I love the Constitution, particularly the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights. Granted, I use the First Amendment more than any of the others, enjoying practicing no religion at all—instead of being forced to be a member of one church or another—assembling peaceably now and then and, my go-to, the right to say what I please as well or as poorly as I can, without fear of the government telling me to “pipe down pipsqueak.” I’m glad for the Fourth Amendment’s safeguards against intrusive search and seizure and the Fifth’s against self-incrimination, even though I don’t have much application for them. Yet.
Living where I do and spending time with the folks I do, the right that gets discussed most is enumerated in the Second Amendment: the right of the people to keep and bear arms. I’ll admit the framers could have been a lot clearer about what they meant—that opening phrase about militias kind of muddies the waters about intention, but I do believe the Constitution guarantees the right of every American to have guns. For fairness’ sake, I should also say I think we need prescribed limits on that right. Just as one cannot yell “theater” at a crowded fire, so no one needs automatic weapons, machine guns or minefields.
I like firing guns, particularly pistols. Given the choice of playing pool, going bowling or firing guns, I will choose to shoot every single time. While I may lack ability at any of these, at least with shooting I get to make a lot of noise. Silence at the pool table or the bowling alley is deadly. Likewise, I have no ethical problem with hunting, even though I’d rather walk through the forest with a backpack over my shoulder than a rifle. Overall, I am pleased I have the right to carry a gun. I also believe applying that right to myself is too dangerous. Let me explain.
When I was drinking, I carried suicidal intention with me like a Victorian locket with a picture of a departed loved one. Not an hour went by when I didn’t open the idea and think, “Well, I can always kill myself.”
I’ve been fired from a job? I can kill myself.
That lady didn’t respond to my hello? I can kill myself.
This grilled-cheese sandwich would’ve been better with Swiss? I can kill myself.
After 10 years of working a program of sobriety, suicide is no longer my default option. I don’t automatically assume that killing myself should remain on the table like a salt shaker or placemat.
I find another job.
I assume that lady had other things on her mind.
I enjoy the sandwich for what it is, rather than cursing it for what it’s not.
Still . . .
The other morning, I woke up mad at myself for oversleeping, which is impossible given that I make my own schedule. Still, I was out of sorts, feeling my day had started out wrong. Sam (is a dog) and I went for a walk, and I was mad at myself for things I’d said or left unsaid at a meeting the night before. I’d forgotten my non-call-making phone, so I wasn’t keeping track of how far I was walking, which meant I wouldn’t get nonexistent “credit” for walking through the beautiful fall woods. I remembered I’d forgotten to get milk last night, so I’d have to make oatmeal with water instead. By the time Sam and I got back to the Tiny White Box, I’d worked up a creamy lather of resentment to spread over my day, a poisoning lens through which to view my life.
One thing I’ve learned in sobriety is that I can always, at any moment, start my day over. I don’t mean in a cultish time-travel way, simply that I can choose to put away whatever’s gone on so far and declare the day begun again. This process works best for me if I sit down quietly for a minute and make a conscious effort. It works if I’m willing to do that.
What does this meditative nonsense have to do with guns? Simply this. When I sit down in that chair, I always have a choice: move toward the light and start my day over, or continue down the dark path I’m on, only now without the distractions of sun and sound and Sam and sanity. Any morning, I’m capable of choosing to remain in darkness; it’s only through repetitive practice I choose the light. Still. If I had a pistol in the Tiny White Box, I am completely capable of placing a gun barrel in my mouth, massaging the barrel with my lips and pulling the trigger, thereby destroying the universe. Same ease of choice, same ease of effort. I don’t think I would do that if I had a gun within reach, but I don’t know that I wouldn’t. What I do know is that I like life enough that I don’t want to leave it until my appointed time—at the age of 92, shot in the back by a jealous husband—and that not having a gun makes that more likely.