On Living Armed — Ta-Nehisi Coates answers the question, “If you were confronted with an ‘active shooter,’ do you think, in that moment, you might wish you had a gun?”
I think that last question gets to the heart of a difference. I actually wouldn’t wish I had a gun. I’ve shot a rifle at camp once, but that’s about it. If I had a gun, there is a good chance I would shoot myself, thus doing the active shooter’s work for him (it’s usually “him.”) But the deeper question is, “If I were confronted with an active shooter, would I wish to have a gun and be trained in its use?” It’s funny, but I still don’t know that I would. I’m pretty clear that I am going to die one day. That moment will not be of my choosing, and it almost certainly will not be too my liking. But death happens. Life — and living — on the other hand are more under my control. And the fact is that I would actually rather die by shooting than live armed.
This is not mere cant. It is not enough to have a gun, anymore than it’s enough to have a baby. It’s a responsibility. I would have to orient myself to that fact. I’d have to be trained and I would have to, with some regularity, keep up my shooting skills. I would have to think about the weight I carried on my hip and think about how people might respond to me should they happen to notice. I would have to think about the cops and how I would interact with them, should we come into contact. I’d have to think about my own anger issues and remember that I can never be an position where I have a rage black-out. What I am saying is, if I were gun-owner, I would feel it to be really important that I be a responsible gun-owner, just like, when our kids were born, we both felt the need to be responsible parents. The difference is I like “living” as a parent. I accept the responsibility and rewards of parenting. I don’t really want the responsibilities and rewards of gun-ownership. I guess I’d rather work on my swimming. And I think, given the concentration of guns in a smaller and smaller number of hands, there’s some evidence that society agrees.
Which is not to say those of us who don’t own guns don’t want to live. We do. But it’s not clear that this particular way of living will even be effective. I think about the shooter down at the Empire State Building a few months back. The police showed up to protect the public and ended in a shoot-out with a guy. Nine bystanders were wounded — all at the hands of the police. It’s just not clear to me that this sort of situation wouldn’t repeat itself, but with citizens doing the wounding. With that kind of risk, perhaps it’s better to handle “gun safety” before we get to the moment of an “active shooter.”
Quitter — Taylor Ellsworth finds that not everyone wanted him to quit smoking.
I’m 55 days off of smoking cigarettes.
Quitting is an incredibly difficult feat; urban legend tells us that it takes most people an average of seven attempts to quit successfully. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried. Though you’d think that triumphing over alcohol and bulimia would render nicotine an easy feat, it’s been anything but. In theory, it’s odd that I ever took up smoking in the first place. I’m incredibly vain and I’ve always been active. One of my first memories is comprised of rummaging through my mom’s glove box to find a cherry-red pack of Marlboro reds and subsequently tossing them out the window of the moving car while smiling devilishly at her. Needless to say, she was furious with me, and I was crushed that she didn’t find my antics charming. Several years of a pack-a-day habit later, I understand completely.
The first time I seriously tried to quit smoking, I’d been sober about two years. I’d recently taken up running and wanted to see if I could improve my lung capacity; saving money and not smelling like a homeless man were also big draws. Discussing my choice with my boyfriend and sponsor, who were both thrilled, helped solidify the decision. To my surprise, when I moved onto the rest of my support group, they were nonplussed. Half the people I knew seemed to believe that smoking helped us stay sober and sane, and that the emotional havoc that accompanied quitting wasn’t worth the (unlikely) possibility of actually making it to the other side as a nonsmoker. One well-meaning friend explained that smoking produces a rush of cigarette-specific endorphins that can’t be obtained by virtually any other means. Others told me I should wait until I was more emotionally stable, because putting myself in the heightened state of stress brought on by quitting might be too much to handle. I’d like to believe that these friends were all well intentioned. There were, of course, others who were more transparent in their intentions. Some laughed at my avowal or offered me cigarettes. While some of them might’ve just been engaging in some (albeit inappropriate) fun, others were undoubtedly jealous. Making a decision of the self-improvement variety, from quitting smoking to kicking soda, is like an open invitation to criticism to those who are insecure about their own behavior—and what better place to find insecurity-ridden jokesters than in the rooms of AA? My choice prompted other smokers to consider their own pack-a-day habits. This is human nature and I certainly recall assuming when my sponsor explained that she’d quit smoking several years prior at our first coffee and Big Book session, she must’ve been disgusted by me. Ironically, my struggle to quit has taught me immense empathy both for those who’ve quit and those who can’t bring themselves to give it up.
The Lives They Lived — The New York Times Magazine remembers just a few of the people who passed this way and then passed on this year.
This issue is meant to be a celebration of life, not an expression of grief. But since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., grief has been unavoidable. Our wish for those who knew and loved the 20 children and 6 adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School is that they are held up by those around them until the day comes when they might feel something other than terrible loss. And our wish for the rest of us is that we all might help turn despair into hope.
Doonesbury — Movin’ on up.