Image by Flickr user Vincent

No, not the guns. Maybe it’s the person holding the gun. Only the solitary man—maybe.

Maybe it’s Omar Mateen. Maybe it’s Dylann Roof. Could just be Ammon Bundy. Possibly Darren Wilson, or George Zimmerman, or Gavin Long, or Adam Lanza. Maybe.

Maybe it’s the man setting off firecrackers across the park from where my son’s t-ball team is practicing. We—ten kids, three fathers—turn our heads in time to hear a voice saying, He’s stealing my truck! and I realize it isn’t firecrackers, and the men driving off in the stolen truck aim and shoot at the man still standing in the yard who is firing right back, two dozen bullets, and my arms become wings that scoop up the three kids nearest me, the other fathers do the same, and we run toward our cars, get all the children in, drive off, practice canceled, and my son holds my hand all the way home.

Maybe it’s my distant relation in middle Missouri, pistol in a holster every day (You never know these days), swaggering across the yard as he talks about fat-ass black women as he might a hog or a buck, talks about what the Bible has to say about them Muslims.

Maybe it’s the person who woke me at one in the morning, pop pop from his car window, the sound of tires squealing around the corner, the sound of the dispatcher’s voice (Did you see the vehicle? Get a look at the license plate?), the empty sound my answer makes, and the question lingering as I drift off again, wondering where the bullets came down, how close to our roof, walls, windows.

Maybe it’s my neighbor, the one with a finger always pulling down the blinds, one eye always on the street, today seeing a kid walk by—Mark, fifteen, black, lived here his entire life, pushing his mower up the street to cut his principal’s lawn—and mistaking him for the thief who has been stealing lawnmowers all summer long. My neighbor posts a picture of Mark on the neighborhood Facebook page with the comment, Call 9-1-1. Here’s the thief. And somewhere in the comment section my neighbor doubles down, calls Mark a thug then brandishes an emoticon handgun, and maybe this is a threat to Mark’s life, or maybe it is just mouthing off with emojis, and maybe the question isn’t Who is my neighbor?

Maybe my neighbors’ words describe these kids best: savages, thieves, menaces, thugs who need to be flushed from society

Maybe it’s the thirteen-year-olds robbing my neighbors at gunpoint this summer. Maybe one angry neighbor is right: they aren’t kids after all, they aren’t confused, seeking attention, in need of better tools, in need of cash for lunch. I really don’t know. Maybe the question isn’t How did these kids get a gun? but instead How quickly can I get these kids thrown in jail? Maybe my neighbors’ words describe these kids best: savages, thieves, menaces, thugs who need to be flushed from society.

Maybe it’s the police officer raising money for a charity event, so he donates a semi-automatic rifle for a silent auction prize, posting a flyer for the charity (This bad boy could be yours!) in the break room of the station where I stand waiting to take a ride-along to see what it’s like to work with a badge on, and this odd token of generosity is a small part of it.

Maybe it’s the man leaning back in his easy chair in his dark den, and maybe a bowl of indica or a visit from a friend would have made a difference today, a big maybe (so much depends), but a friend or a bowl is not what he found leaning in the corner of the room, so instead he leans forward, grabs hold, rests his chin on the barrel, jams his big toe on the trigger.

Maybe it’s the toddler opening drawers. Maybe it’s the ten-year-old testing boundaries.

Maybe it’s their own failing that they seek resolution with final solutions, absolutes cased in metal.

Maybe it’s the unseen men bullet-battling outside the walls of the water park where my friend is playing with his children, maybe it’s their own failing that they seek resolution with final solutions, absolutes cased in metal. Maybe it’s their fault that my friend tells me this morning, we are still shaken, speaking not only for himself, but we in the way that any parent internalizes threats on behalf of children, lets it rush in like liquid, filling him to the brim. Maybe it’s the men’s fault sweat drips from his brow as he tells me.

Maybe it’s only the rugged individuals, divided up good and bad, vigilante and thug, shooter or shot, dead or alive. Maybe if each of us simply mans up like them, if we all take up arms, maybe you’ll be right, we will have nothing to fear.

Maybe then we can ask not what we can do for our country, because there is no country—only we solitary men, scattered like shrapnel, stray as a bullet.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson lives in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in Crazyhorse, Sonora Review, The Kansas City Star, MAKE, Killing the Buddha, and elsewhere. Andrew received an MFA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and now works for a local nonprofit organization.

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