In My Ohio

On Lily and Her Silencer

Darren C. Demaree
​I teach college English classes at night. A majority of my students work full-time jobs and have children, so getting their good blood flowing in an 8pm class where our goal is to understand sentence parallelism is difficult. I do my best to enhance the syllabus with poetry, with protest writing, with plenty of additional (hopefully fun) writing assignments, and occasionally that and a giant bag of Skittles can get them moving a bit. Needless to say, if we start going in a new direction, and they perk up a bit I just let the new energy take the room for a while.
These are twelve-week long classes, and I have the time if we get lost to bring us back to what we need to do without missing any of our goals. One of the things I’ve always encouraged is open discussions; if somebody wants to talk about something out in the world, at the school, or even personal for a little while, we do that. This week, the whole week, it has been discussions about guns.
In fact, we ended our class with twenty minutes on guns (constitutionality, different laws, different types, the crimes they aid, the people they might protect), and I was knocked down by the last thought the last student had. Lily (not her real name) wants a gun. Lily doesn’t just want a gun, she wants a gun with an infrared sight and a silencer attached it.
Wait, Miss Lily, you want what?
Lily is not just a full-time worker and a mother. Lily is a grandmother, too. Lily is my oldest student this term, and for Christmas this year she has asked her children to buy her a gun. She knows the addition of the silencer is tricky legally, but that’s what she wants. I asked her why she wanted the silencer, because my thought was if someone broke in to her house wouldn’t she want someone to hear the shots so they could come help her? She says no. She says if she shoots someone, she doesn’t want everybody to know that she shot someone. That makes sense if you’re the one committing the crime I told her, but if someone breaks in to your house won’t you want everyone to come running to help? Lily says she’ll take care of the burglar herself, with her Christmas present, and then she’ll go from there.
This is where I made my mistake, because I started to laugh a little bit. My oldest student, a lovely and sweet woman, was telling me that she wanted an illegal weapon (you need special clearance to own a silencer), and I couldn’t take that seriously. It made me anxious, and when I’m in a situation like that my default response is to try to make jokes about it. Lily was serious about it though, and my moment of levity was not appropriate in her opinion. Her opinion was right.
Lily is older. I’m pretty sure she lives alone at this point, and she doesn’t live in the best neighborhood. Those things on their own might lend her to justifiably believe she needs “protection” in normal times. These, however, are not normal times. There is a dominant sense right now in my class (maybe the whole state, country, etc.) that there are hundreds or thousands of our citizenry that are preparing to execute us a few dozen at a time.
I can’t argue against that feeling. I can’t argue against it, because that is what’s happening. The avalanche of mass murderers this year has been unending. We’ve moved from shock to rage to numbness, and then all of the ways back through those reactions several times over. We’ve looked for answers or leadership and we have found none. So, Lily would like the ability to shoot back.
I disagree with all of my students because they believe that more guns are needed to combat the more guns that were already purchased by others. It’s an arms race on a person-to-person level. They were afraid before all of this happened, and now they’re petrified and looking for reasons to not be. They’ve already imagined a scenario where it’s kill or be killed, and they’ll be damned if it’s going to be them ending up on the news as a victim. They don’t care about the life they would take, as long as they don’t end up in jail, they just want even the illusion of safety. They see no hope, so they’re trying to trick themselves with bullets and bravado.
My initial reaction to this attitude was discomfort. The second reaction was to wish that Lily, or any of my other students, would refrain from arming themselves (half of them already have by the way). Those reactions were in the moment, they were cursory, and now what I want is for them to find the ability to see the larger picture. These crimes they see on the news are abstract to them at this point, they only enhance their sense of impending danger, but they never seem to contextualize the gun issue.
We will have class tonight. We will try to do review their homework, and work on their final projects. Lily or someone else will bring up guns again, and because they’re too buried in fear to find beginning of that fog, I will stop class and talk about guns until they can’t hear me anymore. They see no leadership, they hear no leadership, and though I am only the leader of their college writing experience I’m going to talk until they hear every one of my thoughts on the issue. If they ignore me, they ignore me, but our grandmothers are asking for guns with silencers on them now, and we can move no further into that battlefield. This is something that is approaching trench warfare at this point, and that is the closest thing we’ve experienced to hell in the last hundred years. We can’t start digging to hide and shoot now, and for my part I can’t let the momentum in my own class lead to even one more hole being dug or one more gun being bought without thinking it all of the way through.