My relationship with guns is an evolving one.
I grew up in a tiny town in northwest Georgia, the son of a man who, as a teenager, had to hunt for food to keep himself and his mother from starving. The same bolt-action, single-shot .22 rifle he used all those years stood leaning in the corner of the hall, between my parents’ bedroom and the one I shared with my older brother, and I never thought of touching it when Dad wasn’t around. He had told me not to. That was good enough for me.
The deadly accuracy Dad had developed as a teen, targeting squirrels and rabbits and the occasional last-resort possum, continued into his adulthood. His superiors took note of it when he joined the Army. He was due to appear at the highest level of Armed Forces marksmanship competition when he received word that his mother had died, and came home to settle her estate. Dad never got to compete at that last, highest level. There was an excellent chance he would’ve won.
I was born in the 70s and raised on a steady diet of science-fiction novels, Louis L’Amour westerns, comic books, and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. I loved guns. I loved the whole concept of them. I loved the line, “God created man, but Sam Colt made them equal.” When I encountered the character Corsair in the pages of The X-Men, who could touch gems on his gauntlets and make a pair of laser guns appear out of thin air, I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen.
When I was twelve, Dad got me a pump-action BB rifle. That marksmanship gene had transferred to me, at least somewhat. I could hit anything with that gun. It was mine, and I loved it.
But things change.
In July of 2012 James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and, using an assault rifle, killed twelve people and injured 70 more. I had an epiphany that day, or maybe just a moment of lucidity. It suddenly became very real to me exactly what using a gun meant: the power of life and death, in the hands of…well. In the hands of anyone who wanted it, really. As clear as the proverbial crystal, I realized that owning a gun should be a privilege, not a right, and that the process of obtaining one should be strenuous and exacting and expensive. There were idiots and maniacs out there, and allowing them access to guns might as well have been giving them payloads of sarin gas. Or, to go all genre on the subject, teaching them the avada cadavra death spell from Harry Potter. That was as much effort as they had to expend: Point. Pull trigger. End life.
But then, six months later, Adam Lanza killed twenty tiny children and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and it was like the second blow in a one-two punch. Lanza used weapons that his mother had purchased legally, and snuffed out the lives of twenty little kids. Twenty babies. The enormity, the horrific finality of it overwhelmed me. There was no more room in my heart for compromise.
That day, and every day since, I have believed that private citizens should not possess firearms of any kind, and when I was writing my latest novel, Gray Widow’s Walk, I very much wanted to communicate that belief. The book is what I call “superhero noir,” and centers on Janey Sinclair, a 27-year-old fine artist who, in a way she doesn’t understand, gains the ability to teleport from one patch of darkness to another. Deciding to work out her inner demons by stealing a suit of prototype military body armor and taking to the streets of Atlanta as the city’s self-appointed protector, Janey quickly gets dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and could be described as Daredevil meets Red Sonja. I figured it would be the perfect platform to communicate my recently-arrived-at anti-gun philosophy.
The problem was, in early drafts I went overboard. I put in a conversation that took place on a first date between Janey and her possible new love interest, Tim Kapoor. Tim is a first-generation South Asian-American, and his father decided to take Bobby Jindal as his inspiration; as such, Mr. Kapoor votes very Republican and is a proud member of the NRA.
In an attempt to keep the conversation going, Tim asks Janey what she thinks about gun control. It touches a nerve. Janey’s life has been a series of cruel, unfair tragedies, and two of them have been the direct result of gun violence. And so, to begin with, I had Janey go off on Tim in an epic rant.
BUT…as an astute beta reader pointed out, I wasn’t showing Janey’s attitude about guns to the reader. I was telling. Worse, I was preaching. Ultimately, I took the conversation out, and decided to trust the rest of the events of the book to make my point.
Here, however, I’m drawing back the curtain, and providing a look behind the scenes, so to speak, of Gray Widow’s Walk. This is the deleted conversation between Janey and Tim.
Tracing squiggly patterns on Janey’s shoulder with one finger, Tim drew in a deep breath and said, “Okay…here’s a hot-button topic. What do you think about gun control? For or against?”
Janey grimaced, and didn’t answer immediately. “I’m hesitant to say. How do you feel about it?”
“No, no, I asked you first.”
“Well, I’m fine with guns, honestly. It’s those hard little pieces of metal they fire that I have a problem with.”
“Come on, I’m serious.”
Janey tried for a smile. “So am I, actually. …You realize you’re handing me a soapbox?”
“I like tall women. Climb on up.”
She sighed. “Where to start? Okay. There’s no need for private citizens to own firearms. They should be reserved for the military, and for special units of the police.”
“Whoa. Okay. That’s quite a blanket statement.”
She shrugged. “It’s true. Plenty of other countries do it like that already. I see people here saying, ‘Well, if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.’ But that’s nonsense. It’s been flatly disproven. Look at every country in Europe. Look at Australia. Look at Japan. You know what criminals in Japan use to terrorize people? Knives. Besides, what kind of logic is that? ‘Some people will break laws, so we shouldn’t have any laws?’ Some people steal cars and forge checks, too, but no one’s saying we should legalize those.”
“Well…okay. Not saying I disagree with you, but in light of the gun rack in the back window of my father’s pickup truck…may I play devil’s advocate?”
Janey’s eyes grew cooler. “Go right ahead.”
“What about hunters?”
“Hunting rifles I’m fine with. When you go hunting, go to the license office and get your ammunition. When you come back, turn the unused rounds in.”
“But what if someone wants to practice?”
“Go to the firing range. Get your ammunition. Use it there and leave it there.”
“So…I guess you’re not in favor of having guns for home protection?”
“Hand out Tasers. Hand out pepper spray. Hand out the kind of guns that shoot tear-gas pellets. Spend the money that would have bought a gun on an alarm system. None of those will kill anyone. And I’m not saying I’m so concerned about people committing crimes—you attack someone, my sympathy for you drops to zero. I’m thinking more about accidental shootings. Idiots who shoot their spouses, or their children, or themselves. Or children who find their parents’ guns. There’s no point in having the power of life and death in your hands.”
“Hmmm…maybe I won’t introduce you to my dad…”
Janey ducked her head. “Yeah… Told you you were handing me a soapbox.”
“Oh, I know! And if my dad were here, I’m sure he’d have some sort of retort about the Second Amendment.”
She winced. “Really? Is he in a well-regulated militia?” When Tim laughed, Janey’s eyes sparkled. “Is he going to take his powder and take his gun and report to General Washington?” He laughed harder, but her expression darkened. “Do you know how horrified the founding fathers would be if they knew our schools had to have active-shooter drills? And that the necessity for those drills is a pig-ignorant bastardization of their own Constitution? That the legalities that lead to tens of thousands of firearm-related deaths in this country every year are laid, without irony, at the founders’ feet?”
Tim held up placating hands. “I know. I know. I get the other side of it from my dad all the time. All about the sanctity of the right to bear arms. How people need guns to protect themselves and their families.”
Janey looked up at him, and for a second, maybe half a second, the fury in her eyes terrified him. He swallowed hard, and then again, and it got worse when she spoke.
“And yet the number of times guns get used for self-defense is dwarfed by the number of gun-related crimes and pointless deaths. Tim, I don’t know your father. I’m sure he’s a good man in his heart. And it is with all due respect that I say this. But I don’t give two hairy, mouse-flavored squirts of owl shit about the ‘sanctity of the right to bear arms.’ Not when that right gets people killed. Not when that right gets children killed. People cling to their guns because of pure ideology, and that ideology leads to death after death, day after day after day. It’s sickening. ‘Sanctity.’ As if the Second Amendment were handed down by God on a stone tablet. Was the right to own slaves sacred? Or to keep women from voting? Sanctity my ass.”
She looked away, breathing heavily.
Yeah…that shifted pretty quickly from words said in Janey’s voice to, as that invaluable beta reader so accurately pointed out, words said in my voice. The question now, though, is “Have I made my point with the rest of the book?” Will the message I hope to convey shine through, alongside the bloodthirsty, homicidal shapeshifter who wants Janey dead, and the private security contractor who wants her under control, and the possible extra-terrestrial presence that may have triggered Janey’s power in the first place?
I hope you’ll give it a read and find out.