Opinion: The Reality of Taking Up Arms, Respect Our Existence or Expect Resistance

A bear, symbolic of “bearing arms,” sits behind two semi-automatic rifles, with a pride and Chicano flag on one side and a blue lives matter and U.S flag hybrid on the other. The bear is exhausted by the prospect of gun ownership in the name of protecting their basic rights (Illustration by Killian Altayeb and Bonnie Lord).

I bought my first firearm over the summer: A Ruger 10/22 takedown model. I bought it with the intention of using it as a varmint rifle, something to have handy in case a snake tried to eat any of our chicks in the middle of the night. 

As the days went on this past summer, I made an effort to practice my aim with my Ruger, doing the occasional bit of plinking – informal target shooting done for pleasure – when not attempting to run serious shooting drills with it. Ammo was cheap, after all.

Soon enough, I began going down the rabbit hole that is accessorizing my rifle. That process has been anything but cheap. Currently, I’ve set up the Ruger with a sling, a red-dot optic and an extended magazine. That’s on top of the four ten-round magazines that already came with the rifle.

The entire time I’ve been buying ammunition and hunting for gun modifications though, I’ve found myself in very distinct spaces. I do most of my business out in East Texas: Tyler, Texas, in particular, since it’s the nearest city with a population over 100,000 and most of the gun shops are fairly close to one another. 

I can’t help but feel a pang of worry every time I step into these stores though. I frequently catch sight of the typical flags I have to constantly be on the lookout for: Blue Lives Matter paraphernalia paired with the USAmerican flag.

And yet, I have to suck it up and keep my worries to myself if I want access to the equipment needed to defend myself from a rising tide of hate crimes. 

I’m privileged that I present and identify as a man; it’s a bit harder for me to hide my Latine heritage, though. I can’t help but worry that my skin color or my name will give me away; that people around me will look at me as someone encroaching on their space.

Whenever I enter a gun shop, I become more conscious of the skin I wear; of the way I present myself and the way I act. 

I don’t pronounce my last name in these shops the way I normally would elsewhere; I can’t use my accent to say my name properly, as much as it hurts me. I don’t talk about who I support politically. In fact, I avoid politics as much as possible, only ever expressing vague anti-authoritarian sentiments when the need presents itself. More than anything, I keep discussions to the topic before me because I can’t afford to say something that marks me as an outsider.

ews flash though: I have as much of a right as any to defend myself. Second amendment or not, any individual part of any marginalized group has a right to their own defense; old dead white men don’t get to give us that right when people like them were the ones keeping it out of our reach for so long.

This isn’t just my experience though. I know for a fact that there are many others out there who have felt something similar to this.

In 2020 for instance – out of 8.5 million first-time gun buyers – 40% were women, according to a CBS News article. Alongside that number, purchases made by Black folk rose 56% when compared to 2019 data. As hate crimes continue their upwards trajectory,  I expect those numbers to increase. 

Steadily, the image of the stereotypical gun owner is shifting away from the profile of the straight white man. 

With an influx of new faces to the firearms world, there is a need for spaces that actively encourage the membership of marginalized folk. It’s not enough to say that “all are welcome,” it takes effort to reach out to marginalized communities and show them that they are indeed welcomed. 

By default, most firearm communities, as they exist now, tend to be predominantly white. 38% of gun owners are white, according to a Pew Research poll from Sept. Republicans and Republican-adjacent independents, according to the same poll, are twice as likely to own a firearm when compared to Democrats and Democrat-adjacent independents.

There will come a need for communities that encourage marginalized folk to seek training and camaraderie within their ranks.  As it stands, either existing communities will have to soften up on their messaging or new communities will start forming.

I’m part of that new generation of gun owners trying to find a community that welcomes and accepts me, someone who actively pushes back against bigotry of any sort. It’s not enough to make your stance known nowadays; there must be a willingness to back it up with action. 

As it turns out, words without action are not enough to combat discrimination. The communities marginalized folk are part of must be willing to fight for their members’ right to life.

Groups like A Better Way 2A, Yellow Peril Tactical and the Latino Rifle Organization are crucial in this regard; they provide the sort of spaces that have been uncommon within firearm communities. Typically, mainstream gun groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) have a history of overlap with neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates in the fight against gun control. White supremacist groups, in this regard, have been crucial allies to the NRA; maybe their presence isn’t as prominent as it was in previous years, but these sorts of individuals still linger in NRA spaces. .

Organizations like the three listed above make it abundantly clear what their goals are. They are trying to, at the very least, create a space where queer folk and people of color can comfortably practice their shooting. At the very most, they are advocating for the right every individual has to live a good life. 

Fundamentally, everyone has a right to live their lives how they see fit. If there’s anyone who wishes to violate the autonomy of an individual, there will be a need to defend oneself. Marginalized folk can’t rely on the state for protection, not when police ranks are littered with racists and extremists. 

If firearms are the tool by which marginalized communities assert their autonomy, then so be it.

In a Sept. 21, 2021 post on X, formerly known as Twitter, journalist and podcast host Robert Evans described his feelings towards both social media and firearms.

“If I could get rid of them entirely I would. But as long as my enemies make use of them, I will as well,” Evans said in the post.

So long as marginalized communities are targeted, they will have to defend themselves and continually assert their right to exist. 

In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be true, but we do not live in an ideal world. 

Firearm ownership is a reality of this world we inhabit; one can’t be peaceful without being capable of violence. It’s a reality that folks on the margins of society have been recognizing, as of late. The existence of organizations like those previously mentioned is evidence of the fact that people are looking for a specific kind of community, those that can provide resources necessary to facilitate an individual’s well-being, all while knowing that they are welcomed and accepted by said group.

There can be no rest until that ideal world comes into view on the horizon.

I hate that this is the world we live in, that I have to consider arming myself in order to assert my right to my life. If I have to do it though, I’d rather do it with people who can commiserate with me, who can encourage me to fight for a better world. 

When I return home, I intend to save my money to buy an AR-15 and fully train with it. I love my Ruger, but it’s not optimized for self-defense. I’d rather have a properly built AR – one with a sight, sling and flashlight. 

I hope I never have to use it, but I’d rather keep it under lock and key – rather than not have it at all. 

Better that than rolling over and dying.  

About Juan Rodriguez 41 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

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