So, I Bought A Gun

Ryan Nehring

Photo: Brett Hondow/Pixabay

“There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.” — Hunter S. Thompson

There’s nothing fancy about it, but it’ll kill if I ask it to, which I suppose is the defining characteristic of a gun. In that sense, it’s perfect. If the shots are well placed, it can kill 18 times before it asks for any assistance in continuing. Ruthlessly efficient and rightfully terrifying, it represents protection in the most dangerous way possible. I hate that I had to buy it, but my fear of what could be coming won out over my ideals.

A while ago, I wrote an article about my struggle over buying a gun. The decision to buy a gun is not one I’d have made if I still lived alone; more accurately, it’s a decision I wouldn’t have had to consider. As a white man in the United States in the year 2020, I face no more threats than I did in 2019, 2009, or at any other point in my privilege-filled life; but I don’t live alone anymore.

In 2017 I married an amazing, brilliant Black woman and became a stepfather to four equally amazing and brilliant Black children. As a lifelong radical leftist who grew up in predominantly Black spaces, with predominantly Black friends, I thought I had a grasp on my privilege and their struggles. But I soon learned that hubris is not solely the province of the bigoted and the powerful.

The day-to-day reality of being Black in the United States is simply beyond the capacity of white people’s comprehension. The constant, unrelenting pressure and subtext involved in every human interaction are exhausting in ways we’ll never have to feel. The ever-present threats to their physical safety are real, and I understand only enough to know I’ll never truly understand. What I do understand, with every fiber of my being, is that I have to protect my family in every way physically possible — and today that means owning a gun.

My wife and I aren’t alone in these fears. As Newsweek has reported, first-time gun ownership in Michigan is skyrocketing, particularly among Black Michiganders. Michigan has a deep-seated history of KKK extremism. That history once seemed like a dark relic of our past, but in today’s climate it feels more like a monster that’s been lying in wait.

My oldest son today is the same age Tamir Rice was when police murdered him in Cleveland for playing with a toy. Unlike Tamir, my son is now 6'3" and 150lbs. From 10 feet away, he looks every bit like an adult man, which means — to the police and racist white folks — he’s an even bigger threat. He’s a sweet, shockingly perceptive, objectively hilarious kid, and they’d kill him without a second thought. They wouldn’t care that he loves anime, Brother Ali, and tacos; they’d only see a large, scary Black man. I can teach him how to interact with police, and pray he never has to, but the ever-growing threat of emboldened racists and neo-Nazis is a different story.

We live in Michigan, a state known for its Great Lakes, automobile manufacturing, and some of the most racist, well-established militias in this country’s entire history. The Michigan Militia is not a bunch of weekend-warrior pretenders cosplaying as tough guys. Past accomplishments include hosting the Oklahoma City bombers at their meetings. It is the prototype against which many other groups grade themselves, and Michigan is home to many of its spin-offs — including the paramilitary militia behind the very recent plot to kidnap and execute our governor, Gretchen Whitmer. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life, and the brazenness of these groups has risen to a level I never thought possible.

A year and a half ago, my wife and I bought a five-acre farm in the country to give our kids space to grow and learn. We practice permaculture and livestock raising as we work toward becoming fully self-reliant. It’s beautiful; it’s also located squarely in white Trump country.

To say our new neighbors gave us a chilly welcome would be an understatement. In fact, on one occasion, I had to physically walk an irate neighbor off our property while he threatened to shoot my dog who’d gotten loose. He went to his car to show me the gun he planned to use and screamed, red-faced, about how they’d “never had to deal with this kind of stuff before…” (something another neighbor confirmed was a lie, as their dog gets out all the time). The only difference, it would seem, was that their family is fully white.

Against these backdrops, my fears began to mount. The idea of angry, violent white people feeling entitled to come onto our property and threaten our home was no longer theoretical. It had happened, and all it took was our overactive (and comically non-violent) black lab running down our street.

Donald Trump has created a world where these types of entitled, rage-filled white men no longer feel restricted by potential ramifications; indeed, there almost never are any. My whiteness, although often temporarily confusing to these types, cannot protect my family from the wrath of unhinged and unpoliced white anger and hatred; but this pistol can.

I am under no illusions that I’ll ever become some sort of righteous Rambo gunning down throngs of hooded Klansmen as they march down our road — but I will no longer be unprepared when violence arrives at my door. We’ve taken numerous other safety precautions around our property, and although I’m angry we’ve had to do it, I do believe we are safer now than before.

The anti-gun idealist who screamed about tossing the 2nd amendment out the window still lives inside me, the same way I suppose a god-fearing Christian boy does; as a chapter in my history before I knew what I now know. A snapshot of a person in a time where privilege and opportunity afforded me space to wax philosophical and academic about things that never actually threatened me.

It hurts to compromise or lose an ideal. It feels like the worst parts of the world won out; like there’s no hero in your story after all. It feels like a villain somewhere is chuckling in victory, like your vaunted principles were just naivete the whole time. But while all of those feelings are real, they’re also all about ego; about my need to feel right and righteous. What I’ve come to learn is that protecting my family is far more important than protecting my ego.

I don’t know what the world will look like going forward. Biden’s recent win should bring me a sense of calm and peace. I should be excited that it looks like this country is rejecting the violent, hate-fueled, racist, xenophobic rhetoric of the current administration.

Instead, I’m worried.

I worry about where our neighbors’ rage and frustration will go once their leader is no longer our leader. In what ways will the humiliation and anger of a loss manifest, and how dangerous will those manifestations be? I worry that an isolated Black family with relatively well-known radical parents, in a mostly white area, could look a whole lot like a target.

I don’t have any answers to these questions, only fear. I’m not proud of my fear, but I’m not ashamed of it either. I believe it to be warranted and powerful, and deserving of consideration in how we prepare for this future, however it comes to us. My only real answer is to prepare as best I can, and that preparation for my family now sadly includes gun ownership.

So yes, fear won, but fear can be useful. I sincerely hope I never have to take that gun out of its lockbox for any reason other than practice, and that this time in our country’s history will someday be remembered as the moment when we all started to really acknowledge and build beyond our racist history. I truly hope I wasted every penny I spent on it and the bullets and safe to secure it. But as of now I’m ready for whatever may come.

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