My great-grandfather, Daniel Johnson, was a proud veteran and gun carrier.
He owned guns that were handed down by previous generations of sharecroppers that were once slaves across the Mason-Dixon line.
He passed away in his hometown of Marianna, Arkansas, in the Deep South, where I spent every summer as a child.
The guns were more than prized possessions. They were a responsibilty — as they would have been for any black man who legally owned a gun down there.
For decades, the Second Amendment didn’t really apply to men who looked like my grandfather. Then and now, there is often a look of fear in the eyes of whites that sell a gun to blacks in America.
Marianna was no exception.
You might presume a gun owner from Arkansas—whatever his race—would be conservative, but my grandfather was a loyal Democrat who lived long enough to see our nation’s first black president get elected.
Still, he never let go of those guns and now our family inherits them.
We are fairly liberal, but all the outcry for the total overhaul of gun possession leaves me conflicted—as is, I suspect, much of America.
Much of the rhetoric makes gun control a politicized issue that looks plainly partisan when in reality it’s more complex than that.
Americans all throughout the nation — whether a Democrat or a Republican or from the West, or Northeast or South—have guns.
Throughout this cross-section our nation hunts and collects and goes to ranges and shoots skeet and does police work and obeys the law.
And the bad actors—those who use them to kill and rob—come from the full spectrum of political and regional ideologies as well.
That complicates matters.
It’s not as simple to draw battle lines as with other controversial national issues, where there were clear divisions between the “yes” group and “no” group.
Gunsare a completely different matter.
For example, the ACLU, a bastion of liberality whose purpose is to protect Constitutional rights, has no interest in protecting individual Second Amendment rights. Despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary, they maintain it is a “collective” right of the people, not a right of individuals to own guns.
And, as progressive as he has been on other issues, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is no proponent of strict gun control.
“I come from a state that has virtually no gun control and, thank God [knocks on wood], has a reasonably low crime rate,” the Vermont senator said recently to Rolling Stone. “That is the culture of my state.”
And that, for me, represents the often-ignored nuance in the gun policy debate.
I was born in Chicago, spent summers down South, and now live in Philly—places with different viewpoints on the subject. I’ve seen the spectrum of gun possession, good and bad.
And that’s why consensus on national gun policy is hard to achieve; how people view guns is as varied as to how people culturally interact with one.
This simply isn’t black and white, as it is often portrayed in the media. Just as much as it isn’t a red and blue matter to divide down party lines.