Wendy Davis: Gun Clinger?

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Poor Wendy Davis. Just two weeks ago, the would-be Texas governor, best known as a glossy-haired cheerleader for late-term abortion, was basking in the glow of a reported $12.2 million campaign haul. On the “Today” show, a gushing Maria Shriver praised Davis as a model woman who is “doing it all.” A few weeks before, the Girl Scouts of America nominated Davis to their list of “incredible” women of 2013. (As an aside, I really wish I had known this before I got talked into buying three boxes of peanut butter Tagalongs last week.)

Then came Saturday, Jan. 18, when the Dallas Morning News blew more than a few holes in Davis’s much-publicized hard-knocks bio, reporting, among other things, that she dumped her husband the day after he paid off her Harvard loans. Let’s put it kindly: Girlfriend is scrappy. She’s also currently mired in an Internet ridicule fest not seen since Barack Obama sported high-waisted mom jeans while riding what appeared to be a girl’s bike on his Martha’s Vineyard vacation.

So, in a blazing red state like Texas, what’s an ambitious, take-no-prisoners, left-wing gal to do? Bring out the guns, of course. Last Tuesday, Davis hastily “went country,” announcing her plans to strengthen gun rights by supporting, as the Associated Press reported, “legislation that allows workers to keep their guns in their vehicles at work.” Not bad, right? Well, no. Unfortunately for Wendy, as blogger Bryan Preston pointed out, similar legislation already passed in 2011—something she should know, as she voted for it at the time. (She also, for the record, pushed for gun control measures as a city councilor in Fort Worth, and told an interviewer last year she would do the same as governor. The NRA has given Davis an “F” grade.)

Let’s be honest: Guns, and gun laws, can be complicated. I was reminded of this last Monday, when I spent six hours in a state-required class to earn my Texas concealed-carry permit. To boost my street cred, as I’m not exactly Chuck Norris—which is actually a terrible analogy, as he doesn’t need guns, because he has his FISTS—I wore some cowboy boots I had purchased the Saturday before. By 3 p.m. I was lined up in a dirt-walled shooting range with 10 other Texans, clutching a black semi-automatic Glock pistol. (Spoiler alert: I actually did quite well on the shooting test, although I may be the slowest loader of bullets on Planet Earth. I suspect that our range supervisor, a former Marine, made the exact same face my husband makes when I completely whiff a golf swing.)

The concealed-carry class covered many topics. One, which I suppose should be obvious, is to never look down the barrel of a gun. (Among dozens of other terrifying visual aids, we were shown a home video of a man doing just that—and subsequently blowing a hole through the bill of his baseball cap, just centimeters from his face.) Another tip, this time for the ladies out there: If you want to hide a gun in your purse, choose a revolver, as a semiautomatic will get jammed up among your approximately 1,000 hair ties, half-used lip balms, and the tangled, intractable Gordian knot that has mysteriously replaced the headphones for your cell phone.

And, as a side note, you should never—and I mean never—toilet paper someone’s house in Texas. According to state law, gun owners have the right to shoot someone engaged in “criminal mischief” on their property, which is why, henceforth, I plan to lock up all of my Charmin in a bulletproof, booby-trapped, “Mission Impossible”-style gun safe as soon as my oldest son hits the harebrained, prank-loving territory known as junior high.

In all seriousness, the class was extremely thorough, covering both Texas law and gun safety. It was also a reminder of the massive self-discipline that comes with gun ownership. For a person like me, who has a wildly overactive imagination and an occasional touch of paranoia, it’s always been somewhat bizarre to hold a loaded gun. It’s a huge responsibility—but, then again, so is driving a car. Of the 20 or so minutes I spent shooting, I was first confident, then swerved towards nervous, then swerved towards sternly reminding myself that Angelina Jolie would certainly not be nervous while firing at a former-Marine-supervised Texas gun range. (She, as we all know, would be sexy.)

So what does this have to do with Wendy Davis and her suspicious lurch into gun rights? Love them or hate them, guns are ultimately about personal responsibility -- a concept that Davis, despite all of her semi-apocryphal talk about pulling herself up by her bootstraps, doesn’t seem to embrace. The government, in her world, is the solution of first resort.

“Most people would identify with the fact that we tend to be defined by the struggles we came through [rather] than by the successes,” she told the Dallas Morning News, offering a subtle inversion on a well-known truth. Struggles certainly do shape and enhance character, but should they really “define” you? You don’t win a trophy for struggling. You win a trophy for toughing it out, making it through, and moving on.

Furthermore, unless you’re, say, the ghost of Nelson Mandela, are you ever really going to win the Great Struggle Olympics of 2014? If you do, sadly, you probably won’t have many friends left at the end. Hard knocks stories get old, especially if you’re telling them at Sarah Silverman’s Manhattan apartment or at the bar at the Harvard Club.

In Davis’s world, sad stories abound; people tend to be victims. Guns, on the other hand, offer an interesting metaphor for freedom. They can be dangerous, and, when handled irresponsibly, they can lead to disaster. But they can also offer people the invaluable power of self-defense -- or, less dramatically, the opportunity to go hunting with their friends. Responsible gun owners take the initiative to learn gun safety and set up proactive safeguards for themselves and their families. To be comfortable with gun ownership, you need to be comfortable with the idea that most -- not all, but most -- people are pretty competent at handling their own lives.

For some, that’s a tough pill to swallow. 

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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