Guns Are People | New American Songbook

Oct 9, 2017

Pharoahe Monch

The recent shooting in Las Vegas was followed by the usual crop of Facebook and Twitter posts decrying either gun violence or gun control, splitting semantic hairs over weapon terminologies and invocations of thoughts and prayers.

In many ways, these conversations exist out of time, it’s difficult to tell the response to one tragedy from another, which only adds to the feeling that the problem of gun violence is intractable. But what if it’s our thinking that’s intractable? I keep getting the feeling that there’s a valuable perspective missing from the conversation: that of the gun itself.

It’s rude to objectify people, but to make subjects out of objects is more than a rhetorical trick. In this powerful verse from Pharoahe Monch, he assumes the personality of a stray bullet as it ricochets throughout a crowded street.

In an earlier song by Nas, the gun is the narrator, but rather than the fatalist attitude of Monch’s bullet, Nas’ gun, while sentient, is still a tool of whoever possesses it, although not without some agency—later in the verse, the gun jams as a kind of sabotage of its owner’s plans.

When we include guns as subjects in the dialogue on gun violence, new possibilities for thinking of solutions become opened. Who is using who? Are we tools of guns as much as they are supposedly our tools? How would we respond to a person who behaved like a gun? The ancient deflection ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ doesn’t work as well if guns are people, too.