Gun Culture

Guns scare me.

As a kid I wound up being surrounded by gun culture but never was a part of it. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, where they close school for the opening days of deer hunting season – but my family didn’t own guns, didn’t go hunting, and didn’t really have any close friends who did. Instead, I ended up subsiding on a diet of action-adventure movies and horror films, where guns were a Powerful Item to Be Feared, rather than something everybody’s dad had in a special box under their bed.

The only time I even saw guns in person was when Officer Friendly came to talk to our class about safety, and even then I looked at them with wide-eyed semi-disbelief, like I imagine pre-pubescent boys would look at naked boobies: you sort of dimly feel like you’re supposed to have a relationship with this much-talked-about thing, but mostly you just can’t believe it’s right there in front of you.

gun shot


Things changed a little as an adult, and I fired my first gun at the age of 28: a shotgun my dad had purchased for the amusement of shooting at the moles that persisted in overrunning his yard. One day he invited some of my male cousins out to shoot the gun – a gleeful, “aren’t-we-naughty” activity akin to playing poker with real money – and I went out and took a turn. I was terrified as I held the shotgun, but I’m generally more stubborn than I am frightened, and I was determined to take my shot. Literally.

I did a pretty good job, too. Held it just right. Then I handed it back, shaking a little, and ran inside at the speed of adrenaline rush to tell my husband how brave I’d been. Because guns scare me. They did when I was a kid, and even though I have now held a gun in my own hands as many as three different times, they still scare me.

In retrospect, it’s a little funny that I became a writer of action scenes.

You know what you have to do when you write about guns but you’re kind of scared of them? Research. Lots and lots of in-depth research of the kind that makes the NSA pee its hegemonic pants with alarm. And research I did: I can tell you that Lena, the star of my new mystery novel The Big Keep, carries a 9mm Browning, and that Jesse, the cop in my Scarlett Bernard series, carries a Glock 17, which is one of the approved LAPD handguns (there is an entire website devoted to what the LAPD ACTUALLY uses. It’s put out by the LAPD). Lex, the protagonist of my newest series which debuts next year, is most comfortable with a Beretta M9, because that’s what she used when she was a soldier.

I can tell you a lot about these three guns (incidentally, I never set out to have three protagonists with three different “signature guns,” it just kind of worked out that way), like what kind of ammunition they fire and how many bullets they can hold at once. Thanks to a series of cover design adventures, I even held the Browning in my hands (one of my illustrious three times) over the weekend.  I know a lot about my fictional guns, because they’re based on real models.

And you know, the thing is, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe we need more fictional guns and a few less real ones. To me, owning a personal gun is like talking on the phone while driving – if everyone always did it carefully and responsibly it’d really be fine, but a small number of people are just morons and have ruined it for the rest of us, so now it has to be illegal. I’m not embarrassed that real-life guns still scare me; I think that’s probably healthy. Because guns are scary. People with guns are scary. Or at the very least, that ghost boy with the back of his head blown away in The Sixth Sense is really, really frickin’ scary.

You can trust me on this one. I write scary for a living.

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