HAVANA TIMES — Somewhere in Texas, right now, someone is wearing a t-shirt that has the pictures of Stalin, Mao, and Fidel with a caption that reads “Dictators Agree: Gun Control Works”.
I’ve seen the image and caption reproduced many times in my home state, a place known in Cuba and the world over, for its obsessive love of guns.
But if all Cubans equate Texas with gun happy hillbillies and all Texans equate Cubans with impotent victims of an omnipotent state I don’t really think either side is getting very close to engaging in productive debate.
So let’s break the stereotype for a few hundred words and see what other perspectives we can come up with.
Some Texans might be surprised to know that one of the often seen Fidel quotes pained on billboards and shooting ranges is: “Every Cuban should know how to shoot, and shoot well”.
Every Cuban male, and some females, learn how to handle firearms and shoot when they pass through obligatory military service. A few people, especially military, Ministry of Interior, and career police, have firearms in their home.
There exists a niche hunting culture in Cuba and there are public lands dedicated to the sport. And just last month I heard of a paintball league that started in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana.
Of course with all of that said there are caveats. The Cuban shooting ranges use air pellet rifles, even though they only cost 1 Cuban Peso for 20 pellets. Military service is becoming more lax and less intensive in its preparation. I’ve never seen a gun show or gun store in Cuba. And both hunting and paintball are probably well beyond the budget of your middle class Cuban.
Despite the presence of at least some trappings of armed military culture in Cuba I see that individual firearm ownership is looked upon with suspicion and even scorn.
When I tell Cubans I am from Texas it is usually followed by them doing an impersonation of someone lifting a pistol from a hip holster and then asking me if I’m a cowboy. We usually then laugh together at this overplayed stereotype.
A hearty laugh should set the tone for a more jovial interchange, but often enough we start talking about guns. Cubans want to know if it is true: Does everyone there, in my home state, really own a gun? Why? Are we all lunatics?
The stereotype is so strong that they assume, by mere association, that all Texans are gun happy.
If I have the time I usually try to explain our affinity for guns from several perspectives: the history of the state militias, the lack of a government presence in our quickly expanding nation two centuries ago, the cult-like following of the second amendment, and the love of the hunt.
But usually my explanation of why we have so many guns gets whittled down to this: we have guns to feel like we can protect ourselves from other people with guns.
Some people feel like they want protection from thieves and trespassers, or those lunatics who murder 20 kindergartens or kill a bunch of people watching a movie. Others want guns to protect themselves from the government and the police.
Feeling protected is the excuse I have heard most often to justify the self-armament of the Texan populace. It is our right to feel protected and it is our right to get that feeling from guns.
Usually this explanation doesn’t get me very far with my Cuban listener. They often want to know why people would want to keep having guns if they knew people were doing terrible things with them. Wouldn’t it just be easier to get rid of the guns? This question is simple in its logic and deserves and equally simple answer: No.
Getting rid of guns, or extensive national gun control, in the United States might have been possible after World War I or II, when the population was feeling a little more homogeneous in national spirit. But not ever again.
Too many half-hearted attempts at national gun control have lead to spurts of massive proliferation of assault weapons and 30 round magazines to the point that every person who feels like it is their god-given right to have one gun now has ten guns.
This is especially true of bored middle-aged men who live in the suburbs who are desperately looking for a way to be cool that doesn’t involve thinking, or doing, much of anything more than shopping online and going to the gun range every couple of months.
Unfortunately for my country, and the kindergarteners in Connecticut, and the theater-goers in Colorado, it is pretty easy for rampaging murderers to get guns.
And, unfortunately for my inquisitive Cuban friends and anyone else who wants answers, that is so insane that it is impossible to understand.
Usually I just end the gun conversation shrugging my shoulders and mumbling something about possibilities of local gun control (which actually seems like the only option at this point). Because if our national priority is to let people keep shooting each other, at the expense of our protection of gun rights, then that is what will keep happening.