Keep on the Sunny Side

Semi-Automatic for the People 

After the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., I wasn’t the only person who thought this country’s insane gun laws might finally change. It looked, for a moment, as if our politicians might be ashamed to be seen defending the NRA’s right to go deer hunting with semi-automatic weapons — instead of every other citizen’s right to the pursuit of life, liberty and a kindergarten diploma.

In America, children are shot every day (check out “The Gun Report,” Joe Nocera’s bone-chilling New York Times blog), but if your parents aren’t rich, or at least white, simply being a victim of gun violence probably won’t get you above the fold in most newspapers.

Those who believed Sandy Hook might force politicians to pass rational gun laws weren’t being cynical — just realistic. Twenty affluent, mostly white children and six teachers were murdered in a town that is practically a suburb of New York City, the national media capital. If that couldn’t loosen the NRA’s grip on the Congressional nut-sack, then nothing could.

Well, yeah … that didn’t really work out, did it? Some states tightened gun laws, some loosened them. At the federal level, nothing was done at all. In fact, the NRA’s membership numbers went through the roof after the Sandy Hook shootings.

Around my house, the first anti-gun song that comes to mind is also a great example of the complexities of the Southern man: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1975 “Saturday Night Special.”

Handguns are made for killin’

They ain’t no good for nothin’ else

And if you like to drink your whiskey

You might even shoot yourself

So why don’t we dump ’em people

To the bottom of the sea

Before some ol’ fool come around here

Wanna shoot either you or me

I’m trying to work in some musical fun facts here, but it isn’t easy. I’m a pretty big jerk, but I’m not going to critique the playlist at a memorial service. Are there any songs about the Citizens United decision, or the influence-per-dollar ratio the NRA buys with political donations? Maybe my next article should just be about the educational awesomeness of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

On May 23 in Isla Vista, Calif., six people were shot to death — seven, including the shooter, whose demented writings turned the subject from guns to misogyny. That’s not a wild leap, considering how many women are shot every day in America. Turns out people are as appallingly ignorant about misogyny as they are about racism. Many people are unconvinced that either problem actually exists.

Violence against women and sexual harassment are endemic. Acknowledging that doesn’t make us all either perpetrators or victims. Blaming rap music (aka young black men), slutty girls or kids playing video games hasn’t solved anything. When walking through sketchy, unfamiliar neighborhoods at night, women can always reassure themselves with this knowledge: Odds are you’ll be raped and killed by your boyfriend, husband or uncle, not some stranger jumping out of an alley.

One day during the final quarter of the last century, I cut high school to wander around Cherokee Park and think dark, existential thoughts. A convertible jammed with screaming frat boys blew by on the twisty, tree-lined road. They were all leaning out of the car, yelling at me as we passed in opposite directions. The driver was turned around backward, yelling the harassing “suck my dick” kind of shit that is yelled every day at girls walking along minding their own business. This was and is absolutely normal. As I turned to flip them off, they crashed headlong into a large sycamore tree. The frat boys were all OK. Daddy’s car was totaled.

In my memory of this perfect day, the driver’s hysterical recriminations and the steam hissing from the busted radiator and Ted Nugent’s “Free-for-All” still blasting from the car stereo all rise up into the sky like a beautiful little cloud.

The sycamore tree was fine. It’s still there.

Catherine Irwin is a house painter, as well as a bitter, myopic social critic. She plays in Freakwater and Sexy Minotaur (recently emerged from the labyrinth as Louisville’s premier para-human supergroup).