Guns have one purpose to shoot bullets. Those bullets are intended to kill something living. I grew up with guns, Dad was a hunter and his collection of rifles and shot guns never had any other meaning to me as a kid. When I spent a year in North Carolina in my late teens I had a bit of a reality check around the relationship between guns and bullets and how they are used. My first week of high school a student was shot outside a football game and this small town Kiwi kid suddenly had to grapple with the idea that people intentionally shoot people outside of war. When I heard a loud bang in Thames I just assumed it was a car back firing as it wasn’t uncommon. But back in Charlotte NC, I remember being pulled away from the window at my friends place when I went to see what kind of ‘car’ was having such a hard time. My education for a year introduced me to US history and US literature and other unintended experiences and learnings, such as how segregation still existed as a form of internalised practice. When we went to class all the ‘white’ students sat on one side of the class and all the ‘black’ students sat on the other and two rows of desks were left in the middle. This empty space spoke volumes, more than the rushed and superficial attempt to teach the history of the USA from ice age to current in one year. There were no discussions, or conversations about those awkward things like slavery just a pure memorising of facts and standardised tests of true false or multiple choice. I got a taste of the fear and mistrust that is born out of a history of colonisation that has been ‘white washed’ – at least that was my lasting impression. It certainly helped me to reflect more on our own history and whose voices are privileged in the documenting and accounting for the meaning of particular events.
Walking into a church and shooting 9 people could easily be made into an argument about gun control but perhaps the conversations that need to be had are about what fuels fear, supports it and gets in the way of seeing others as more ‘like us’ than different from us. Notions of purity and contamination, threat and danger generate the conditions for justifying extreme actions and sanctions.
I wonder if those two rows still sit empty at Myers Park High School? I wonder how many other ways rows of separation happen to segregate communities, those indirect yet quietly divisive modes of power. Kiwis might resonate more with the debate around the use of the confederate flag as a symbol of identity given our current musing on changing our national flag. That while not lethal in itself serves as an icon signifying particular values and beliefs belonging in another time. That in taking down unites people in other ways and enable a new story to emerge to be blown in the wind rather than blown away.