Durham News: Opinion

Robin Kirk: Scream in my coffee

Robin Kirk
Robin Kirk

I’ve been conducting a summer tour de café, opening my MacBook in the fug of coffee shops in Durham and beyond.

Normally, I’m solitary. No space-sharing, no talk-radio hum, definitely no music. The occasional chatter of a Meet Up (I’m talking to you, Carrboro Entrepreneurs at the Looking Glass) or grad students (bless them as they huddle conspiratorially at Francesca’s on Ninth Street) can put my teeth on edge.

Then I remind myself — they’re talking to each other, a good thing. Sharing woes, planning events, raising money. The rest of us earnestly tap in that 21st century rictus of a glowing screen. But as I’ve glanced (ever so sneakily) at what’s on nearby, I’ve been pleased. Novels in progress, photo albums to share, music being tweaked and shaped for streaming. The double-shot lattes and iced frappes fuel creativity and connection, I saw from my tippy table at Mad Hatter. All over the Triangle, people are eager to connect.

But as I entered one café recently, I noticed a “no guns allowed” sign. I know, I know: DUH. We’re an open-carry state. I fired up the laptop and found this on Wikipedia: “North Carolina is generally considered a permissive state for firearms owners, with no state-imposed restrictions on ‘assault weapons,’ no magazine/clip capacity restrictions, no caliber restrictions, and few restrictions on the open carrying of firearms.”

In other words, you could tote the Vepr Tactical Sniper Rifle just imported from the Russian Molot factory (“superior to the Romanian PSL” and only $500!) into the Open Eye and no one could legally say “boo.”

To most people, this is crazy. No: incomprehensible. I know, Second Amendment, yadda yadda, the drill. But replace “firearms” with any other lethal thing utterly useless in a deer hunt — plutonium, a salt shaker of Ebola, the first season of “The Strain” — and you get what I mean. In my best mama voice, why on earth would you bring a deadly weapon into a café full of people pressing “like” on last week’s most hilarious cat video?

We are all so fragile. Fragile like the foam on my cappuccino, fragile like that look of pleasure you get with that first sip of pricey Cocoa Cinnamon whatever, fragile like a cobweb flapping across the door at Joe Van Gogh. So many things kill us without warning: drunk frat boys on I 85, ischemic strokes, Ukranian missiles. Why do we permit a proven, measurable, avoidable implement of death into our daily lives?

Into our morning sip of coffee?

Adam Lanza killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. But most mass shootings are perpetrated with handguns. The Santa Barbara shooter used a Glock and two SIG Sauers, killing six (comparable pistols will cost you $750 at Durham Gunsmithing). In Chapel Hill, the shooter used a .357 to kill three neighbors. On June 17, a racist killed nine people praying in a Charleston church with a .45 Glock bought at a store called “Shooter’s Choice.”

It’s not just that people purchase guns designed only to hunt humans. According to a 2011 study by the non-partisan Violence Policy Center, gun manufacturers have aggressively marketed militarized firearms since the 1980s. We’re peddled guns like we’re peddled the latest Marvel movie. “Ant-Man” won’t be aimed at you, but God help you if you’re watching “Trainwreck” in Lafayette, Louisiana (death toll: 2).

“Now is not the time” to discuss gun control, commented Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Bless His Heart.

“Gun control” belongs with my favorite oxymoron, Microsoft Works. We don’t even know what kinds of guns are out there. Why? The gun sellers don’t have to say and don’t. A November 2012 Congressional Research Service report found that, as of 2009, there were at least 310 million legal firearms in private hands, one for every man, woman and child in our country. We are the most heavily armed nation in the world (hello Serbia, number 2!) with a murder rate to match.

Sorry NRA, but I’m for banning every gun except for my dad’s squirrel-hunter .22, the trigger prudently inserted backwards. Because of a powerful gun lobby, that’s not feasible. So let’s declare the Triangle a gun-free zone, fund buy-backs and toughen up enforcement. Federal checks are a joke, but we need them tightened anyway. Perhaps the most effective measure would be to repeal the shield meaning that gun makers and sellers – unlike the makers of chain saws, knives, automobiles, drugs, alcohol or even cigarettes – face virtually no liability when they sell to shady dealers or clearly murderous shooters.

Most of all, we need to take a cold, clear look at ourselves. Is this really the way we want to live?

Or see loved ones die?     

Robin Kirk is a writer and human rights advocate and teaches at Duke University. You can reach her at robinkirk13@gmail.com. 

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