It’s generally quite a good idea to avoid the subjects of guns, religion and politics when in conversation with a Texan, if you’re not a Texan yourself that is. However, my good friend Susie – who is actually from Louisiana but she’s been in Houston long enough to have become quite Texan – owns four guns so I have been unable to stop myself from talking about guns with her. I mean, why four?
Susie lives on her own in a nice house inside the loop (that’s much nearer downtown than us) and not in a gated community. Houston has little ‘zoning’ – so you get a mash of housing, shops, doctors, dentists, schools, industrial buildings all mixed together. One minute you’re in quite a posh area, two blocks along and it can be very different. So anyone could turn up at your front door, right? A single gal needs to protect herself, especially a gal who’s grown up with guns in the house and who has never questioned her right to own one. For most Americans who own a handgun, and Susie is no exception, it’s about personal safety rather than being macho, homicidal, suicidal, in a gang or even for hunting. [I’m talking ownership not usage – most gun deaths in the US are from suicide, and then are gang-related or in areas of high poverty and social deprivation.] This is rather astonishing when there is conclusive evidence that nations – and the individual people who live in them – become less safe as gun ownership rises. But gun-owning Americans seem constitutionally unable to digest the facts.
I have only weakly raised this with Susie as I want to stay being friends with her, she’s so nice. And after all, this is the state in which, after every horrific mass shooting, the public debate turns, within one day, to whether or not teachers should be armed. I have heard on a live radio phone-in an apparently sane man (at least, he was freely living in the community) accuse another who was publicly against the very free and easy gun laws of Texas of having “the blood of dead children” on his hands for previously stymying any discussion about the need for armed security in the classroom. I have had sensible and normal conversations with Americans who don’t own a gun and who are exasperated by the power of the NRA lobby and the mentality of many of their compatriots, but they haven’t been Texan (or from Louisiana) and they’ve started the conversation, not me.
So, with Susie, our gun chats have been quite superficial but she did make us howl with laughter when she told us a story about when she nearly used her gun in self-defence. It was halloween and had been noisy out in the streets, what with all the trick or treating. Late into the night, she’s in bed when she hears a crash and then what sounds like her vacuum cleaner being switched on. Of her four guns, she keeps one loaded in a special holster under her bed, so this is what she reaches for. She says she stood in her bedroom in the dark for what felt like ages, blood thumping in her ears, arms outstretched Cagney and Lacey style with gun pointing at the door. Saying nothing. Hoover still going. Absolutely terrified. Eventually, she manages to shout “Get out, I’ve got a loaded gun and I’m ready to shoot!”. She doesn’t really feel ready to shoot at all. Nothing happens. She can’t tell if anyone’s still there, all she can hear is the hum of the hoover. So she grapples with her phone, rings a friend, garbles the situation. “OMG!” shouts her pal, “that’s TOTALLY what they do, put on the vacuum cleaner so you can’t hear what they’re doing, DIAL 911 NOW and keep your gun pointed at the door.” Susie dials 911, then waits some more. She’s still in the dark, still completely freaked out, still hearing nothing except that droning. After a while, she can’t stand it, her dogs are quiet, she doesn’t understand why they aren’t barking (have they been shot???), so she heads to her bathroom window and starts climbing out, loaded gun in hand. The window only opens half way so she’s quite contorted at the point when a cop pops up and urges her to put her gun down. “Ma’am please put your weapon down! It’s not safe to climb out of a window in that manner with a loaded weapon!” “There’s someone in my house, they’ve shot my dogs, they’ve put the vacuum cleaner on, please help me!” she jabbers. “Please put the gun down and come to the door and let us in, we’ve been round your property and there’s no sign of a break-in, we believe you’re completely safe. Please put your gun down, ma’am.” Well, long story short, she’s persuaded to go to the front door to let the police in, and on the way through the house realises that her fat dog has knocked a hairdryer onto the wooden floor, which has switched itself on and is blowing and noisily vibrating away while the dog has gone back to sleep unperturbed. Of course she is immediately and massively embarrassed. She gets to the door, peers round, explains what’s happened, apologises, thanks them profusely.
And the officer says, “Well ma’am, no need to thank us, we’re here to serve you and keep you safe. Now would you like me to come in and check round for any more threatening appliances?”
But she still hasn’t told me why she needs four guns, or whether any of them are pink, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get round to asking.