will ever satisfy the demons among us…But when evil knocks on our doors, Americans have a power no other people on the planet share: The full-throated right to defend our families and ourselves with our second amendment. Let fate decide if mercy is offered to the demons at our door.

In this version of the world, Americans are innocent citizens in a great nation under attack by the ahistorical (but often conveniently racialized) forces of pure evil. In this version of the world, the American empire is fundamentally just; the American family fundamentally whole; and Americans — the right kind of Americans — innocent.

We know, of course, that the truth is very nearly the opposite: That Americans in general, and gun owners in particular, are at particular risk of domestic gun-related violence; that gun owners tend to be disproportionately male and white, with attendant privilege; that women and people of color, those most vulnerable to gun violence, also tend to most strongly support controls on gun ownership.  

So long as we continue to assume that the danger is “out there,” in the “demons” in the Middle East or the city, in war zones and terror camps — so long as violence is distanced with a rhetoric of monstrosity rather than one of atrocious banality, which ought to be the case — we will fail to understand the ideologies of protection, subjection, and control that govern our behavior right here at home. These are ideologies that send us toppling into war, that justify the killing of black people on the street, that cause us to refuse refugees, that cause women to die like we are soldiers in a war zone, that causes soldiers to die like they are soldiers in a war zone.

So long as we push only for gun ownership prohibition laws against those who are already domestically “outside” — people with mental illnesses, people on terrorist watch lists — we will not be able to stop gun violence.

Gun-related intimate partner violence, like police shooting of people of color, is not only a huge issue in and of itself, but is a paradigmatic struggle. Both are violences that come not from some outside enemy, from some other, but from the very systems — the home, the family, the police — set in place to protect “innocents like us.”

Violence isn’t outside trying to come in: It’s built into the very structure we’re supposed to be defending, this structure we supposedly call home.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in Indian cinema, theater, and visual art at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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