Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: A queer take on gun control

I try to promote joy and peace in my gift giving, which is why most of the holiday presents I pass out are THC-based. I had an odd, unfamiliar feeling last week as I licked and sealed an envelope and prepared to wish someone a merry Christmas with a gift card for a local shooting range and a coupon for a free machine gun rental.

I’ve always disliked firearms and all forms of gun culture: a military stocked to arm Armageddon; police arsenals and an accompanying mindset that reclassifies neighborhoods as battlefields; the way Hollywood treats sex and cigarettes as more problematic than excessive gunfire; certain civilian groups’—white hunters and disaffected black youth, as two examples—conditioning to view firearms as an assertion (and extension) of manhood.

My abhorrence of guns has not been developed in the abstract. One of my teenage stepbrothers was gunned down when I was 11. I witnessed my first murder at age 15 when someone opened fire at the neighborhood swimming pool. Several classmates and peers were killed in armed robberies or by stray bullets, and two of my nephews have been shot—most recently, my sister called me a few nights before Thanksgiving to tell me that her 15-year-old son was being rushed to the hospital.

Guns evoke a sense of chaos more than safety for me. I prefer to reduce my proximity to them, and I appreciate efforts to keep them out of common areas like shopping malls and sports venues.

Over the past decade, I’ve developed a meaningful friendship with a married heterosexual couple, who at some point in the last five years became Second Amendment fanatics, unwilling to sit in their living room or eat at a restaurant without a handgun holstered at their sides. They’ve evolved from “open carry” enthusiasts to devotees of survivalism, and I sometimes worry whether they appreciate the difference between preparing for the apocalypse and rooting for its arrival.

I once told the husband how much it meant to me that throughout our friendship, despite our diverse backgrounds and his being raised in South Georgia, he had never made me feel uncomfortable—never judged or censored me—for being gay. I confessed my personal discomfort with guns and my confusion over the fellowship he feels among Second Amendment enthusiasts, and I committed to not letting our friendship be diminished by reservations I have about his new identity and lifestyle.

I know it’s a third rail of queer politics to even tangentially compare the LGBT experience to anything but venerated human rights struggles, as if homosexuality were not historically (and still) persecuted under the auspices of being a threat to public health. Still, I am uncomfortable advocating that a group of Americans—gun owners—should have their constitutional freedoms diluted because of the potential misuse of firearms by others.

I support closing the gun-show loophole and punishing straw-man purchases, and I believe those who buy semiautomatic weapons should at least be subjected to the Cosmo-esque personality quizzes that many companies require for new hires. I have little faith that any of this would reduce gun violence in the United States, so I lean toward the chaos of freedom instead of the security of prohibition.