Prior to 2015, it had probably been more than thirty years since I’d seen my cousin. When I was a kid we used to see each other nearly every other summer. Either her family; her parents, two older brothers and little sister would visit us in the San Francisco Bay Area or we, my mom and dad, with me in tow, would visit them in Salt Lake City
Her brother and I, the second son were about the same age and we played when we were little, and hung out, as the saying goes, when we were older. She was the awkward tag along, wanting to join but getting shooed off like an annoying stray.
While much is blurred by years, there are a few things that stand out.
The time her family visited and we all went out to the beach, when she saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, her thrill of wading into the chilly giant water.
She had an undying love of animals, particularly horses. She used to collect little plastic toy horse statues.
One year, when I was nineteen or thereabouts, I joined her family and another family for a summer camping trip. It was a two car caravan. I was in the lead car and the car she was in had fallen miles behind. We came to an intersection in some now nameless town where a horse had been run over by a truck. The poor beast was still alive, but trapped between the wheels. It was a sight that every now and then returns to trouble me.
Almost immediately our concern turned towards my cousin. The scene, horrifying for us, would be traumatizing for her. My recollection is that the two drivers communicated via CB radio and the car she was riding in detoured around the scene, sparing her the sight.
Decades later, on our way back home from Yellowstone, Cora and I visited her at her home outside of Pinedale, Wyoming. By then, she and her eldest brother and his family had all settled in the Pinedale area. Her other two siblings had long ago drifted away.
During our visit, after Cora had gone off to bed, my cousin and I stayed up and reminisced while sipping Black Velvet whiskey, her parent’s drink of choice.
During the family get-togethers, when we were kids, the parents all partook of Black Velvet – poured from a giant economy sized jug.
Maybe it was the whiskey that fueled the now legendary family political arguments. My dad was the political pariah of the family, a Democrat. Not just a Democrat, a liberal Democrat. The rest of the family were all conservative Republicans.
The evenings began peacefully enough. Usually a kitchen table game of draw poker. As the evening wore on and the fluid level in the giant economy sized Black Velvet jug was lowered, politics took a seat at the kitchen table. It didn’t take long for voices to be raised and billingsgate to be hurled about the kitchen. The night would end with some parting, shouted invectives and slammed bedroom doors, all followed by an eerie silence.
Back in my cousin’s living room, I learned that she had never lost her love of animals. She’d become a vet tech and then went into retirement. Ironically, she, the one who was spared the sight of the injured horse when she was a teen, would grow up to be the one to volunteer to put down dying horses when hope was exhausted. Even in retirement she’s been willing to take on that onerous duty.
The beach? She had no desire to revisit the beach. By the time of our visit in 2015, Trump had declared his candidacy and the nation was tearing itself apart. She was done with California and its beaches, done with liberals and Democrats and Obama. She vowed that if Hillary (the presumptive candidate) won, she would move to Alaska. She was MAGA and I was the liberal Californian.
As we sat in her quiet living room and sipped Black Velvet, poured from a giant economy sized jug, like our respective parents had done decades before, we recognized that we were political opposites but, unlike our parents, we only waded briefly into the boiling waters of politics.
Since that visit we’ve kept in contact, exchanging texts and having phone conversations. We’ve still waded into politics on occasion but we’ve maintained the shallows – going no further than ankle deep. We’ve never started a conversation with politics. The subject has just sort of wormed its way into our exchanges of pleasantries and catching up.
And so, last April, as I was getting ready to go watch my grandson’s basketball game, I was surprised to receive a text from her asking if I was going to watch the Trump rally on Newsmax.
Was she trolling? Poking the bear? A smidge too much Black Velvet from a giant economy sized jug?
I should’ve responded by telling her that I was going out and couldn’t talk. But instead – I bit.
We went back and forth, exchanging the usual talking points that have managed to sunder the nation and I wasn’t surprised when she sent the, Biden’s going to take our guns, text. “The left would take all our guns away,” she wrote. “Biden and his radical vice president lead[ing] the way.”
I’m virulently anti-gun. When it comes to the Second Amendment my feeling is, repeal the motherfucker. I realize that’s as likely to happen as getting struck by lightning on a cloudless day, while I’m inside a convenience store buying the winning Power Ball ticket, but that reality doesn’t extinguish my fervent wish.
I wasn’t always this rigid but my position hardened over the years as the pro-gun faction dug in its heels.
To understand Wyoming is to know that it’s a state defined by its great outdoors and wild west culture. Hunting is both a business and an avocation. Wyoming is – gun central. In Wyoming a pickup truck and at least one gun are as essential as a toaster and a coffee maker. And if you’re a one gun household in Wyoming, well, that’s like sending the kids to school in tattered hand me downs – worse.
Maybe it’s ironic then, that I love Wyoming. I could go back to Wyoming and Montana, its kindred state to the north, also a gun heavy state, every single year.
My cousin and the entire family in that small town of Pinedale are gun owners. Her eldest brother is a wilderness guide, making guns as essential to his work as a frying pan is to a chef.
And so, because I’m anti-gun, living in the anti-gun San Francisco Bay Area and she is a gun owner in a gun loving state, I’ve always, always, assiduously avoided discussing guns with my cousin.
This time though, that one sentence, “The left would take all our guns away,” chafed,
It’s the bullshit of Ted Cruz, Lauren Boebert, Josh Hawley, the Republican Party, the National Rifle Association and the rest of the gun lobby. “They’ll take our guns away,” is a rallying cry that comes off as the whine of a petulant child, “Daddy took my toys away because I didn’t clean my room.”
“___________(fill in the Democrat), will take your guns away,” is the election cycle chant from the gun industry and politicians looking to feather their nests and remain in office.
It’s snake oil, distilled with the sole purpose of striking fear into gun owners and garnering votes. And the distillers know that it’s a canard. They know full well what it would take for the Democrats to “take your guns away.”
For me it’s become one of the most infuriating deceptions of the gun lobby and its whores in Congress, because it assumes, correctly I’m sorry to say, that most voters don’t really have a rudimentary understanding of civics, particularly the Constitution.
Oh the gun owning electorate knows that there’s a Second Amendment that protects their perceived right to own a gun. They just don’t know that to repeal that amendment, any amendment, is damn nigh impossible, and has only been done once (In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified, essentially prohibiting nearly all sales of alcohol. Fourteen years later, in the midst of a depression, America decided it needed a good stiff drink, and the Twenty-First Amendment was passed, repealing the Eighteenth).
I tried that argument on my cousin, “The GOP is playing you…To change or repeal an amendment requires a new amendment. To amend the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and then ratification by three quarters of the states – thirty eight states. What thirty eight states are going to approve that?”
She responded, “I know what it takes to take all guns away. Most gun owners do. But they chip away, chip away. That’s why gun owners won’t support ANY form of gun control.”
And so I tried coming from the other direction, “If more than twelve states oppose [the amendment], it fails. So your side has the eleven former Confederate States, plus the Mountain States, plus most of the Midwest.”
Certainly she’d understand that at least half of the fifty states would fail to ratify an amendment repealing the 2nd Amendment. Surely she would understand that a super majority of Congress wouldn’t even let such an amendment out for ratification.
“I do know what it takes,” she responded. “I do think a democratic majority COULD get it done.”
With that, I clearly realized that she, like most gun owners, doesn’t fully understand what it would require to “take all our guns away.”
In fact, most Americans, left or right, who claim to STAND BY THE CONSTITUTION, don’t have the foggiest notion of how the damned thing works.
Jump to last Saturday. As I was searching the TV for the Bucks – Celtics playoff game, I saw the breaking news of a shooting in Buffalo, New York. Ten people killed, and three others were injured; 11 of the victims were black.
Well, it was almost tip off, and so I did what Americans do these days; I went on with what I was doing and started watching the game.
Tossing aside news of a mass shooting is as traditional in America as football on Thanksgiving; as traditional as a hotdog on Independence Day; as traditional as, well, a mass shooting in a crowded place.
Shrugging off a slaughter is what we do here because shootings are normal in America. Not the new normal. Hell it’s been normal for decades now. But unless you’re someone vacationing from – Mars – you already know that.
The world knows that in America a mass shooting elicits a mass yawn, followed by the obligatory thoughts and prayers, followed by the equally obligatory harrumphing, finger pointing, pearl clutching and ass covering. Why bother with the details? The American, post-mass shooting dance is one the world has witnessed so often, it knows the steps by heart.
Critical to the Buffalo, New York, rampage is that it was racially motivated. But whatever the reason, racial; umbrage over getting fired; anger over a love affair; or simply voices inside a tortured head, it all comes back to guns.
When I did jump to coverage of the shooting, my cousin’s words, “… gun owners won’t support ANY form of gun control,” came back to mind – and I was incensed.
We’re just about ten years since Sandy Hook, a horror that was, and still is, for me, the point at which I gave up on the notion of gun control. The murder of twenty little children in what should’ve been the safety of the school room, should’ve been recognized as the depth of gun depravity, should’ve softened the hardest of hearts and moved the needle, if only a little bit, towards some form of gun control.
It didn’t. The gun whores remained steadfast.
Gun control, of “ANY form,” won’t happen until gun owners themselves reject the gun lobby’s bullshit. Guns will NEVER be taken away, but the mere hope that mass shootings will cease will never glimmer, until compromise is achieved. I’m a staunch opponent of the whole premise of the Second Amendment, but I’m all for compromise, as are a majority of Americans. But it needs the willingness of the hardened side to reciprocate, in order to move towards stopping the madness.
I would’ve thought – hoped – that Sandy Hook would’ve moved my cousin. That it apparently didn’t, doesn’t just sadden me, it angers me, sickens me.
I’m an only child, so there are no siblings and in-laws of siblings to count as family. My family, on my Italian mother’s side, lives in Italy. What’s left of my dad’s side, that I know of, lives in or around Pinedale. When it comes to regular communication and occasional visitation, my Wyoming family is all that I have.
I love my cousin. When I sat with her and sipped Black Velvet poured from a giant economy sized jug, she told me her story, everything that I’d missed over the decades. There’s a lot in her story that she had to overcome. She inspired me.
I cherish the memory of that evening.
Since 2015, when Trump waged nuclear war on decency and discourse I felt good about the fact that I could put family before politics.
I hope that I can soften, but right now I find myself wondering if I ever want to see her again.