I’ve been staring at the gun lying on my desk for more than an hour now. It’s not loaded. In fact, I own no bullets for it. But I've decided I need it — just in case.
As a gay woman living in the American South, "just in case" for me means that I expect one day to be followed into a women’s restroom by some "concerned citizen" because I’m not feminine-presenting, hardly at all, and don’t adhere to traditional gender standards.
"Just in case" means the next time an old man decides to spit at me again while I’m simply walking down the sidewalk.
"Just in case" means the next time a random frat boy leans out of his buddy’s lifted truck window and yells, "DYKE!" as they hastily pull away from the stoplight next to me.
"Just in case" means I expect things to escalate, because, for me, they always have.
I have no fear of guns. When I was 5 years old, my Vietnam veteran father took me to out to the vast expanse of barren land we own in western Kansas, handed me a BB pistol, and began my education in firearms. From there, I moved into sharpshooting with his .22 rifle and his Chinese-made SKS. I shot as often and as long as I could.
I learned exactly how I feel about guns when I was 9 years old. I was practicing shooting when a small sparrow landed on a wire fence in the distance. No stranger to shooting bugs, rattlesnakes, rats, mice, birds, etc., I took aim without a second thought.
I shot the sparrow straight through the heart, killing it instantly. Its body spun around and around on the wire, as I killed it too quickly for its muscles to release its grip. It was one of the best shots I’d ever made, which terrified me.
I dropped the rifle before the bird fell from the wire. I burst into tears, vowing never again to shoot another living thing. My father congratulated me on my excellent marksmanship.
From then on, I stuck to a shotgun and clay pigeons in lieu of real birds. I quit shooting completely at 20 years old when I began a period of crippling depression that lasted for more than five years. I hid from guns, knowing that my years of experience with them would make me comfortable enough to perhaps use one on myself when I was feeling particularly suicidal.
Years of medication and good therapy made me realize that most of my depression spawned from the burden of hiding from my sexuality. I am now proudly out to my family, friends, and co-workers, who have all been wonderful about it.
Once I got healthy I realized I could probably trust myself around guns again; I started kicking around the idea of getting back into sharpshooting. I researched a good small pistol for that purpose. I learned that a gun show was taking place the next town over and made a plan to go with some of my co-workers. We settled on Sunday as the day we would go.
I woke up around 2 am Sunday after falling asleep unusually early the previous evening. Unable to go back to sleep, I decided to go for a run outside, as it would be too hot and muggy here in Little Rock to do so later in the day. Upon my return, I opened Twitter to discover that 49 of my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters had been massacred in Orlando.
I didn’t feel a thing.
I’m from the city where the term "going postal" was coined after a man walked into a post office and killed 14 people. I saw the monument for that mass shooting’s victims every day in elementary school. I’m from the city where the single deadliest incident of domestic terrorism happened, mere blocks from my father’s office.
I have lived almost every day of my 29 years with the expectation that something horrific will probably happen tomorrow, because I have seen the evils the human race is capable of up close and personal.
Later on Sunday, I loaded up in the car with my friends and headed to the gun show. We discussed Orlando and how shocking and sad it was. We all agreed that we were not the biggest fans of guns but wanted them after yet another mass shooting.
We arrived at the gun show and stepped into a different world. I lost count of how many Confederate flags I saw within the first five minutes of entering the building. I passed a booth that had a "Who wants to play cowboys and Muslims?" sticker proudly displayed. I perused a case exhibiting lighters with Nazi insignia on them. I was in a building full of the people on this earth who frighten me most, surrounded by weapons of all sorts.
After about an hour of searching, I found the gun I had come to get: a Glock 42. It took me less time and effort to fill out the paperwork and walk out of the building with something designed specifically to kill than it took me to get birth control, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medication.
I thought about that on the way home from the gun show. I went back to when I repressed my sexuality to the point that it nearly killed me. It occurred to me, before any reports of the shooter possibly being gay were released, that he might have been repressing his sexuality as well. Because I recognized that deep, ever-present rage one would have to have to commit such a terrible crime. And on that level, I understand him.
I don’t believe we can blame the Orlando shooting on "radical Islam." I do believe Omar Mateen is a product of America’s hypermasculine, police-worshiping society that screamed at him from all directions to stay in the closet, to hide any sort of mental illness, or risk not being a "real man."
Omar Mateen is the product of a government where politicians like my home state’s very own state representative Sally Kern proclaimed homosexuality more dangerous than terrorism, or Gov. Mary Fallin, responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, said that were it still legal to discriminate against the gay population in Oklahoma, she would do so, with vigor.
I believe Omar Mateen is the manifestation of 2016 America. He is a product of conservative, fear-based rhetoric. He is a product of toxic masculinity pushed on him by our society. I believe Omar Mateen is a genuine representation of the broken American male. And I believe there are many, many more Omar Mateens out there.
And that is where my anger about this situation is directed: at the Omar Mateen who was created and radicalized by the American ideals he was fed day in and day out.
I hold no ill will against Islam or Muslims. The Islam I know and love is a beautiful religion, its followers some of the most accepting and loving people I know, even after they find out I’m gay.
I’m not going to use this tragedy as an excuse to condone the already dangerously high levels of Islamophobia that are perpetuated from almost every angle in modern American society. I have been on the receiving end of much of that sort of marginalization and could never, ever fathom doing it to another minority.
The LGBTQIA community is in a period of mourning and healing. But we also need a period of deep reflection on the things besides the Orlando shooting that have been done to us in the past, both before and after Stonewall.
We need to remember that Muslims, who are also in our LGBTQIA family, are hurting just like we are, and probably are even more afraid than some of the rest of us.
This isn’t a time to lash out at them. This is a time to embrace them, to remind them that we indeed are a loving, welcoming community, willing to fight for the rights and protections of our own.
For me, part of that fight now is carrying a gun. If someone were to attack me, I might brandish it in their general direction in a mildly threatening manner, but that’s about it. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think shooting another to save just my life is worth it.
But were I in a position to do something that would prevent an occurrence like the Orlando massacre with my tiny gun, I think I would take one life if it meant saving many more. I don’t quite know how to make the decision to kill another human being, but I hope I could in the moment.
So here the Glock sits, still empty, next to my laptop on my desk as I type this. I keep staring at it and playing out multiple scenarios in my head where I would be inclined to use the gun outside of target practice.
I can come up with only one valid reason: I would use it to save you.
Bree Schmidt is Oklahoman by birth, Arkansan by choice, and gay by the grace of God. By day she teaches your Nana how to use her iPhone; by night she studies history and criminal justice. She is on Twitter @B_Schmidt.