Pepper sprays, guns and fear: This is how owning a weapon can change the way you see the world

 

In December 2014 I naively walked into Farish Street, a fairly conflictive area in Jackson, Mississippi. To give you an idea, this is how a neighbour describes it on TripAdvisor: "I'm from Jackson and if you are white in this area make sure you have a gun on you. It is a very dangerous part of town." However, at that time I only knew that it was a historical site because it had been built by slaves, and so that seemed like a good enough reason to grab my camera and just show up there by myself like a perfect European fool.

Just a couple of months back, when my journey was just starting, I had reencountered an old friend in the state of Maine. When I told him that my plan was to backpack the country on my own, he walked me to his car, took a can of pepper spray out of the glove box - the first one I had ever seen, since they are illegal in Spain - and handed it to me. Basically, it was intended to protect myself in case of rape attempt or any other form of physical attack, given that everyone knows that you must not confront a robber. I didn't want to take it with me, but he insisted and I ended up keeping it.

 

I never used it. However, my journey would have been completely different if I hadn't taken it with me.

 

Farish Street, before I figured out that I'd better hide my camera
Farish Street, before I figured out that I'd better hide my camera

 

From that moment on, every time I put my hand inside my fanny pack to grab something and my fingers touched the spray, the awareness of danger came back to my mind. Its touch became a reminder of how risky my trip was, of how vulnerable I was and, all in all, of the fact that any man could attack me. I would pull out my cell phone to look at the time, or my wallet to buy an ice-cream, and suddenly everyone around me represented a threat inside my head. Ironically, the spray made me feel more restlessness, instead of more safety.

 

This is the fear culture. Living in a constant state of defense, remembering that you can be the target of an attack at any given moment. The legality of guns is not only fatal in a practical sense, but also at a psychological level. Every time a person sees, thinks or talks about the weapon they have at home, the need to own that weapon automatically comes up to mind. Whether we are aware of it or not, a constant discourse grows around that necessity and this, too, is dangerous, because it normalises and justifies its use. Paranoia, free-for-all, never lowering your guard - all this encourages us precisely to "shoot before you get shot". Shooting just in case. Shooting, and then asking.

Yeah, but, what if I hadn't been so luckY? What if I had actually been attacked?

 


While I was walking down Farish Street realising where I really was, I reached out for the little can in my fanny pack, seeking for a sense of safety in its touch. But I didn't feel safety. I didn't because I understood immediately that it would be no use at all. In the U.S. guns are legal - what was I supposed to do with some pepper spray in case of an attack? Even a gun wouldn't have made it, since the possible aggressor would most definitely carry one himself. So I got out of there as quickly as I could and since then I made sure I was well informed about a place before setting foot in it.

 

Gun attacks don't get solved with more guns, but with education. Rape is not avoided by teaching girls to defend themselves, but by teaching boys not to rape. And the justification of violence will not stop if the last thing we think about before going to bed is the weapon inside our drawer. I learn this every time I visit this country and I understood it after catching myself being part of its system. Fear is a tool of control that makes us see more monsters than there really are. And this way, in the end, we end up creating them ourselves.


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Comments: 5
  • #1

    Gwen/Liz (Sunday, 26 July 2015 17:13)

    I don't necessarily agree with this article. I don't think it's a definite that every attacker will have a gun just because I live in a gun friendly country. I think when you grow up and are taught something is bad, like marijuana or guns, you associate the illegal product with an immense sense of danger and fear. I'm not trying to equate guns to marijuana, just mean to say that it is easy to be fearful of something you are constantly told is evil.

    You also can't really compare the necessity of gun control laws in America to laws in other countries because they don't have the gun culture that we do. Banning guns will not remove the guns that are already in circulation. And taking guns away from honest folks won't protect them from dishonest folks. But it will protect them from themselves. I think just like anything else that's scary; drugs, sex, guns; it's not always the best solution to outlaw it when we know that people are going to do what they want to do, but education on the matter is what keeps people safe.

    I don't have pepper spray myself and I have never carried a gun on me so I'm not talking from experience, but I don't think that I would have that same sense of fear when carrying a weapon. Recently I've felt just the opposite. That there are situations in my life where if I was just able to say honestly "I have a gun and I know how to use it" without even presenting my weapon would make me feel more secure.

  • #2

    Revolution on the Road (Sunday, 26 July 2015 21:23)

    Hi, Liz!

    Yeah, I do agree with you in some of those points! I mean, this article doesn't imply that guns should be "banned right away" in the U.S., since that's a whole different and more profound topic. By saying that guns don't solve problems, but education does, I'm stating that guns have created more problems than they've solved, and that education would have been a much better way to deal with crime from the beginning - now, in the U.S. guns have been legal for such a long time that the solution to violence is a complicated issue, but maybe other countries could learn from what gun ownership has lead to in the U.S. and not follow that path before it gets too rooted in society.

    However, this is just a story of how weapon ownership implies fear, told from the perspective of an European person, thus someone who has not lived around guns or the fear that someone will "break into my house and attack my family", for instance - and that sudden contact with a weapon can have that effect. I mean, I was never told that pepper spray was evil, but its presence made me feel that there was evil around me. However, this doesn't necessarily portray a general norm; I'm sure another European girl would have felt safer with that pepper spray, and it'd be interesting to compare those different experiences.

    Oh and thanks for commenting! I really appreciate it, especially when it adds up the perspective of a U.S. citizen to this specific topic :)

  • #3

    Gwen/Liz (Sunday, 26 July 2015 23:21)

    I wouldn't even imply our culture of guns coming from a response to violence. Without guns it wouldn't have been possible for us to win the revolution and become the country that we are today. It's not just about hunting and protection, it's also about freedom.

    Side note:
    Most historians believe the first gun was likely brought over by the Spaniards, so it's totally your fault!
    Just kidding! :p

  • #4

    Noah (Monday, 27 July 2015 11:50)

    I totally agree with Elisa.
    As a privileged European, white male: I never carry any weapon. I even started to not carry any knive with me, not even for cooking whatsoever - because I felt the same carrying it. I slept restless at night, weather it was a large flashlight to be used as a club or with a knive next to my sleepingbag. Every sound out there in the dark would send chills down my spine because of the possible danger I might be in.
    Without any "weapon" I feel very relaxed, I know that I will talk myself out of most situations although, lucky as I am, the only situations where I would have wanted to use a weapon was with police ;)

    In regard to Gwen/Liz: I have never lived in the USA and have no Idea how it feels to grow up with this way of dealing with guns but anyway, by all theories that run around in my head I cant find anyone ever stating that you will definitely have more freedom (for all) if you have an instituted "law of the jungle", the "first come first serve"-principle deciding whether you live or die.

    Back2topic: Education sounds like the key to most things. Still I think this answer ist o simple. We are well educated and especially very much educated to many other countries and still in the US you have so many people shot. Sure, education will solve thinks most possibly, but where? Who needs education and on what level? Can this basic understanding of not hurting each other, of not fighting against each other be gained through education?

  • #5

    Revolution on the Road (Tuesday, 28 July 2015 09:03)

    Hey, Noah!

    Thanks for your comment! The more responses I get to this specific article, the more convinced I am that the point of view depends greatly on our nationality (U.S. citizen or not U.S. citizen), besides our personal opinion, because that's what experience has given to us.

    All the questions you pose about education would definitely make another post! Just as what I said with gun-banning, it's too profound of a topic to be included in this one, but it sure is a really interesting one.

    By the way, I checked your site and it looks really cool! I don't understand anything because of the language but the pictures seem to tell a lot of stories, and the ones from Spain especially caught my attention. I'll be following your adventures from now on :)