By Josh Inocéncio
When I turned a year old, my dad gave me his Colt Python .357 magnum revolver from his detective days at Harris County Sheriff’s Office. When I reached 21, I obtained a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) with the Texas Department of Public Safety. And last week, I renewed that CHL before my 26th birthday by merely filling out the appropriate online forms.
I didn’t grow up with a huge investment in gun culture. I’m not well versed on types or brand names. I don’t hunt or compete. While I’m a good target shooter, I’m not a range junkie. And I don’t enjoy carrying a gun on my person even though I have the license. With my father’s police background, he wanted me to have an added layer of self-defense, which I understand and embrace. The weapon is there to protect me—hopefully, as a last resort.
But growing up, learning how to safely use a gun and developing an acute awareness of how dangerous they are has only increased my support for gun control in the United States, including federal background checks and bans on military-style weapons for civilians.
While the Texas course for a CHL is surprisingly more rigorous than other states, the one-day session certainly isn’t producing “good guys with a gun” equipped to stop mass shooters in gay bars, elementary schools, or movie theaters. While shooting to obtain the CHL, I could give my utmost concentration to the stationary paper figure hanging across the desolate range. And yes, students in the course can fail the target-practice section; but the learning curve is steep and they get multiple attempts. However, right-wing gun apologists craft a narrative that by virtue of owning a gun or taking a CHL course, you’ve received action-packed training in Dirty Harry-style scenarios where students are blasting moving and threatening objects. Unencumbered by any external forces, I was hardly prepared to “save the day” from a storming shooter by the end of the course.
The need for a CHL, or even to own a gun, is tied to American masculinity’s deep fascination with Hollywood heroism and a misplaced nostalgia for a past that includes righteous gunslingers saving the day throughout the Wild West. Sure, there are more logical and grounded reasons to pursue a CHL in Texas, but the “good guy with a gun” is mythic and the dregs of its reality mostly cause problems. The harsh truth for gun-toting Americans is that a few rounds on the range aren’t enough for heroic measures, particularly in chaotic scenarios like at the Pulse club in Orlando. On the rare occasions that a civilian prevents or stalls a mass shooting, such as at Oregon Community College or on the French Thalys train last year, the rescuer is an individual with military or police training.
Not to mention, multiple civilians with guns in a crowded area only perplexes law enforcement. They are trained to eliminate perceived threats, not to tarry while deciding who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in a room (as we saw at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco last year). Guns in public only increase the propensity for violence; they do not curtail the macabre. And this is largely a reason why I’m uncomfortable carrying my .38 in public spaces. I would much rather try to escape than duel with a shooter wielding an AR-15, which is going to obliterate my odds with a six-shooter anyway. Could I defend myself against a household intruder or a burglar approaching my broken-down vehicle? Most likely. And I’ll seal my faith into those odds.
But I have no combat training. The katana hanging up in my bedroom doesn’t make me a samurai any more than my .38 makes me Blondie from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
There are days when, as a gay man in Texas, I fear getting mugged or jibed in Houston for sporting my rainbow Star Trek shirt or openly conversing with friends about dating guys. I carry fears here in Texas that I don’t have when I’m in New England or Western Europe. In theory, packing heat should make me feel safer on city streets. But it doesn’t. And it’s not just a lack of combat training. In a world of increasingly televised slaughter, I can’t bring myself to walk the world constantly armed and just accepting the normalcy of violence toward queer people and people of color.
I own a gun. And because I own a device that can easily end a life, I know the answer is not more guns. We don’t need more violence. As queer people, we can change the culture by challenging toxic masculinity. As activists, we can change the policies by demanding reasonable gun control. It’s necessary for our physical and cultural survival.