Choosing laughter over guns

Note: I started writing this Tuesday. I spoke with my sister late that afternoon and could not understand why my writing took me in this direction. I slept on it, a few nights, and then early this morning, around 1:30 a.m. when Chloe asked to go outside, it occurred to me, this was Sandy Hook. This correlation between laughter and guns that I write about here, represents the conflict of two things: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness versus the right to bear arms. The latter snuff out the former.  

I have to thank my friend Genevieve for helping me make the connection. Her Facebook post about Newton so eloquently communicated how guns rob us of laughter, by causing such horrific loss.

This was what I originally wrote on Tuesday.

Laughter is my release and safety mechanism. The first word that I associated with those two descriptors, is a gun, which I believe also has a safety and a release.

I have never fired a weapon. When I was a street reporter for City News, I watched a crime scene technician carefully use tweezers to pick up tiny bits of a brain, which moments before belonged to a 19-year-old man. Twenty feet away from that dead man, I thought this could be either one of my brothers had our skin color been different and our home on the West Side instead of the Southwest Side of Chicago. That killed any desire I had to shoot a gun. That event comes after the man who followed my mother home from Dominick’s one crisp fall Sunday morning in 1993 and put a gun to her head, robbing her of her purse and stealing all sense of safety and security. And the two teenagers who cased the cemetery where my neighbors Jack and Stanley were visiting their loved ones, following them home and wrestling them to the ground where one shot Stanley dead beside the beloved red maple in front of his home, scarring our street for life. Those two events on 80th and Francisco scarred my mother, my brothers who tried to resuscitate Stanley, and my entire block and community. We were robbed.

It’s a power and cower move, right? I imagine the feeling that a perpetrator must have to hold that weapon and knowing that at any moment he or she could take someone’s life away. That’s God-like power.

I am intrigued by people who shoot. Shoot just to shoot. They go the firing range and shoot a gun. I knew two women when I was employed at a not for profit years ago. I am sure The Onion could write something fun with this, “Women punch out from do-gooder job, locked and loaded, and head to target practice for Happy Hour.” I recall a colleague, an odd duck anyway, who thought their shooting was hot.

Again, maybe because I’ve seen what bullet wounds to the head, I’m thinking man or women shooting for shits and giggles, nope, that’s not too sexy to me. I get it though, I imagine they are drunk on guns, they are controlling a weapon as it is fired and watching the bullet’s trajectory making contact with the target. That I imagine is a very satisfying feeling and probably highly addictive.

You could argue so is laughter.

I didn’t know where this connection would go when I made it a few days ago, and I found that like many things in life, both laughter and firing a gun trigger the brain to release dopamine, the holy grail of neurotransmitters. Dopamine drives addiction.

Both shooting a gun and laughing have health benefits; including relieving stress and tension. I found one writer encouraging gun shooters to use this line: “It’s for my health, honey,” and then take off for the shooting range. If I were still married, I might try instead, “Honey, I signed up for Improv classes to lower my blood pressure.”

Ironically, it comes back to safety and release. If all guns were used safely in this country, then maybe live ammunition would be used in Improv? They are not. Just like cocaine, guns fuel addiction.

The odd duck’s comment about women who shoot are sexy, just triggers (so sorry to use that word) my anger over living in a country obsessed with sex and violence, and its continued normalization of the two. Really what’s normal about a scantily clad woman in camouflage sporting an automatic machine weapon? It might be ripe content for a disgusting locker calendar that will one day be at the center of a sexual harassment or toxic work environment claim, but it is hardly normal. It’s sick.

To laugh, to smile is to be happy. That is normal. That is human. That is a healthy addiction that can be shared without fear of overdose, arrest, prosecution, imprisonment, and or death.

Perfect smile, by Karen Craven
Perfect smile, by Karen Craven

For me, laughter is a wonderful release of the nonsense of any given day. It serves as a safety mechanism when awkward moments are presented. And it is the best indicator of happiness. Since the beginning of November, when I began attending Improv classes, LOL has new meaning. My Saturday nights are filled with normal people, flying by the seats of their pants, amusing strangers with such authenticity that a smile rarely leaves my face for the 90-minute performance. Not a gun in sight.

I’ve never heard a crime scene technician being called to clean up evidence of too much laughter.  Instead, quite the opposite, real laughter can’t be contained in a steel shell, it’s explosive all right but it’s hardly selfish. Laughter is contagious and when shared eventually becomes joy. And that my friends, is the beauty of laughter. A laugh can generate a smile, that generates the feeling of happiness, that whether consciously or unconsciously is shared and enjoyed by others.

Laughter is a beautiful gift that I savor and thank God for its creation.  Understandably, I am not so thankful for the creation of guns that wipe out a life that could have and should have known and savored the gift of laughter.


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