"Never Point a Gun"

“Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.”

It’s the first thing I learned about guns. It’s what kept running through my head last night as I watched the pictures coming out of Ferguson, Missouri. One on side, protesters dancing, holding their hands up in that signal of physical surrender, remembering their neighbor, demanding answers, knowing it could have been them. On the other side, an armored truck with a carbine rifle mounted on a tripod.

The gun wasn’t merely ready, waiting in case it was needed. It was pointed at protesters. It was pointed at reporters. It was pointed at cameras.

Another gun was pointed at Elon James White later that evening as he asked for information on how to leave the area.

“Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.”

I don’t know whether that gun was fired last night. I don’t know what it held for ammunition. It doesn’t matter. Rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, flash-bang grenades—all these things kill people. They don’t always kill the people they’re directed at, but neither do steel or lead bullets.

Any time you fire any of those at people, if you hit them, you will injure them. You may kill them. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t your intention. Your intention can’t keep your ammo from taking someone’s life.

All those weapons were fired at people last night in Ferguson.

“Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.”

I can’t tell you that the officers behind those weapons actively wanted to kill the residents of Ferguson. I don’t know. Some of them might have. The ones who called protesters “animals”, the one who stood behind his armor and weapons and taunted people to “Bring it!”—it wouldn’t surprise me if they were looking for a trophy of some sort. The officers who assaulted two reporters in the process of arresting them last night at least aimed to injure.

The rest of them may not have wanted to kill, not actively. It doesn’t matter. They weren’t doing what they needed to do to make sure they didn’t kill anyone. Whether it’s because the residents of Ferguson and the press who came to cover them were largely black or because many of them were poor or because they simply had the audacity to say another officer had done a bad thing, the police officers there fired on a crowd of people who had committed no crime.

They didn’t care enough to preserve the lives they were hired to defend.

“Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.”

Almost everything I’m saying here was said on Twitter last night. Very little of it will you find in the press, so I’m repeating it here. I retweeted a lot of it as I waited for people to die. If you blow off Twitter as a useless service, and people like me don’t do this, you’re at the nonexistent mercy of Fox News.

Documentation and analysis of these events came from black Twitter, where people can see this happen and still function without being overwhelmed by surprise or cognitive dissonance. It came from people who know this stuff backward and forward because it affects their lives every day. They know it the way I know the tactics that have been used to deny justice to women who have been harassed and raped.

The only things I have to add are the imprimatur of a white voice and the most basic of basic lessons in gun safety. And that last is only because black Twitter already understood the implication of that lesson in their bones.

“Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.”

"Never Point a Gun"
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10 thoughts on “"Never Point a Gun"

  1. 1

    I might quibble with the wording (“never point a gun at something you’re not prepared to kill” or some such) but the point is there. It’s the basic NRA firearms mantra from before they became all about Don’t Leave Home Without Your Weapons:

    * All guns are loaded
    * If you’re not prepared to draw, don’t carry
    * If you’re not prepared to fire, don’t draw
    * If you’re not prepared to kill, don’t fire
    * If you shoot, shoot for effect.

    The point is supposed to be that you consider very carefully that carrying a lethal weapon implies readiness to kill — and make you sweat. Instead this whole thing started with someone who had no reservations about shooting a man running away in the back. Big threat, that.

    Another Twitter thread worth looking at is one where veterans are comparing the equipment and methods used in an American city against unarmed American citizens with those used in the Middle East combat zones. Unfavorably. As in, the police are more heavily armed than the soldiers. The soldiers’ ROE are more restrictive than those the police are using. As in, more care in the war zone for bystanders, for deescalating conflict, for talking rather than shooting.

    What have we become?

  2. 2

    But ya know, they’re mostly (as far as we know?) “only” rubber bullets.

    The same kind of rubber bullets that have been banned in most civilized places and not for use in crowd control…..

  3. 3

    YES!! It’s a goddamn nightmare.

    And these police are the ones likely to go and lead a gun safety class: there’s not a single fucking excuse.

    They’re just this bigoted and have other-ized their community this much that there’s not a second thought of what their aimed weapons imply to anyone with passing familiarity with gun safety.

  4. 8

    It’s the first thing I learned about guns, too. That the only purpose of a firearm was to kill, thus if you were not prepared to take a life, you did not aim even an unloaded weapon at anyone or anything, one never brandished a firearm one did not intend to use presently. That to do so was a direct, clear threat and never something to be taken lightly, because you are putting the other person in fear of their life. This from my stepdad, a life long, die-hard NRA member and ultra conservative republican.

  5. 9

    As much as Pierce’s cynicism galls me sometimes, I have to agree with him here and even extend his point. I don’t know that there exists a time in our history as a nation when we wouldn’t have treated a crowd of black protesters this way at least somewhere in the country. Often lots of somewheres.

    Similarly, the Texas thought experiment gives me very different answers depending on the predominant race of the crowd. Black people don’t get to use guns in self-defense, not without dying.

  6. 10

    Similarly, the Texas thought experiment gives me very different answers depending on the predominant race of the crowd. Black people don’t get to use guns in self-defense, not without dying.

    I hope I wasn’t too obvious about that part.

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