Feminism: Dispatches from American Gun Culture

[Content Note: Guns]

It's that time of year for the Texas State Fair to be open, and this weekend I and my family drove to Dallas to partake in our annual state fair rituals.

There really aren't enough words in the English language to describe what the state fair means to me. I love our yearly trip, and look forward to it pretty much all year long. And when you're a disabled person, like me, there's an associated cost with a trip like this -- you're not just paying the ticket fare to get in; you're also paying in Pain Pennies with every step you take over the vast fairgrounds. But I pay it gladly because I love the fair so, so much.

I love the crowds at the fair. Normally I am frightened and intimidated in crow situations, but not at the fair. So many people there look just like me: frazzled hair, burnt faces, beautiful fat bodies. People in wheelchairs and people leaning on canes and walkers. And everyone smiling back at you, and the feeling in the air that we're all bound by bonds of state, and country, and humanity. A lot of love for the land, and the changing weather in the air, and the smell of warm wholesome food permeating the world around me. Nothing makes me happier than the fair.

And the crafts! I love walking through the craft hall, admiring all the quilts and loving that warm special feeling when I see that the First Prize Quilt over there is one that I know how to make. "I know how to do that!" is the thing I keep repeating to Husband over and over as we walk down the craft hall, admiring all the entries. This always awes and tickles me, the idea that there is something valuable worth doing that I can do. And the shows! I love seeing the performing dogs, and how happy they look playing with their trainer.

And the petting grounds! I love seeing the little baby piglets, especially the cute speckled ones, and I adore petting the wobbly baby goats as they stand there under your gentle pats and scritches with a look on their face like whoa, the world is so whoa and all these people are whoa and scritches are whooooooa. And the food! I love the food. I could wax rhapsodic about fried Twinkies for hours and how complex and developed the tastes are, and anyone who wants to be nasty about fried foods and the people who eat them can go do it elsewhere because there is a rich and complex cooking history with frying as an art form. Also: MmmmmMMMMMmmmmmmm!

So we had a lovely year at the fair this year and were just about to pack up and leave but first we had to finish spending all our pre-paid coupons that they use instead of money at the food booths and game stalls. So I was buying a fried cheesecake for us to split three ways when suddenly without any warning at all, gunfire went off not twenty feet from where I was standing. The shooters were obscured from my vision by some trees, but it sounded like they were shooting into the crowd across the street from me. My heart was pounding a million miles an hour, and I was trying to figure out where to run -- I was in an open area, with nowhere obvious to hide, and I didn't want to panic and run into gunfire.

The shopkeeper in front of me, who had been in the act of handing me the cheesecake when the shots fired, visibly jumped from wide-eyed fear before calming down a notch and saying, "Oh, my god that scared me for a moment. They started early today." At which point she then proceeded to explain to us that the Marines were taking down the flag for the day and were shooting their guns in a manner that could be described as a 21-gun salute but could also be described as "directly at that crowd across the street but only slightly above their heads". But it was okay because despite the fact that the guns looked and sounded completely real, they were only loaded with blanks. And while the Marines didn't play any flag-taking-down music or make any announcements with a loudspeaker or bullhorn, we were all supposed to magically know that they did this every day and therefore there was nothing to worry about.

I don't carry a gun, but a lot of people in Texas do. And if I thought this was real gunfire (and I did), and if the lady who worked on a daily basis at the fair in a food booth a mere twenty feet from the nightly gunfire also thought this was real gunfire (and she did), then other people will have thought so too. And some of those people will be carrying guns, and some of THOSE people might be tempted to fire through a crowd to hit the source of the gunfire they perceive being directed at them.

I will also note that at the fair there will be survivors of domestic violence, survivors of gun violence, and veterans with PTSD. None of those people should have to be assaulted with the sound of gunfire without any kind of warning whatsoever. That this was done at all, but especially in this way, utterly horrifies me in its blatant disregard for the lives of the people visiting the fair, and in callous indifference to the context of gun violence in our country.

And I want to reiterate that I've been to this fair every year for the past 5+ years without fail, and am always in that area at that time of day (because we're usually waiting for the evening parade to start) and have never before seen or heard this happening. Which would seem to suggest that the Marines firing guns at a crowd of people on the grounds that a flag is being moved down a pole is something new that has been added, possibly in order to make some kind of statement in defiance of that context of gun violence. In which case, that makes the terrible indifference to women and people of color and war veterans even worse.

I'm proud to be an American. And I'm proud to be a Texan. But I'm not proud or pleased to live in a gun culture that expects me and everyone around me to react with casual acceptance when guns are unexpectedly fired in my vicinity or even in my actual direction. And I'm not going to whip out my military family credentials (even though I have them), because frankly I don't think I should have to. If anyone wants to argue that this event is divorced from gun culture and exists in a contextless void Because Tradition: Don't.

The fact that we as a culture Show Respect to our country's symbols of pride and nationalism specifically by firing deadly weapons into the air is very much part of my problem with gun culture. I am capable of showing respect for a country that I love in numerous other better ways than firing a deadly weapon at a crowd of people who may well be triggered by that weapon, in some cases as a direct result of serving the country that I love.


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