Most of us are still reeling from the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. I would link to an article about that, but I’m sure we’ve all read enough about it at this point.
Because of the statistics on mass shootings and the tragedies that have occurred in the last several years, I am very anti-gun. But recently I was dealt a personal blow that, if anything, has solidified my stance.
My cousin, Tony Perkins, was shot to death on June 15. He was shot near the block my family lived on for decades (but no longer resides as a whole, united family) on the West side of Chicago. And he was shot on the same exact street his older brother, Antoine — “Boo” we lovingly called him — was killed on in 1999, when he was only 16. Also a due to gunshot wound. Tony will be the second of three sons my great aunt will have to bury. He was 28 years old.
I was numb upon hearing this news. Tony and I weren’t close; our age difference and his residence in the city versus mine in the suburbs kept me from seeing him that often, if at all. But my memories of him, when my family was happy and my mom and I visited the West side regularly, are only positive. I remember him as the sweet teenager that would always call me “Lee Lee” and make sure I was taken care of when I would play with my older cousins.
And in remembering him, I realized this: no matter how hard we try, we cannot truly empathize with the families of people taken too soon by violence, until we lose someone to violence ourselves. What my family is dealing with now, every family of a Pulse nightclub victim is dealing with too.
And then, my sadness turned into anger.
I’m upset that people from the outside will only see my cousin as another victim of gun violence. I’m upset that in the initial article the Chicago Tribune wrote about my cousin, he was not named, and his murder was lumped in with other shootings that occurred around the same time. I’m upset that, because he was black, people will see his murder as just another example of “black on black” crime. I’m upset that the woman in the video accompanying the Tribune article regurgitates what mainstream media wants black America to believe — that our deaths, poverty and inequality are our own fault, ignoring the structural and systemic barriers that keep us dying and broke without opportunity. I’m upset that my cousin is just another nameless, faceless victim of a gunshot wound. He had a name. His name was Tony. He had a family. My family.
About an hour after I found out about his death, I asked my boyfriend why the person that killed him even had a gun. How this person could have hated my cousin so much that he wanted him dead.
This is a question I have been asking to myself and others in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Is there any viable, conceivable reason an average citizen should have a gun, that doesn’t involve protecting yourself from other people who have guns? (Indeed, if no citizens had guns to begin with, that excuse would be null and void.) What about owning a gun says to so many Americans, “Yes, this is freedom”? Because it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that most guns are used offensively rather than defensively. You can turn on the news any time of day to figure that out. But this is the culture we created. Whether we want to believe it or not, we like things this way.
America is a country that’s history is written in violence, against ourselves and other global powers. We literally cannot solve any problem without the use of violence. Not only this, but we raise our boys to have toxic masculinity, asserting to them at a very young age that they need to fight and be aggressive to prove their manhood. Combine that with an imperialist agenda and you have United States history.
Gun control has been the hot topic of the last week, what with the senseless killing of singer Christina Grimmie and the Orlando shooting, which is debatably the worst mass shooting in American history, at least at this point. But as always, conservatives, and even many moderate liberals are against stricter regulations for fear of having their guns taken away. I would ask, would you rather fear giving up your guns or fear for your life on the receiving end of the next mass shooter’s bullet?
But when we live in a culture of mass media, of information overload, it isn’t hard to see why so many people want guns. We exist in a culture of fear. The news is constantly telling us how many shootings there were in the past night or weekend, about some new virus that we *should be* scared of contracting, what stupid thing Donald Trump said. We know these things constantly but not, for example, the progress (if any) that has been made on reversing the Flint water crisis. We do not know, for example, how many Muslims in New York just broke their Ramadan fast to donate blood and prayers for the victims of Orlando, despite their identities being linked heavily to terrorism. And we sure as hell aren’t told enough, for example, that trans people are no more likely to sexually assault people in bathrooms than cisgender people are. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence in almost every context.
Despite all of this, the media and prominent imagery leads us to believe that we should be afraid of just about everything and everyone except the things and people we actually should be afraid of. Like white men. And guns. And white men with guns. But who are the people in power? White men. With guns. See how that works?
My dad owns three handguns. One of which he takes with him anytime he’s going somewhere unfamiliar to him (which doesn’t happen very often now, but still). He sleeps with this gun, Pee-Wee, he named him, behind his bed. And I never understood why. And amidst all of this violence, I still don’t. People argue that they have — or even need — guns for protection. But to add another gun to the mix when there is already an active shooter would likely only lead to more fatalities. And if you believe that you’re honestly going to be the hero and impulsively grab your gun to successfully gun down your attacker, you are kidding yourself. Our instincts are to protect ourselves and get to safety, not to risk our lives by trying to kill or injure the shooter. And in the case of my dad, who usually leaves his gun in the car when he enters buildings, how is having the gun in the car going to help you in the event that a shooter enters the building you’re in?
That tells me that people don’t want guns for protection. They want them because, in some twisted way, it’s comforting to them. It’s reassuring. For most gun owners, who are men like my dad, it makes them feel like worthy men having a weapon at their disposal to use when they see fit. And that, my friends, is the toxic masculinity I spoke of earlier.
President Obama recently tackled gun control while speaking at a town hall. He expressed disappointment and frustration over Congress’ inaction on the passing of gun laws. He noted that because of gun lobbyists, the CDC cannot study gun control, which is troubling considering gun violence has just been declared a public heath crisis. Conservatives will not allow gun violence to be studied because they know the science and statistics will not favor their ideologies. They know that researchers will find that guns are, in fact, killing way too many people. And before you say “people kill people,” I would like to point out that historically after most tragedies not involving guns, laws are created to ensure that such tragedies never happens again, or happens less frequently. And we see results. It happened with 9/11. But it isn’t happening now. And there is zero reason why it shouldn’t be.
My cousin Tony is gone. He’s not coming back, and that hurts. It hurts his mother. It hurts his three children. It hurts his last living brother, J.R. Contrary to what the machine wants you to think, his death was NOT his fault. He did not deserve to die because he could not escape the streets. His death could have been prevented if the person that apparently wanted him dead didn’t have such a deadly weapon to begin with. We may never find out why Tony’s murderer took his life, or even who it is, thanks to the non-diligent work of the Chicago police. I can only be sure of this: his death was unnecessary, and it is the result of a climate that American society — not just black and brown people — have created. And I will continue to raise my voice until gun violence is a non-issue. For all of the victims who have names and faces and stories and families. For the souls that will live on forever.
Rest in peace, silly Tony. Our family will miss you dearly.