I – Lord of the Flies
I’m holed up in my shack in a distant corner of the north woods. It’s cold, and quiet, and very still. I have dried and canned foods, jugs of drinking water, solar powered LED lights, and plenty of sweet, dry, apple wood to burn. I’ve set myself the task of composing a “Survivor Apocalypse Manifesto.” But I am not a survivalist. I’m a survivor of gun violence.
For years I’ve sought new ways of talking and thinking about the problem of gun violence in America, some way to break through the indifference of the American people. I see myself as an anti-Ted Kaczynski, an un-Unabomber engaged in the creation of a subtly explosive document which, by its eloquence, charm, and irrefutable logic, will put an end to gun violence as we know it, much as Jerry Rubin and Ed Sanders levitated and exorcised the Pentagon in 1967. But it’s not going to be that easy this time around, for the simple reason that most non-survivors don’t give a hoot about the problem of gun violence in America. As they’ve demonstrated ad nauseam, the pink-faced white men in power don’t care, and that vast majority of citizens who tell pollsters they favor stronger gun laws don’t care either. If they did, they’d already have voted the pink-faced politicians who don’t care out of office.
Who, then, is left to deal with the eradication of gun violence? The survivors of gun violence, that’s who. And the many more people who are in imminent danger of being personally affected by gun violence. Which includes everyone. Too bad for you if you don’t see the truth in this. The purpose of the “Survivor Apocalypse Manifesto” should therefore be clear.
First, however, I must deal with a fact of woodland life. In the fall, a particular species of fly crawls into every cranny of a place like this to sleep through the winter. When I opened the door this afternoon, for the first time since October, the floor was covered with them, right where they’d dropped when the temperature fell low enough to knock them out. I swept them up and threw them away. Then I lit a fire in the wood stove. To my horror the warmth brought more flies back to life. Many more, crawling out of whatever fly holes they’d been sleeping in. Thousands of them, big and fat. They’re called “cluster flies” because they cluster, and right now they’re clustering on the windowpanes, marring my view of the highlands. It’s disgusting. I’m sorry to say that composition of the “Survivor Apocalypse Manifesto” will be postponed owing to the necessity of initiating a cluster fly holocaust.
No wonder Kacsynski went nuts.
But there’s always something, isn’t there? Some impediment, some fly in the ointment. What does it mean, “well-regulated militia?” What is the definition of an assault rifle? Why don’t we just enforce the laws already on the books? This is not the time for such talk. This is the time for thoughts and prayers.
II – History
In 1978 my sister Wendy died, as we say, by her own hand, which had a revolver in it, which was pointed at her heart when she squeezed the trigger. (Women tend to go for the heart; men the head.) She purchased her gun at a pawn shop the day before her death – an unfortunate impulse shopping decision that would be just as easy today, in many states, as it was in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1978. Most people who survive a suicide attempt never try again. If she’d decided instead to hang herself she would have had only a 60% chance of success. Poison, 40%. Cutting, 2%. With a gun the chances of success rise to 90%. Though it’s not success, is it?
Fourteen years later, in December 1992, my eighteen-year-old son Galen was killed in a school shooting at Simon’s Rock College in western Massachusetts. He was the random victim of a disturbed fellow student who’d bought a used semi-automatic rifle at a local gun shop the afternoon of the shootings. The killer modified his gun to accept thirty-round magazines, which he’d ordered, using his mother’s credit card, along with 180 rounds of ammunition, from a mail order company in South Carolina. Purchases of the gun, the ammunition, and the aftermarket accessories were perfectly legal, and they’d be be just as legal now, in many states, as they were in 1992.
These events have given me the unusual perspective of having spent forty years closely watching nothing happen. Or, watching a lot happen, most of which involves people getting killed by guns and politicians doing nothing about it. Let us observe a moment of silence. Let us attend to the buzzing of flies.